The four-game nonconference portion of Kansas University’s football season, dotted with imperfections, ended with a perfect record, so only a lunatic could call it anything but a success.
But did it really reveal a great deal about this team that altered projections for its Big 12 fortunes? Coming into the season, this looked to be a team loaded with playmakers on offense and filled with question marks on defense. Still looks that way.
Do the Jayhawks look better, worse or about the same as we might have guessed in August? About the same.
Playing three lightweights — Northern Colorado, UTEP and Duke — in nonconference games virtually guarantees victories, but it doesn’t supply much of a measuring stick for a program. For example, which is the real KU defensive line, the one that sacked UTEP quarterback Trevor Vittatoe five times in the first half, or the one that went three quarters without a sack in a tight victory against Southern Miss?
The Jayhawks did reveal one thing about themselves in the Southern Miss. game that they couldn’t have against the first three opponents because of the mismatch in talent: They’re winners.
Just like a baseball pitcher who has to find a way to win when he doesn’t have his best stuff, Kansas found a way to win when its best unit, the offense, began sputtering. Four consecutive fourth-quarter stands and one huge sack from Jake Laptad served as another reminder that far more than improved talent is at the heart of Kansas turning around its football program under eighth-year coach Mark Mangino.
It’s no major stretch to reach the conclusion that Kansas didn’t win the Southern Miss. game in the middle of Saturday afternoon, rather in the middle of summer during Camp Dawson, under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Chris Dawson, and, later, during Mangino’s two-a-days.
“Most definitely,” Laptad said of the seeds of this victory being sewn during Camp Dawson. “All the running after practice, all the conditioning, all that came out in the fourth quarter.”
Thanks to the clutch finish by a defense that looked ordinary for the first three quarters against a talented, disciplined, creative offense, Kansas is two-thirds of the way toward facing Oklahoma with a 6-0 record.
Awards aren’t given after the nonconference season, but if they were, here’s who would deserve them:
MVP: Todd Reesing doesn’t have the offense dominating yet, but his numbers still dazzle. He has a 67.1 completion percentage, 7.95 yards per attempt and has nine touchdown passes and just two interceptions. His best numbers: a 24-6 record as a starter.
Top Rookie: True freshman running back Toben Opurum isn’t as shifty as Brandon McAnderson was, but he has more power and already looks to be the program’s best receiver out of the backfield since Clark Green. Opurum averages 4.6 yards per carry, has rushed for six touchdowns and has 10 receptions (10.6 yards per, one touchdown).
Most Improved: Defensive end Maxwell Onyegbule has three sacks and two more tackles for loss and generally looks more confident and aggressive.