Entries from blogs tagged with “Tale of the Tait”
I've been going to KU football practice for years now and, after a while, you start to wonder how much you really can see when you're there and, this coach or that coach, how different practices really can be.
I don't wonder any more.
Each week of the Clint Bowen interim era, I've seen something different, something new, something I had not seen before. That could be because we're allowed to stick around a little longer than we ever have before, it could be because things actually are that different, and it could, of course, be some combination of the two.
Either way, I left today's practice thinking to myself how crazy it is to see a bunch of guys who have done almost nothing but lose during their time at KU fighting their butts off in the freezing cold and having fun all the way to the end of the season.
Usually by now — at least during the past four or five years — it's been about going through the motions of getting the season over with and moving on to the next chapter of hoping for something different. Not now. Not today. After dominating Iowa State and nearly knocking off TCU, these guys really believe they can beat anybody right now and they practice like it, coaches included.
Quarterback Michael Cummings said earlier today that there's a feeling of missing out surfacing around the football complex because of the disappointment that they're just now starting to put everything together. Even with that, though, Cummings said it wasn't like the guys were dwelling on it. Instead, they're looking at the last two games as a great opportunity and he said it would be that way if they had two games, five games or 10 games left.
I saw an extra dose of energy out there last week, and coming off the Iowa State victory that made sense. But there was even more out there today. It's crazy to think, but this team really is just two special teams mistakes away from sitting on five victories and having two shots at getting that sixth win for bowl eligibility.
Had they not kicked off to OSU's Tyreek Hill, I think KU wins that game. And if Cameron Echols-Luper hadn't taken that punt back to the house last week to give TCU its first lead since the first quarter, I think that would've changed the outcome, as well.
I'm not the only one. Clearly these guys believe that and even though so many of them are down to the final two games of their careers, they're certainly not operating like the end is in sight.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at today's practice:
• I watched Cummings pretty closely to see how he held up health-wise and he looked fine. Good even. He was a full participant, threw the same amount of ball as the other quarterbacks and even bounced around out there like he wasn't in any pain at all. He said earlier that he felt great today and that most of the right arm/shoulder issue he's dealing with right now was simply a matter of how well he could play through pain. That's good news for Kansas because the answer to that question is, “very well.”
• Former KU center Chip Budde was the former player who spoke to the team before practice and, like many before him, Budde's message was short, sweet, to the point and received with all kinds of hootin' and hollerin', some of it even coming from Bowen himself.
• This week's depth chart has Larry Mazyck listed with the first stringers at right tackle but I also saw Jordan Shelley-Smith (the back-up at both left and right tackle) working with the ones a little bit today. No surprise there. Shelley-Smith has played plenty during the past couple of weeks and it could simply be a case of KU making sure both guys are ready for Saturday's match-up with OU's big and physical defensive line.
• There were plenty of NFL scouts at practice again today and, at least from where I was standing, it looked like most of them were very interested in senior receiver Nick Harwell. I'm sure they were taking notes about junior Nigel King, too, but their eyes seemed fixed on Harwell for extended periods of time. And good for him. After coming to KU with an almost-certain NFL future, Harwell sat out a year and then struggled to get going this season because of KU's offensive issues. He's hot now, though, and it looks like people outside of KU nation are taking notice.
By now, if you've even taken the time to read, listen or pay attention to any of the aftermath of Tuesday night's bloodbath in Indy, you know that KU's 72-40 loss to No. 1 Kentucky was an historically bad outing for a Bill Self-coached Kansas team.
So there's really no need to rehash that. The Jayhawks were overmatched, looked ill prepared and overall rattled and rocked by the bigger, deeper, more talented Kentucky squad that started strong and never let up at the fourth annual Champions Classic showcase.
An outcome such as the one the Jayhawks suffered Tuesday night certainly is not what anyone on the team was hoping for, but it also was not all that surprising. During its three games leading up to the clash with Kentucky, Kansas showed plenty of signs that it was still very much a work in progress and KU coach Bill Self warned all along that the bigger Wildcats would be a handful for his Jayhawks. They were. And then some.
These Champions Classic events are great when you've got a veteran team or some guys ready for the bright lights. But they can be a nightmare when you don't and KU found that out — again — last night.
Duke is now the leader in the four-year history of the event, at 3-1, while Kentucky and Michigan State are both 2-2 and the Jayhawks 1-3.
It's cliché, but it's also true. Getting rocked like that in front of the entire world could be the best thing to happen to this team. The young Jayhawks surely now realize that they need to listen to anything and everything Self has to say, and coaches always say it's easier to teach and coach after a loss than a victory, so this week's practices should be, well, interesting. KU will be fine. They'll regroup, learn from this and start to come together in the very near future. The people screaming doomsday or freaking out about Self or his players are overreacting a bit, as easy and understandable as that is to do after watching your team play like that.
Three reasons to smile
1 – It's college basketball and not college football. Had this happened to a top-ranked team on the gridiron, it would've been devastating to their title hopes and haunted them the entire season. Not in hoops. Sure, this one might have been devastating for KU's title hopes — in the sense that everyone not named Kentucky appears to be playing for second place this season — but the Jayhawks can move past this and still have a heck of a season. That's exactly what happened in 2011-12, when Kentucky rocked KU in NYC and the two met for the national championship in New Orleans a few months later. The Jayhawks are too talented and too proud to not regroup and move on from this setback.
2 – Several freshmen showed up to compete, they just didn't play that well. It would've been easy — and completely understandable — for those young guys to be overwhelmed by the big stage and scary opponent. But that did not appear to be the case. Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, particularly, seemed fairly comfortable out there, the Jayhawks were just in too big of a hole too quickly for it to truly matter. It's tough to ask or expect a group of freshmen to lead the way when experienced veterans like Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis aren't clicking around them, and I think there's less concern about the young guys today than those vets.
3 – It probably can't get any worse than that. It figures to be a long, long time before the Jayhawks play another game where they look quite as overmatched and out of sync. We're talking 10 years or more. Most teams cant' say that, so at least KU fans can hold onto that as they mourn Tuesday night's embarrassment.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – This team is lacking leadership on the floor. Wayne Selden, though competitive, has yet to fully step into that role. And neither point guard — Frank Mason or Devonte' Graham — seems to own the leadership vibe that this team is missing. It's not that the Jayhawks need someone out there who will scream and shout and rant and rave, but they do need a guy they can look to for encouragement in tough times and a guy who can pull the group together and get them going when needed. That can't and shouldn't always come from the guy in the suit on the bench. It's just not the same thing as when it comes from someone on the floor.
2 – The start of the second half was awful. Obviously, the entire second half was pretty terrible, too, but after cutting UK's 18-point, first-half lead down to nine at one point and 10 at the break, the Jayhawks put themselves in position to come out fast and get back into the game. Instead, they scored just 12 points the entire second half and shot 13 percent (3-of-23) during the final 20 minutes.
3 – There were so many other bad statistics and numbers that it was easy to overlook KU's sub-par performance at the free throw line, but the Jayhawks struggled there, too. Kansas made just 15 of 27 free throws in this one (56 percent) and too often came away with empty trips that should have been points and could have helped keep the game close – at least closer. Poor free throw shooting is often something coaches just gloss over and expect the players to fix by practicing on their own and focusing in a little more. That's probably what will happen here, but the Jayhawks need to get on the right side of the free-throw stat sooner rather than later before it becomes a real problem, both on the scoreboard and in their heads.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' 32-point loss at Kentucky in Indianapolis:
· Moved KU to a 1-1 record to start the season for the fifth time in the Bill Self era.
· Expanded Kentucky’s lead for all-time wins in NCAA Division I history to 16 games. Kansas now has 2,127 wins in its history, while Kentucky has 2,143.
· Added to Kentucky’s lead on the series, which stands at 22-6 in favor of the Wildcats, including three-straight wins.
· Made Kansas’ record against ranked teams 53-29 in the Self era.
· Made KU 7-16 all-time against the Associated Press No. 1 ranked teams, including 2-2 under Self.
· Changed Self’s record to 3-4 against Kentucky, 326-70 at Kansas and 533-175 overall.
· Made KU’s all-time record 2,127-823.
The Jayhawks return to action at 7 p.m. Monday, when Rider, which does not feature nine All-Americans or any kind of platoon system that we're aware of, comes to Allen Fieldhouse for Game 3 of the 2014-15 season.
They may be small steps, but, at least for a few moments in the past week, Kansas University football was relevant once again.
Don't get me wrong, I fully recognize that there are plenty of die-hard KU football fans who live and die (and most often agonize) with the ups and downs of the program and show up ready to support their team win, lose or draw.
To that group, the Jayhawks are always relevant. But I'm talking relevant to college football. I'm talking relevant in the sense that something crosses one's brain that makes college football fans everywhere go, 'Huh, Kansas. Look at that.'
Last week, the Jayhawks had at least two of those moments. The first and most obvious came on Saturday, when KU put a heck of a scare into No. 5 TCU and threatened to single-handedly shake up the entire college football playoff standings, at least for a week. Truth be told, the Jayhawks did that even in a 34-30 loss to TCU, which entered last week ranked fourth in the ever-important college football playoff standings and, by some time tonight, will know whether that close call with Kansas hurt them or not.
The Jayhawks had plays that popped up on SportsCenter and other highlight shows. The names you know well were kicked around nationally for a couple of minutes and, although it went down as just another L, the effort regained Kansas some national respect.
I figured that respect would come and go pretty quickly but then I read this rundown of the playoff standings from the folks at FOX Sports, who not only gave TCU some credit for holding off Kansas (inspired team, on the road, Big 12 foe, all that jazz) but actually sounded off about the coaching search currently under way here. It caught me off guard and when I read it I had to read it a second time to make sure what I saw was right. But it was. There in the third comment under No. 5 Baylor was mention from former college football great Charles Davis — one of a 13-man FOX panel designed to track the playoff progress — gave a shout-out to interim head coach Clint Bowen for a job well done.
Davis: “(Baylor) will benefit from TCU’s struggle at Kansas (give Clint Bowen the job, Kansas; he deserves it), and the 'TCU’s ahead of Baylor in the poll, but Baylor beat TCU head-to-head!' discussion gets quelled, at least for this week. Baylor’s schedule is catching up as they finish with all Big 12 games, including hosting Oklahoma State Saturday night on FOX.”
It might be a small mention and it certainly is not KU impacting the national scene the way the next head coach (whoever that will be) and athletic director Sheahon Zenger want, but it's infinitely better than the blowouts of the Turner Gill and Charlie Weis days and something that, short as it may have been, KU fans can hold onto and take pride in.
The Kansas University football team did not win Saturday's thrilling showdown with No. 5 TCU at Memorial Stadium, but you'd never know that from the reaction that came after it.
Smiles radiated, pride beamed and the Jayhawks walked, talked, looked and sounded like a real football team again. There was even an opportunity for interim head coach to blast the officials for a couple of interesting calls, but, true to the form he's had throughout this whole ordeal, Bowen paused, thought carefully and chose to take the high road.
It was a good move. Even if he didn't agree with the calls that went against his team, whining about them in the postgame press conference would have done nothing — not for the game, not for his candidacy for the full-time job and not for the attitude he's instilled in his team since taking over. That attitude, of course, focuses on one mindset and one mindset only: Work hard, be tough and worry only about the things you can control.
That recipe almost enabled the Jayhawks to pull an all-time upset against a TCU team vying to stay in the conversation for the first ever college football playoff. The Horned Frogs won, and that's all that mattered, particularly on a day when other top-tier teams struggled or lost. But it could be argued that it was the Jayhawks who came away from this one having gained the most.
Never has the support behind Bowen been greater. Interest in the program is headed in the right direction again. Fans of KU football are no longer embarrassed to call themselves that out loud.
Bowen had a lot to do with that, but to give him all of the credit for it would be wrong. He's the captain of the ship, but the guys with the oars are some pretty big time players with a lot of heart and pride. And most of them are pretty good at football, too.
TCU found that out first-hand on Saturday and left Lawrence feeling fortunate to have survived.
If it's football you want to talk about, Saturday's effort against a darn good TCU team proved that the Jayhawks might have a chance to be competitive in their two remaining games. That's something almost no one thought they could say a couple of weeks ago. But this team is tough, the offense is clicking and the defense is confident it can play with anybody. That alone should make for a fun couple of weeks. If it's the coaching search you're more interested in following, Saturday's game was relevant there, too. Bowen has proven he can coach. He took a group of guys who have done nothing but lose and made them winners. Maybe not on the scoreboard all that often, but they'll leave here with their heads up and remember this season much differently than it looked like they were going to. People realize that. People like that. And it's made a huge difference in the way a lot of people view Bowen as a candidate for the job.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – If the way Jimmay Mundine competed out there did not earn your respect, the guy must have done something to your family. Seven catches, 137 yards, a touchdown and a part of what seemed like 40 missed tackles. All while having a heck of a time. Mundine was sensational in this game and has been a huge part of the reason for the solid play turned in by QB Michael Cummings. His effort against a Top 5 team on top of all he already has done this season should put him in the lead for first-team all-Big 12 honors at tight end.
2 – Forget about Michael Cummings' statistics, let's talk about the young man's toughness. I counted three times where he walked off the field looking like he might not be able to continue, yet, each time he trotted back out there and not only played but also threw darts. I could go on and on and on and on here, but you get the point. The kid's tough. He's a heck of a competitor. And he deserves a ton of respect even if he's not impressed.
3 – That's two weeks in a row that the Jayhawks have started fast and you can see what that's doing for their chances to be competitive. After brutal starts against Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, the Jayhawks have finally stopped digging themselves huge holes that they can't crawl out of no matter how well they play. The improvement of the offense — credit Bowen, Cummings and Eric Kiesau for a big chunk of that — has played the biggest role here, but so has the general mindset of this team. For the first time in a long time, these guys truly believe they're good enough to win and are getting results and production that back that up.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – KU's special teams cost them again. Against Oklahoma State, a Tyreek Hill kickoff return for a touchdown — and the decision to kick it to him — cost the Jayhawks a victory and on Saturday against TCU, punter Trevor Pardula's big leg got the Jayhawks into trouble for a change when Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown that proved to be the difference. Those things will kill a lot of teams, but they're especially deadly for a team like KU that just doesn't have much margin for error.
2 – With all the talent returning in the backfield heading into this season, you would've never been able to convince me that the KU passing game would be more productive for this team. But it has been lately. KU averaged just 2.1 yards per carry against a tough TCU defense. Corey Avery (10 carries, 27 yards and a touchdown) had good moments and it would've been very interesting to see him get three more carries when the Jayhawks took over at the TCU 10 yard line late in the game down by seven. But hindsight's 20/20 and there's no guarantee Avery or anyone else would've got in either. The way Cummings and the pass catchers are playing — along with the improvement of the O-Line — the running game doesn't have to be great. But it does need to be a threat to keep the defense on its heels and 2.1 ypc won't cut it.
3 – It really is a shame that Saturday's loss was the home finale. With the new wave of support building behind Bowen and his boys it would be cool to see what the crowd would look like if the Jayhawks had one more home game this season.
One for the road:
KU's four-point loss to fifth-ranked TCU on Saturday...
• Moved the Jayhawks to 579-596-58 all-time. • Pushed TCU's lead in the all-time series lead 19-8-4. • Increased a streak of 15-straight losses to opponents ranked in the Top 25. • Prolonged a span of more than three years since the Jayhawks have won games in consecutive weeks. • Pushed the stretch of years it's been since KU topped TCU to 18. • Increased KU’s deficit to TCU in games played in Lawrence to 9-6. • Gave KU an even 3-3 mark at home in 2014.
KU will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, this weekend for a match-up with the Sooners at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The Kansas University men's basketball team got a little bit from both factions of its roster during Friday's 69-59 season-opening victory over UC Santa Barbara at Allen Fieldhouse.
Veterans like Perry Ellis (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Jamari Traylor (10 rebounds, praise from KU coach Bill Self) chipped in to do their part and freshmen such as point guard Devonte' Graham (game-high 14 points) and Cliff Alexander (9 points in 12 minutes) chipped in to do theirs.
Not everybody on the roster played as solidly as those four, but KU didn't need them to, as the Jayhawks played 11 guys — 9 who got 12 minutes or more — and did just enough to hold off a tough UCSB squad in what proved to be a great test for an opening game.
The Kentucky Wildcats will be much tougher at all five positions than the Gauchos were, but it was good for the Jayhawks to have to grind one out early because the only way they'll beat Kentucky on Tuesday is by grinding.
It's easy to look at all of that talent and all of those options and say to yourself, “Damn, they've got another loaded team.” And the Jayhawks do. But games like the one we saw Friday night remind you that, even with all that talent and depth, it's still going to take some time for this team to be clicking on all cylinders. The Jayhawks were good at times during Friday's opener, but careless and sloppy at others and slow and sluggish some, as well. Particularly on offense. If there's one thing that Friday showed you it's that this team really might be a team that hangs its hat on defense. If it is, I'm guessing that would be just fine with Bill Self.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Perry Ellis did some serious work on the glass. Ellis was nearly invisible in the rebounding department during KU's exhibition games, but that changed in a hurry Friday. He finished with 10 boards — six of them offensive — and got his hands on at least two or three other loose balls just by being active. Ellis was aggressive and played with urgency and that showed up big time on the stat sheet.
2 – After hearing all week how good the Gauchos were, it was good to see that KU actually took the warning seriously. Never did it appear that the Jayhawks were disinterested or thinking more about Kentucky on Tuesday. They locked in from the opening tip and competed to the final horn. Again, I think that's a product of having all of that depth. Guys know that when they're out there they better go hard because they can be pulled off the court just as quickly as they were thrown out there.
3 – It was just one game and I have been the guy saying not to read too much into what Cliff Alexander has done thus far, but I'm over that. He's a beast. And more importantly, he may very well be developing into this team's go-to scorer. Alexander looks more hungry than any player on this roster when he's on the offensive end and his ability to punish the rim from point-blank range or step out and stroke the 15-foot jumper makes him such a weapon. During that stretch in the second half when KU pushed the lead to double digits, Alexander demanded the ball and almost everything ran through him. That should only grow from here, even if the opponents do get better. The guy's a big-time player who shines brightest under the lights.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – I thought Wayne Selden disappeared too often, at least compared to what I was expecting from him. Yeah, the sophomore guard finished with 10 points and played a team-high 32 minutes, but he only made 2-of-8 shots, scored six of his points from the free throw line and tallied just one rebound, two assists, two turnovers, a block and a steal. Maybe it's a good thing that he's letting some of these young guys assert themselves, especially early, but for a talented veteran who was on the floor that long to have that kind of line made me shrug my shoulders a little bit.
2 – There were still far too many times where the Jayhawks gave up a layup or dunk because a post player had to rotate over to stop the drive and left his man all alone for the easy dish and score. Defensive rotation takes time to perfect and even when you're darn good at it, good players can break you down. So I'm not saying this is complete cause for panic, but we saw it a ton last year and on the few occasions I noticed it happened on Friday, I saw Perry Ellis roll his eyes after leaving his man to go help only to see the guy he left score.
3 – Popped into the starting lineup to see what he could do, Brannen Greene left a little to be desired. With a good game on Friday, Greene could have made it tough for Self to take him out of the starting lineup any time soon, but I don't think that'll be a problem on Tuesday night. Greene finished with just three points on 1-of-3 shooting, two rebounds, one assist and one turnover in 17 minutes. There were spurts when he looked pretty good, but he was nowhere near as active and aggressive as he was in the exhibition finale and that has to leave you scratching your head. Just a guess here, but I'd say Graham will take Greene's starting spot on Tuesday.
One for the road:
The Jayhawks' 10-point, season-opening victory on Friday...
· Gave them their 42nd-consecutive Allen Fieldhouse season-opening victory dating back to the 1973-74 season.
· Marked KU’s 13th-straight season-opening victory dating back to 2001-02.
· Gave the Jayhawks an all-time record of 714-109 in Allen Fieldhouse.
· Increased KU’s record against UC Santa Barbara to 2-0 all-time.
· Improved head coach Bill Self to a 12-0 record in season opening games at Kansas. While also increasing his coaching record at Kansas to 326-99 and 533-174 overall.
· Improved KU’s all-time record to 2,127-822.
Here's a quick look at the updated all-time wins list:
• UK 2,141
• KU 2,127
• UNC 2,115
• Duke 2,028
• Syracuse 1,903
It's a heavy weight showdown in Indy on Tuesday night, when KU takes on Kentucky in the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m., central time.
As you all surely know by now, Saturday will mark the final home football game in the careers of several Jayhawks. And while the task at hand seems daunting — TCU enters ranked No. 5 in the nation and favored by 28 points — there are plenty of ways Saturday will be memorable for these guys, win or lose.
In all, there will be a total of 20 seniors honored before Saturday's 2 p.m. kickoff with No. 5 TCU.
According to a KU spokes person, tight end Scott Baron is graduating and not returning for a fifth year of eligibility; senior running back Brandon Bourbon, who missed the season with a knee injury, will take part in the senior day activities, but senior running back Taylor Cox, who missed the season with an Achillles' injury, will not. Senior safety Jaccare Givens also will not take part in the Senior Day activities.
The aforementioned notes are the result of a personal decision for each player and are not related to Bourbon and Cox's pending eligibility. That has not been determined yet.
Here's a quick look at the seniors who will be honored on Saturday along with a few seniors who KU is pushing for postseason honors:
2014 Kansas Football Seniors being honored Saturday
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Exp. Hometown (High School/Previous School)
83 Scott Baron TE 6-2 ½ 236 Jr. SQ Santa Ana, Calif. (Orange Lutheran HS)
25 Brandon Bourbon RB 6-1 ½ 225 Sr. 3L Potosi, Mo. (Potosi HS)
43 Ed Fink TE/FB 6-2 ½ 235 Sr. 1L Belleville, Ill. (Althoff HS)
63 Ngalu Fusimalohi OL 6-2 315 Sr. 1L Daly City, Calif. (Jefferson HS/CC of San Francisco)
8 Nick Harwell WR 6-1 193 Sr. TR Missouri City, Texas (Elkins HS/Miami (Ohio)
31 Ben Heeney LB 6-0 230 Sr. 3L Hutchinson, Kan. (Hutchinson HS)
99 Tedarian Johnson DL 6-2 290 Sr. 1L Jackson, Miss. (Murrah HS/Hinds CC)
61 Pat Lewandowski OL 6-5 ½ 290 Sr. 3L Overland Park, Kan. (Blue Valley West HS)
19 Justin McCay WR 6-2 210 Sr. 1L Kansas City, Mo. (Bishop Miege HS/Oklahoma)
12 Dexter McDonald CB 6-1 ½ 205 Sr. 2L Kansas City, Mo. (Rockhurst HS/Butler CC)
41 Jimmay Mundine TE 6-2 240 Sr. 3L Denison, Texas (Denison HS)
16 Trevor Pardula P/K 6-5 212 Sr. 1L San Jose, Calif. (Leigh HS/De Anza College)
3 Tony Pierson WR 5-10 ½ 175 Sr. 3L East St. Louis, Ill. (East St. Louis HS)
55 Michael Reynolds BUCK 6-1 240 Sr. 2L Wichita, Kan. (Kapaun Mt. Carmel HS)
33 Cassius Sendish S 6-0 195 Sr. 1L Waldorf, Md. (North Point HS/Arizona Western CC)
24 JaCorey Shepherd CB 5-11 195 Sr. 3L Mesquite, Texas (Mesquite Horn HS)
27 Victor Simmons BUCK 6-1 ½ 225 Sr. 3L Olathe, Kan. (Olathe North HS)
85 Trent Smiley TE 6-4 240 Sr. 2L Frisco, Texas (Wakeland HS)
65 Mike Smithburg OL 6-3 305 Sr. 1L Fairfield, Iowa (Fairfield HS/Iowa Western CC)
98 Keon Stowers DL 6-3 297 Sr. 2L Rock Hill, S.C. (Northwestern HS/Georgia Military College)
LINEBACKER BEN HEENEY
• As of Sunday, Nov. 9, Heeney led the FBS and Big 12 in solo tackles (8.0 per game) and ranks first in the conference and eighth in the NCAA in total tackles (11.2 per game), en route to 101 stops through nine games in 2014.
• Heeney has led the Jayhawks in tackles in seven of their nine games on the year, posting double-digit efforts in six of those contests.
• Heeney led all FBS players on Saturday, Oct. 18 with a career-best 21 tackles in KU's game at Texas Tech. Heeney's 21 tackles are the most by any player in the Big 12 in 2014 and are the second most by any player in the NCAA this season. Among Heeney's 21 stops, were 17 solo tackles – just three short of the FBS record of 20 in a game.
• His 17 solo stops vs. Tech were the second most in Big 12 history and are the most in the NCAA in a single game since Tyler Matakevich of Temple recorded 19 solos agains Idaho on Sept. 28, 2013.
TIGHT END JIMMAY MUNDINE
• Ranks first in the Big 12 and eighth in the NCAA in receiving yards by a tight end with 400 yards on 33 receptions.
• His 33 receptions rank tied for third among 'Power 5' tight ends, while his 400 receiving yards are the fourth-best.
• Has recorded five or more grabs in four games with 24 of his 33 receptions resulting in a first down.
2014 SEASON HIGHS
RECEPTIONS: 7, at Texas Tech
RECEIVING YARDS: 88, vs. Oklahoma State
TOUCHDOWN CATCHES: 1 (2x), last vs. Iowa State
LONGEST RECEPTION: 35, vs. Texas
PUNTER TREVOR PARDULA
• Leads the Big 12 Conference and ranks 13th in the NCAA in punting average at 44.8 yards per punt.
• Has recorded 24 punts of 50 yards or more, including two of 70 yards or more in one game.Has dropped 33.3 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, while 13 of his punts have been fair caught.
• Has dropped 33.3 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, while 13 of his punts have been fair caught.
2014 SEASON HIGHS
PUNTS: 14, at West Virginia
NET PUNT YARDAGE: 621, at West Virginia
LONGEST PUNT: 72, at Duke
PUNTS INSIDE THE 20: 4, two times, last vs. CMU
Wednesday's KU football practice was one that closely resembled what the game time temperatures are expected to be this weekend when the Jayhawks and TCU Horned Frogs kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Biting winds that dropped the temperature to around 12 degrees made Wednesday a little different than most of the other practices the Jayhawks have had this season, and, although most adjusted accordingly there, there were a few warriors among the bunch out there today.
While most players bundled up with long sleeves and tights to stay warm, a few guys went with short sleeves and shorts just like it was a normal September practice.
The ones I saw who bared all were: Kyle Pullia, Mike Smithburg, Jordan Shelley-Smith and Preston Randall. Go figure, three of the four were offensive linemen. Props to those guys. I stood out there for about 40 minutes and even bundled up in a coat and gloves, it was cold. (I was an idiot and forgot a hat or hood of any kind, so I was toughing it out a little bit).
Anyway, all of this might seem irrelevant, but it really might not be. The high temperature in Fort Worth, Texas, on Wednesday was 45 degrees. While not exactly warm, that was about 30 degrees warmer than what the guys in Lawrence were dealing with. And with afternoon temperatures the next two days hovering around the same mark, it's definitely possible that the game day temperatures expected to be in the high teens — with a 90 percent chance for snow, by the way — could have a much bigger impact on TCU's roster, which includes 79 native Texans, than KU's, which has been practicing in weather like that all week.
We'll see. A heavy dose of snow would make it interesting for both offenses, but, if you're KU, you'll take that trade off because it could even the playing field a little bit.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at Wednesday's practice:
• Joe Dineen may very well have a new position yet again. The freshman from Free State High was working with the linebackers on Wednesday, this after he moved from safety to running back during preseason camp after the Jayhawks lost Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox to season-ending injuries. It's hard to know what this means for Dineen's future, without talking to him or KU coach Clint Bowen, but there was some talk before he even signed with KU about the potential for the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Dineen to move to linebacker in the future. Good to see him getting a look there late in the season. Either way, I think his future's on defense.
• Keon Stowers, Andrew Bolton and De'Andre Mann all were practicing and appeared to be going full speed through the drills I saw. That bodes well for KU's lineup this weekend. Still waiting for more information on offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi. We might not fully know his status until game time.
• Maybe it was just their way of combatting the cold, but the coaches, including Bowen, had an extra dose of intensity on Wednesday. Probably not worth reading too much into, but that's one thing that always has impressed me about this coaching staff — no matter who the opponent is or what their odds are for the upcoming game (and remember they are playing the No. 5 team in the country this weekend), the coaches prepare like they'll be right there and like they have a great shot. That kind of mentality rubs off on the players and can become the foundation of a program.
Another exhibition season is in the books for the Kansas University men's basketball team and like most exhibition seasons that came before it, the Jayhawks learned a little, questioned a lot and got a few of the kinks worked out before kicking off the regular season against tougher competition and under more intense conditions.
KU coach Bill Self made no secret of the fact that he does not put too much stock into what happens in these exhibition games and he made it clear that he's not an easy guy to impress in games like this, where the Jayhawks are far superior to their opponent in size, speed, depth and overall talent.
Take Tuesday's effort by freshman forward Cliff Alexander, for example, in KU's 109-56 victory over Emporia State.
Self said Alexander did not play well enough to score the 12 points he did, but got most of his buckets off of easy dunks and nice efforts by his teammates to set him up.
That's not to say he doesn't get some credit for his 12 points and 6 rebounds in 13 minutes, but it's also not to say he's the early leader for national freshman of the year. Somewhere in between is more likely.
I said it after the last game and I think it holds true after this one as well. The most important part of the exhibition schedule is not to see what kinds of numbers guys can put up but how guys play together, how they perform in front of a live crowd and how ready they are for the season. There were plenty of good moments and bad in both exhibition games, but the real answers to those questions will become a little clearer starting Friday night.
In addition to all of the nit-picky coaching ploys, Self also pointed out perhaps the most important aspect of these exhibition games and that's that they give the young guys a chance to have some success and gain some confidence. Very few of KU's games, if any, will be as easy as Tuesday night's game was, but Alexander, Devonte' Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kelly Oubre and even guys like Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucas were able to experience domination, finishing plays and feeling the love from the Allen Fieldhouse faithful. It may sound ridiculous to say those types of things are an adjustment, but even the good things take some getting used to and these young Jayhawks now have had a small taste.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – Any time you can put eight guys in double figures, that's a good night. I don't care who it comes against. And here's why: It proves that you've got an unselfish team that plays together and plays for the best/right shots, not just a bunch of individuals looking to get theirs. Any number of these guys probably could've scored 30 last night, but their unselfishness — and, of course, the substitution pattern — spread the wealth and allowed a lot of guys to leave the gym feeling good about their efforts instead of just two or three.
2 – Brannen Greene looked incredibly active on the offensive end, both in terms of looking for his shot and going after the offensive boards and loose balls. This was a great sign for two reasons: 1. Greene's coming off of a head injury and looked to be fine. 2. The more he can “plug himself in” to all aspects of the game and not just float around as a shooter/scorer, the greater his chances become of being a regular part of the rotation.
3 – KU drastically improved its free throw shooting in this one, which was pretty much a lock to predict but still good to see. After knocking in just 50 percent from the line against Washburn last week, the Jayhawks hit 25 of 32 free throws (78 percent) vs. Emporia State and looked a lot less rusty every time they stepped to the line. They focused on this a little in practice and, clearly it worked, but Self has always said he's never been a big fan of spending too much practice time on free throw shooting so it's clear that these guys took it as a personal challenge to improve the stat.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – Self said it and we already alluded to it above, but Cliff Alexander clearly was a little off against the Hornets. Maybe he was just trying too hard or pressing too much, but after sitting for nearly the first 10 minutes of the game, Alexander came in and missed a shot he forced, traveled on another possession and picked up two quick fouls. He eventually settled down and rocked the rim a few times to finish with a pretty good line, but the thing worth focusing on was not his numbers against inferior talent but why he sat so long before coming in.
2 – Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk started but did not do much to take advantage of the opportunity. He missed four of five shots — which happens — and picked up three boards, two turnovers and two assists in 18 minutes. He looks great at times, especially defensively and any time he releases a jumper, but also did not go all-out after a few loose balls and looked a little sloppy handling the ball. It wouldn't surprise me for a second if this was just because of the nerves associated with starting for the first time. These guys are all still young, but especially Mykhailiuk.
3 – The Jayhawks dominated the glass — 45-29 — but still gave up 10 offensive boards to an undersized ESU team. Some of them were just loose ball pick-ups and the like, but there were a couple of moments, especially in the first half, when the Hornets got second- and third-chance opportunities.
One for the road:
KU's 109-56 runaway victory over Emporia State...
• Made Kansas 65-9 in exhibition games.
• Extended KU’s home exhibition winning streak to 42 games, dating back to the 1994 season.
• Upped Kansas’ all-time record against Emporia State to 20-3 in favor of the Jayhawks, including 7-0 in exhibition games.
• Improved head coach Bill Self to a 33-2 record in exhibition games at Kansas, including 24-0 in home exhibition contests.
• Made KU 56-4 in exhibition games inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks officially will open the 2014-15 season Friday night at 7 p.m. against UC-Santa Barbara at Allen Fieldhouse.
Saturday afternoon marked just the ninth victory in the career of KU linebacker Ben Heeney and the senior captain could not have cared less about it because it felt like a million bucks.
The biggest reason for that, Heeney said, was because it marked interim head coach Clint Bowen's first career victory as the KU leader and that's something these players have been battling for since Bowen took over for Charlie Weis in late September.
That was by far the biggest storyline on Saturday night, as the statistics, big-time plays, ebbs and flows of the game tiny details all took a backseat to Bowen's big win. Players, staff members, fans and family celebrated the victory with great joy and, although some probably thought the whole scene was a bit of overkill given the fact that the win came against a 2-7 team, nobody in crimson and blue was apologizing for it and you can't take away the fact that the Jayhawks played very well from the opening whistle to secure their third victory of the season.
The road gets harder from here — flat-out frightening, in fact — but several guys said last year's upset win over West Virginia that snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing skid breathed new life into the program and helped them approach the final weeks of the season with new hope and confidence. It didn't wind up mattering, but that team wasn't led by Bowen.
The Jayhawks beat a bad football team on Saturday afternoon, but they did so convincingly and were clearly the better, more confident, more talented football team. The way things have gone for Kansas football lately, bad team or not, a win is worth celebrating, particularly when that win comes as a result of the Jayhawks playing well. They did so in just about every facet of the game on Saturday and showed a little glimpse into why they had such high hopes for this season when it began two months ago.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Because everyone else was. The haters, skeptics, die-hard fans and cautiously optimistic followers of the KU football program all saw eye-to-eye for a few minutes after Saturday's 34-14 victory over Iowa State. The mistakes didn't matter, the scary moments in the third quarter were irrelevant and the nasty schedule that lies ahead was not on anyone's mind. All that mattered was the joy and smiles and celebrations on the field, in the locker room and around the stadium for a group of players, coaches and fans who absolutely deserved an outcome like the one they got on Saturday. I'm sure the differing viewpoints have sorted themselves out again by now, but at least for a while, everyone involved with KU football had a chance to be on the same winning page.
2 – The KU defense was nasty and guys not named Ben Heeney made plays all over the place. Sure, Heeney led the team with seven tackles and played his usual all-over-the-place type of game, but half a dozen other guys on the KU defense out-shined their leader in this one and that made things nearly impossible for the Cyclones. JaCorey Shepherd (5 tackles, 5 pass break-ups, 1 interception) was as good as he's ever been, Dexter McDonald held up his end of the bargain on the other side of the field, Victor Simmons (2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass break-up) had the game of his life, Jake Love had a sack and a pass break-up, Courtney Arnick had five tackles, one for a loss and two pass break-ups and Michael Reynolds had another sack and forced fumble and continued his stellar streak of games. In short, this defense played the way you would expect to see from a defense that listed “being the top defense” in the Big 12 as one of its goals before the season began. Sure, it was against a struggling offense and their back-up quarterback, but they still delivered time after time after time.
3 – KU's offense featured all kinds of play-makers, but few were as impressive as junior receiver Nigel King. King finished with 101 yards on five receptions and made arguably the biggest catch of the game, a 42-yard grab on third-and-19 that set up a touchdown that pushed KU's lead from 24-14 to 31-14 and essentially served as the knockout blow. King got open all afternoon, was tough to bring down and used his incredibly strong hands to rip the ball out of the air when it came his way. The Jayhawks are losing a lot of offensive players from this year's team, but having King back next season will be huge.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Senior offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi left the game with some sort of right leg injury and it's not yet known how serious the injury is. The last place the Jayhawks can afford to lose a starter is on the offensive line, but that's especially true of Fusimalohi, who has started every game since arriving in Lawrence and is one of the Jayhawks' strongest players in the trenches.
2 – KU's kickoff return game still looks sub-par. JaCorey Shepherd is a dynamic player and a great athlete and I can't imagine that the Jayhawks' issues here rest with him. It just seems that every time the Jayhawks return a kickoff they struggle mightily to get it back to the 20 yard line, and that's whether they take it from the goal line or the 6 or 7. It doesn't make sense. But it has to be some sort of breakdown in the blocking in front of Shepherd because he almost always runs into a wall of three or four coverage guys before reaching the 20.
3 – It's easy to look at what Michael Cummings has done in the past four or five games and be happy for the guy and impressed by his ability, toughness and heart. It's equally as easy to look at Cummings and exhale violently when it hits you that, if just given a chance, this guy could have been a difference maker for the past couple of KU teams. Cummings isn't the best quarterback in the league and he'll never catch your eye as someone you desperately want to have as your quarterback, but he's a gamer and he's been considerably better in the past five weeks than anything KU's put out there in a long time and you can't help but wonder how much farther along he'd be if he'd been given this kind of chance a little earlier.
One for the road
Saturday's 34-14 victory over Iowa State...
• Pushed KU into a tie for eighth place in the Big 12 standings with Texas Tech. The Red Raiders own the tiebreaker and neither eighth or ninth place is worth bragging about, but it would be a small sign of progress.
• Improved KU's lead in the series to 50-38-6, including a 28-16-3 advantage in games played in Lawrence.
• Moved Kansas to 579-595-58 all-time.
• Gave KU just its third Big 12 Conference victory in the post-Mark Mangino era (41 games).
KU will face arguably its biggest test of the season when No. 6 TCU comes to town for a 2 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium and what will be the final home game in the careers of some pretty memorable KU seniors.
When the Denver Broncos, fresh off of last week's whipping at the hands of the New England Patriots, line up for the first defensive play of this weekend's game against Oakland, 27 percent of their starting lineup will be former Jayhawks.
Although Chris Harris and Aqib Talib — both on the Pro Bowl ballot — already are fixtures in the Broncos' starting lineup, the former KU standouts will make room to share the spotlight with linebacker Steven Johnson, a third-year pro who has played primarily special teams since joining the Broncos as an undrafted free agent.
The Denver Post is reporting that Johnson will start in Nate Irving's spot at middle linebacker, as Irving left last week's loss with an injury and is expected to miss some time. Johnson has been in the Broncos' plans at LB for the past couple of years but mostly in a role as a luxury to have a guy like him for depth purposes. When asked to play, Johnson has delivered, but this weekend figures to be his first true crack at proving himself as a regular in the NFL.
While making the leap from seldom-used reserve to starter on a team vying for a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl could be overwhelming, at least one Bronco believes Johnson is ready and has been ready for the moment for a while.
"Stevey Johnson is going to be able to get the job done," Harris told The Denver Post. "He's been in our defense going on three years now. He has experience in there. He's been waiting for his shot. Now he has his shot. We've been needing him on special teams since he's been hurt, but now he has a shot to play and he has a chance to show what he can do."
For more on Johnson's likely move into the starting lineup, check out Post writer Mike Klis' report from Monday.
As has been the case throughout the past few weeks, interim KU coach Clint Bowen kicked off Wednesday's practice with a visit from a former Jayhawk. And this one meant a little more to Bowen than some of the others.
Charley Bowen, the older brother of the interim KU coach, was given the opportunity to talk to the team before Wednesday's practice and it was very clear by observing the head coach's actions that he was fired up for his big brother to speak to his squad.
During his introduction, Bowen highlighted a few of his brother's accolades — 44 starts, all-Big Eight honors, etc. — and then gave an inspired welcome as Charley stepped into the huddle to address the team.
After sharing a few words, most of which had to do with life after football and maximizing the opportunity these players had today, Charley was greeted by a rousing ovation, a few hugs and an energetic start to practice.
Charley told me it was the first time since 1992 that he had been on the practice field at Memorial Stadium. The only other KU practice he's been able to attend since then was in Arizona during the days leading up to the Insight Bowl in 2008.
Asked if being back on the field made him miss his playing days, Charley smiled and said simply, “You always miss it.”
Here's a quick look at a few other things that caught my eye at Wednesday's practice as the Jayhawks continued preparations for Saturday's 2:30 p.m. showdown with Iowa State:
• Senior defensive tackle Keon Stowers did not practice, but was on the field and did all he could to be a part of the action. Unlike his teammates in pads, Stowers wore only shorts and a jersey, but that did not stop him from coaching up the guys who were out there getting the reps in his place. Whether it was during individual drills or during team action, Stowers always found time to offer a helping hand and seemed fully engaged in every aspect, just as if he would've been out there. Bowen said earlier this week that the team was hopeful that Stowers would play Saturday and it sounds as if that's still the case. The good news there? Stowers is such a veteran with so many games under his belt that he could probably miss most of practice and still get out there on Saturday provided he's physically ready.
• It's hard to say what to make of it, but senior tight end Trent Smiley ran some with the first team offense during Wednesday's practice. Known among KU's tight ends as a strong blocker, Smiley lined up in the backfield, at his regular tight end spot and on both sides of the formation during the portion of practice when he ran with the ones.
• As was reflected on this week's updated depth chart, sophomore linebacker Courtney Arnick ran with the first team defense in place of Jake Love, who has been dealing with an injury. Love practiced and should get plenty of reps and play plenty of snaps on Saturday, but Arnick is quietly putting together a pretty strong season. Arnick all of a sudden has the look of a player the Jayhawks will be fortunate to have back in the lineup in 2015. Should be interesting to see how strongly he finishes the final third of this year's schedule.
• Defensive backs coach Dave Campo was very vocal during Wednesday's practice and most of what Campo barked about had to do with the vision of his DBs. “Get your eyes right,” Campo continually yelled during one drill. During another, he simply yelled at one of his DBs, “Get your eyes off of him (the quarterback) and worry about your man.” Nothing Earth-shattering here, of course, but it's cool to see these types of little details emphasized on this level.
• Finally, in case you missed NY Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., doing his one-handed pregame routine during the Monday Night Football game last week, check out the video below. It's become sort of a viral video and on Wednesday a couple of Jayhawks were attempting to match the moves. One who came the closest, believe it or not, was Buck Michael Reynolds. Could an INT be in Reynolds' future this week???
It happens this way almost every year. As soon as the first exhibition game arrives and fans of Kansas University hoops get their first vision of the Jayhawks beating up an overmatched opponent inside Allen Fieldhouse, their minds wander toward the idea of whether this will be the year that Bill Self and company add another banner to the rafters.
Truth be told, this general way of thinking is really never absent around here, but it really revs up when the games begin and people can see for themselves just how dominant Cliff Alexander can be, athletic Kelly Oubre is and improved Frank Mason has become.
It's human nature, really. But there is, of course, a pseudo-scientific element to the question and that's where the good folks at online gambling site Bovada.lv enter the picture.
With the regular season opener now less than 10 days away — KU will play another tune-up next Tuesday against Emporia State at AFH — here's a quick look at the betting favorites to cut down the nets next April.
Somewhat surprisingly, KU's odds have gone down since they first released them last April. If anything, they've gone up in my mind, as this team appears to have the depth, talent, size and, of course, coaching to make a serious run.
Plenty of time to sort all that out, though. For now, here's a look at the Bovada odds as they stood as of Tuesday.
• Big 12 teams in italics
Team ---- Odds on April 28 ---- Current Odds
Kentucky ---- 5/1 ---- 7/2
Arizona ---- 16/1 ---- 9/1
Wisconsin ---- 12/1 ---- 9/1
Duke ---- 9/1 ---- 12/1
North Carolina ---- 16/1 ---- 12/1
Kansas ---- 14/1 ---- 18/1
Florida ---- 16/1 ---- 20/1
Gonzaga ---- 40/1 ---- 25/1
Iowa State ---- 33/1 ---- 25/1
Louisville ---- 25/1 ---- 25/1
Texas ---- 33/1 ---- 25/1
Villanova ---- 25/1 ---- 28/1
Wichita State ---- 28/1 ---- 28/1
Michigan ---- 33/1 ---- 33/1
Michigan State ---- 25/1 ---- 33/1
Syracuse ---- 33/1 ---- 40/1
VCU ---- 40/1 ---- 40/1
Virginia ---- 33/1 ---- 40/1
Ohio State ---- 50/1 ---- 50/1
San Diego State ---- 66/1 ---- 50/1
SMU ---- 33/1 ---- 50/1
UConn ---- 66/1 ---- 50/1
Iowa ---- 66/1 ---- 66/1
Oklahoma ---- 40/1 ---- 66/1
UCLA ---- 50/1 ---- 66/1
Pittsburgh ---- 100/1 ---- 75/1
Arkansas ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Baylor ---- 75/1 ---- 100/1
Florida State ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Georgetown ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Harvard ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Indiana ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Kansas State ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Marquette ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Maryland ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Memphis ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Miami FL ---- 66/1 ---- 100/1
Minnesota ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Nebraska ---- 66/1 ---- 100/1
Notre Dame ---- 150/1 ---- 100/1
Oregon ---- 50/1 ---- 100/1
Seton Hall ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
St. Louis ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Stanford ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Tennessee ---- 100/1 ---- 100/1
Cincinnati ---- 100/1 ---- 150/1
Providence ---- 150/1 ---- 150/1
UNLV ---- 100/1 ---- 150/1
Alabama ---- 200/1 ---- 200/1
Colorado ---- 75/1 ---- 200/1
Dayton ---- 100/1 ---- 200/1
Georgia ---- 100/1 ---- 200/1
Illinois ---- 150/1 ---- 200/1
Missouri ---- 100/1 ---- 200/1
NC State ---- 150/1 ---- 200/1
New Mexico ---- 200/1 ---- 200/1
Oklahoma State ---- 100/1 ---- 200/1
St. John's ---- 150/1 ---- 200/1
Xavier ---- 250/1 ---- 250/1
Arizona State ---- 100/1 ---- 300/1
Auburn ---- Off the Board ---- 300/1
BYU ---- 300/1 ---- 300/1
California ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
Clemson ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
Colorado State ---- 300/1 ---- 300/1
Creighton ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
George Washington ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
Georgia Tech ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
LSU ---- 100/1 ---- 300/1
Ole Miss ---- 150/1 ---- 300/1
Purdue ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
South Carolina ---- 300/1 ---- 300/1
Texas A&M ---- 500/1 ---- 300/1
UMass ---- 150/1 ---- 300/1
USC ---- 200/1 ---- 300/1
Vanderbilt ---- 250/1 ---- 300/1
Boston College ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
Butler ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
DePaul ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
LaSalle ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Penn State ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Richmond ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
St. Joe's ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Texas Tech ---- 500/1 ---- 500/1
Virginia Tech ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Wake Forest ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
Washington ---- 300/1 ---- 500/1
West Virginia ---- 200/1 ---- 500/1
No Andrew Wiggins, no Joel Embiid, no Naadir Tharpe? No problem.
Monday night, the new-look Kansas University men's basketball team unofficially got its season off to a strong start with an 85-53 victory over Washburn in its exhibition season opener.
Fifteen different Jayhawks played, 11 of them received minutes in the first half and several of the new guys KU fans were looking forward to seeing made impressive debuts.
For those keeping track at home, Frank Mason, Devonte' Graham, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor made up KU's starting lineup, but freshmen Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk played plenty of minutes and made impressive debuts.
It's unwise to try to take too much away from a game like this, but it was good to see a few of the new guys actually play in a game setting and enough happened — both good and bad — to get at least a small feel for where this team is heading into the 2014-15 season.
Yes, it was just an exhibition game against an overmatched opponent, but it still was hard not to marvel at all of that quality depth this KU team has. Whether you go position by position, unit by unit or first five and second five, KU coach Bill Self has some incredible options and flexibility that not only should help ensure that the Jayhawks can put guys on the floor each night who are locked in, but also should create some serious competition for playing time and improvement throughout the season.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Cliff Alexander came out and played with a ton of confidence and effectiveness. He was almost always the biggest dude on the floor when he was out there, so that helped, but it wasn't so much his numbers — 14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks in 17 minutes — that impressed as the way he got them. He was efficient, he played with passion, he showed great work ethic and some skills other than the power everyone already expected to see, most notably good hands and an ability to run the floor. If he brings that kind of effort every night — which will be tougher against better opponents — it's hard to see him starting many games on the bench.
2 – One year after having pretty limited options for much of the season, KU's depth appears to be back at the level the Jayhawks are used to. And that's without Conner Frankamp on the roster any longer. Self has so many options and so many lineups he can use and I can only imagine how much he enjoys that. What's more, though, that kind of depth helps keep Kansas in a position where fresh bodies are on the floor at all times. Washburn coach Bob Chipman talked about that after the game, specifically with regard to KU's defense. He said having the luxury of such incredible and talented depth really allows the guys on the floor to get after it defensively, without worrying about foul trouble or fatigue. Think of this Kansas team as a hockey squad, where short shifts and line changes are the norm and the guys go 100 percent at all times when they're out there.
3 – It looks like Perry Ellis may be a legitimate three-point threat. Ellis took three shots from downtown in this one, and made just one, but it was the way the shots came and not his success rate that was most impressive. Each time Ellis pulled the trigger, he did so without hesitation. The shots were there, he was side open and he stepped up and shot. If this is a more regular part of the junior big man's arsenal this year, it's only going to make the rest of his game that much more dangerous, regardless of the rate at which his three-point attempts are going in.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU shot just 50 percent from the free throw line in this one, knocking in 16 of 32 attempts. It wasn't a catastrophe because the score was so lopsided throughout the night that the Jayhawks did not need to have great success at the line to hold off the Ichabods. But it's still not the kind of performance anyone wants to see. Maybe the fact that the lead was so large had something to do with it and kept the Jayhawks from locking in on their free throw attempts. And maybe, as Self seemed inclined to believe, it was just first-game rust. Either way, it's worth keeping an eye on as the season gets started.
2 – Self said after the game that he was unimpressed by the way his big guys rebounded in this one. Considering Alexander had nine boards and Landen Lucas had six, I can only assume he was talking to Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor here, who combined for five boards, with Ellis grabbing just one. It hardly merits all-out concern, especially when you consider that two of Traylor's four rebounds were on the offensive glass and led to five Kansas points, but it probably wasn't as much the specific outing as the overall tone that Self was addressing with his comments. Look for Ellis to emphasize the glass next time out.
3 – You never want to see guys get injured, but especially not in games like these. Kansas was not so lucky on Monday night, as sophomore Brannen Greene suffered a concussion after getting crushed by a screen. The extent of the concussion is not yet known, but Self said he could not imagine Greene practicing for at least the next couple of days. Talk about a bad break. Just as Greene had put himself in position to be the first perimeter player off the bench, he now has to sit for a few days, which, on a team with this much depth and talent, could have a big impact on his future minutes.
One for the road
The Jayhawks' exhibition victory over Washburn on Monday night...
• Made Kansas 64-9 in exhibition games.
• Extended KU's home exhibition winning streak to 41 games, dating back to the 1994 season.
• Upped Kansas' all-time record against Washburn to 37-3 in favor of the Jayhawks, including 6-0 in exhibition games.
• Improved head coach Bill Self to a 32-2 record in exhibition games at Kansas, including 23-0 in home exhibition contests.
• Made KU 55-4 in exhibition games inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks will close out the exhibition portion of their schedule on Tuesday, Nov. 11, with a home match-up with Emporia State. After that, KU will kick things off for real with a Nov. 14 home game against UC-Santa Barbara. Both games tip at 7 p.m.
Kansas University football officials on Sunday night released an update on the status of freshman defensive back Derrick Neal and senior defensive lineman Keon Stowers, both of whom were injured and carted off the field during Saturday's 60-14 loss at Baylor.
Both players were taken to a nearby hospital for further evaluation during Saturday's loss but nothing new was known about their status following the game.
Sunday night, the update indicated that both players had returned to Lawrence and both participated in team activities on Sunday.
Stowers, a starter on KU's D-Line, posted on his Facebook page late Saturday that he was OK and looking forward to his recovery.
Neal, a reserve defensive back who suffered what appeared to be a head injury while making a tackle on a kickoff return, was able to get to the cart under his own power before leaving the field.
KU coach Clint Bowen will be available on the Big 12 coaches teleconference Monday morning and also at his regular Tuesday news conference and at those times may provide an update on Neal and Stowers' availability for this weekend's 2:30 p.m. home game against Iowa State.
There's no denying that Saturday's 60-14 loss at Baylor was the first significant blow in interim head coach Clint Bowen's campaign to become the Kansas University football program's full-time head coach at the end of the season.
But the Jayhawks' shortcomings were hardly all on Bowen. Kansas committed six bonehead penalties, ran 14 plays that ended at least a few yards behind where they started and struggled to keep up with a roster that was both overmatched and outmanned.
Oh, and the Jayhawks also played a team that had as much talent as any team in the country in Baylor. How the Bears lost to West Virginia is beyond me.
How the Jayhawks lost, however, was easy to see and came in large part because this remains a team and a roster that lacks enough talent to compete at this level and still is struggling with depth at key positions.
So talented are the Bears that they neutralized what had been easy to see for the first three weeks of the Bowen era — hard work, discipline and toughness. None of the three showed up with any regularity on Saturday and that made for a long afternoon for the visiting team.
This certainly is not intended let KU or Bowen off the hook for Saturday's performance, but was anyone really that surprised by the outcome? While the Jayhawks took hope and confidence into their match-ups with West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech — and at times competed in a way that clearly demonstrated that — this one seemed like a mismatch from the jump and it played out that way all afternoon. If anything was a surprise, it was the KU defense's ability to hold the Bears to a three-and-out on the opening possession. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, the offense followed with a three-and-out of its own — complete with a false start penalty and two of the nine Michael Cummings incompletions — and failed to capitalize on the fast start by the defense and gain some momentum and control. The Jayhawks aren't talented enough to let those opportunities pass without a fight.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Regardless of the results, you have to continue to be impressed by what Michael Cummings has done for the KU passing game. The junior quarterback completed 21 of 30 passes for 288 yards and 2 touchdowns, despite being pressured all day and getting next to no help from the KU running game. Cummings' ability to hang in the pocket until the last minute to deliver a pass and his toughness to get up time and time again after getting blasted has helped KU take some more shots down the field and given guys like Nick Harwell and Nigel King a chance to impact the game. Asked how he does it, the QB's answer was vintage Cummings. “That's my job,” he said. “And I'm trying to do the best job I can each play at a time.” Cummings became the first KU quarterback since Todd Reesing in 2009 to throw for more than 200 yards in four straight games.
2 – KU officials announced prior to Saturday's game that wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau had been promoted to co-offensive coordinator and would take over play-calling duties from offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator John Reagan. The KU offense has been anything but solid throughout the season and giving Kiesau — an accomplished and experienced coordinator himself — a chance to draw up the game plan and call the game can only help. Saturday's game was such a mismatch and over so early that it's hard to tell how successful Kiesau was and/or will be in the new role. But it's proof positive that Bowen continues to give it all he's got and is not afraid to pull the trigger on a decision he thinks might help the team, whether it works out or not.
3 – After watching Derrick Neal and Keon Stowers leave the game on carts after a couple of scary injuries, it appears both players are OK and on the path to recovery. Stowers posted a message saying as much on his Facebook page late Saturday night. Their availability for next Saturday is up in the air at this point, but the fact that both figure to be OK long-term is much more important than whether they'll be able to play against Iowa State.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – The play of KU's offensive line continues to hold this team back. Cummings rarely gets the time he needs to let plays develop, the running game is not working — how many times did Tony Pierson take a handoff on Saturday only to see three or four Bears waiting for him? — and, perhaps worse than either of those issues, KU's offensive linemen also are the most penalized players on the team. Four of KU's six penalties on Saturday were called on the O-Line. That's not a good combination, and unless it gets fixed, or at least becomes less destructive, KU won't have a chance the rest of the way.
2 – KU's streaks of futility grew by one. It's now 31 consecutive losses away from Lawrence. KU also extended its streak of losses against ranked opponents, as the Jayhawks' last victory over a ranked team came in Week 2 of the 2010 season, when they upset No. 15 Georgia Tech at home. The last time KU topped a ranked opponent away from Memorial Stadium came in 2008, when the Jayhawks knocked off No. 12 Missouri, 40-37, at Arrowhead Stadium, and KU's last true road victory over a ranked foe came via a 30-24 victory at No. 24 Kansas State in October of 2007.
3 – Three of the four games remaining on KU's schedule are against nationally-ranked teams. KU will host TCU on Nov. 15 and then finish the season at Oklahoma on Nov. 22 and at Kansas State on Nov. 29. Re-energized by Bowen or not, boosted by Eric Kiesau calling plays or not, that stretch is a nasty way to end a season and the Jayhawks' loss to Baylor on Saturday may have been a glimpse into their immediate future.
One for the road
KU's forgettable loss at Baylor....
• Gave the Jayhawks a 578-595-58 all-time record.
• Featured the most points the KU defense has given up this season and most since Texas A&M scored 61 points in a victory over Kansas in 2011.
• Delivered not only the first career rushing attempt by senior linebacker Ben Heeney but also the 17th double-digit tackle game of Heeney's career. The Hutchinson native led Kansas with 10 tackles.
• Included freshman Corey Avery twice breaking his career-best yardage total on a reception. Avery caught a pass for 36 yards early in the game and later added a 49-yard reception to top that.
KU returns home for the first of back-to-back home games that will close out the 2014 home schedule, as Iowa State and former KU head coach Mark Mangino (now an assistant at ISU) come to Memorial Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.
Wednesday afternoon marked the full return to a game-week practice for the Kansas University football team, which is slated to take on Baylor, at 3 p.m. in Waco, Texas, on Saturday.
The Jayhawks had a bye week last week and, therefore, went through a little different practice schedule than normal. That's not to say practices were any easier last week. In fact, junior safety Isaiah Johnson told me just the opposite. If anything, he said, practices were more intense, simply because the Jayhawks had time to lock in more on fundamentals yet still focused on physicality.
Plenty of Jayhawks got the rest they needed to get back into the flow for this week, though, and that was evident on Wednesday.
Here's a quick look at what caught my eye....
• Tony Pierson was out there working with the first-team offense and appears to be fine. I didn't see him favor anything or go half-speed to protect anything while he was participating in drills. Pierson was knocked out of the Texas Tech game after just two plays with what turned out to be a sprain of some sort near his neck. Good to see he's out there and ready to go for this week.
• Michael Cummings also looked sharp again. Cummings took a beating at Tech and even left the game for two plays. Earlier in the day, Cummings was asked what he got most out of the bye week and he answered with one simple word. “Rest.” From the sound of it, that was as much mental rest as physical rest, but Clint Bowen did give his guys last Friday and Saturday off and Cummings said he went fishing, watched some college football and just relaxed. There's no doubt that that kind of routine was good for everyone on the roster, especially considering the crazy times that have surrounded the program since the firing of former KU coach Charlie Weis.
• Wednesday's practice started with a little bit of flare, as Bowen broke out what appeared to be some kind of championship wrestling belt and then called the team together in a circle at midfield. Evidently, this happens quite often. Three players from the offense square off with three players from the defense in a quick wrestling-style showdown and whichever side — offense or defense — wins two of the three bouts emerges with the belt and bragging rights. I couldn't get a look at exactly who competed, but it looked like the offense won this round and the whole exercise created a lot of energy and excitement to kick off practice.
• One interesting note in terms of personnel.... Freshman wide receiver Darious Crawley is now working as a running back. It's hard to say if the move is permanent or what role the coaches have planned for the 5-11, 190-pound freshman from Houston, but he appears to have some natural ability. It's most likely just a depth thing for practice purposes, though. We'll see.
• Bowen said Tuesday that junior wide receiver Rodriguez Coleman would be in the mix for playing time after a quiet start to the season and he was very much that during Wednesday's practice. Known as a burner who can stretch the field, Coleman's emergence, should it happen, could really help this offense. He was very involved in Wednesday's practice and looked good running around out there.
• Speaking of somebody who looked good out there, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau was also very active during the portion of practice I saw. Not only was he more vocal than I remember, with regard to the entire offense, not just his group, but he also flat-out got after it physically, running with guys during routes, throwing passes over the middle and encouraging guys to dig deeper, run it out and finish plays at an almost constant rate. The guy's got great energy and, perhaps more importantly, the players really seem to respond to his style.
• One quick note regarding former Jayhawks now playing in the NFL.... Chris Harris (Denver), Aqib Talib (Denver) and Anthony Collins (Tampa Bay) are all officially on this year's Pro Bowl ballot. Log on to NFL.com to cast your vote.
By now, it's a well-known fact around KU Nation that the Denver Broncos have two former Jayhawks starting in their secondary.
When Denver added free agent Aqib Talib to its roster in the offseason, the signing reunited the former KU cornerback and star of the Jayhawks' victory over Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl with his running mate from that game, Denver cornerback Chris Harris.
For many KU fans, having a couple of their favorite former Jayhawks on the Broncos' roster is a nightmare since so many of them are also fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. But Sunday night, during the Broncos home game with San Francisco on Sunday Night Football, Talib gave KU fans a reason to smile whether they dislike the Broncos or not.
For the first time in years (if not ever) Talib gave a shout-out to KU during his introduction that plays along the bottom on the screen on all Sunday night games.
In recent years, Talib often represented his hometown or his high school or said North Dallas after introducing himself. Not Sunday. This time, he simply said, "Aqib Talib, Kansas."
There was some speculation that Talib started leaving KU out of his intro because of his displeasure with the way KU coach Mark Mangino was treated during the end of his time with the Jayhawks. I've never heard that confirmed, but do know it's a popular opinion.
As for why it changed, I don't know the exact details but I know that Talib's snub of the Jayhawks during his intros always rubbed KU fans and several people within the football program the wrong way and I heard that someone at KU reached out to Talib and talked to him about giving KU some love. I even heard one account that Talib spoke to the team before this year's spring game and former KU coach Charlie Weis asked him to start saying KU during the intros. Who knows? But whatever it was, it obviously worked.
During Denver's only other primetime game on NBC this season, they mysteriously did not introduce the Broncos' defense, so this was the first time we were able to see Talib make the change.
As for Harris, he's always been proud to rep KU. He typically says "Chris Harris, Kansas University," but on Sunday he said, "Chris Harris, Kansas Jayhawks."
Regardless of what they say during the intros, it's still so wild to see two former Jayhawks starting for one of the best teams in pro football.
There was not too much to like about KU's 34-21 loss at Texas Tech on Saturday, but also not too much to hate. It was just one of those sort of deliberate and drawn out games in which the Jayhawks' fell behind early, fought to get back in it and then just did not have enough left in the tank — be that juice or talent — to surge past the Red Raiders.
The players and interim head coach Clint Bowen both said they saw more small signs of progress, but they're not out there solely to progress. They want to win. And they're quickly running out of chances in 2014.
With just three road games remaining in 2014 — at Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State — the Jayhawks, all of a sudden, are staring at the very real possibility of taking that road losing streak, which now stands at 30, into the 2015 season. That's not to say they can't upset one of those perennial Big 12 powerhouses, but the odds that it will happen are slim. That's what made a loss like Saturday's so tough for these guys because they know they had the talent to play with Tech and let a couple of little things beat them.
The way I see it, Texas Tech is not a very good football team and they made plenty of mistakes that, against more talented teams, would have cost them. That's probably what hurt the most for the Jayhawks late Saturday night and into Sunday, when they, no doubt, thought back about the missed opportunity and wondered why they couldn't get it done in a winnable game. The biggest issue continues to be their slow starts and it's hard to say how that can be fixed on the fly. Like most things, it's probably as much of an attitude thing as anything, and if that's the case, KU should consider itself lucky because playing with good attitude and great passion is not at all a problem for these guys.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Ben frickin' Heeney, man. I've now covered more than two dozen college football games that the senior from Hutchinson factored into prominently and I now have an undisputed best game I've ever seen him play. Until now, there were so many 14- or 15-tackle outings that blended together that it made it tough for one of them to stand out above the others. But this one was a whole different level of Heeney. He looked as fast as I've ever seen him look, played with his signature attacking style from start to finish and just made play after play after play. Twenty-one tackles. Seventeen of them of the solo variety. And an interception that was arguably the biggest play of the game for the Jayhawks. I've said it before on a couple of occasions, but I don't think it can be said enough. We're in the midst of watching one of KU's all-time greats and the chance to watch Heeney be Heeney is worth the price of admission all by itself.
2 – The Jayhawks continued to show that, at least under Bowen, they're never out of it. Even after digging a 17-0 hole early in the game, nobody panicked, the Jayhawks stayed with the game plan and eventually began to make plays that got them back into it. A lot of the credit for this goes to quarterback Michael Cummings, who, other than a couple of forced deep balls, was pretty solid for the second week in a row. He finished with 235 yards, 2 passing TDs and a rushing TD, improved his completion percentage (from 54 to 63) and used his poise, confidence and leadership skills to keep the offense plugging away series after series.
3 – Kansas had just four penalties enforced against it during Saturday's loss in Lubbock. This represents marked improvement from the past two games, when KU finished with 11 against West Virginia and 8 more against Oklahoma State. With a team like this, when the margin for error is so small that the Jayhawks cannot get away with hardly any mistakes or mental lapses, eliminating those moments when they make life harder on themselves is absolutely critical in every aspect of the game. That means catching passes that are catchable, carrying out assignments and fundamentals all the way through the end of the play and, of course, avoiding those unforced errors that turn manageable situations into nasty ones. KU was not flawless in this department across the board against Texas Tech, but they did take care of business in the penalty department.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – KU's 128 net rushing yards was nearly 150 fewer yards per game than the Red Raiders had given up to opponents on average this year. The total is not as big of a problem — though they still left a lot of yards out there by failing to convert on third downs — as the yards-per-carry average. Led by Corey Avery's 69 yards on 15 carries, Kansas averaged just 3.2 yards per rush in Saturday's loss, which again shows the number of yards they left on the field, which in turn led to missed first downs and ultimately missed points. KU has the horses to have a strong running game, but too often the blocking at the point of attack is breaking down making life miserable for Avery, De'Andre Mann and Michael Cummings.
2 – After carrying the ball for nine yards on the first two plays of the game, senior Tony Pierson missed the rest of the day with an undisclosed injury. There's been some talk that Pierson might have suffered some kind of injury to one of his hands but no official word has come from KU. Regardless of what it is or how long it keeps him out, it's pretty disheartening to see this happening to Pierson for two reasons — 1. It really puts the KU offense in a tough spot because he's a guy who can do so much and put so much pressure on defenses. 2. It's just a drag for Tony. He's been one of KU's best players during the past four years and been nothing but a model teammate and student and lead-by-example kind of guy. Good things are supposed to happen to guys like that, not injuries that keep them off the field.
3 – He recently missed a game because of injury, so that could still be a factor, but there's no question that senior cornerback Dexter McDonald is just not quite right. Unlike last season, when he made pretty much every play that was put in front of him, McDonald is having an up-and-down season so far. In his latest outing, he dropped an interception that he probably would've caught 99 times out of 100 and also was beat for a touchdown. To be fair, the ball was thrown perfectly, but McDonald still let his guy get behind him. These aren't catastrophic miscues and it's very possible that he'll bounce back, but the bar has been set so high for him because of his fantastic skills and incredible 2013 season that even the slightest off day makes it seem like something's wrong.
One for the road
KU's loss at Texas Tech...
• Dropped the Jayhawks to 578-594-58 all-time.
• Pushed Texas Tech's edge in the all-time series with Kansas to 15-1.
• Included KU's first points of the second quarter all season, a 16-yard touchdown pass from Cummings to Justin McCay with 31 seconds to play in the first half.
• Featured another failed fourth-down attempt, which made Kansas just 2-for-11 this season when electing to go for it on fourth down.
The Jayhawks (2-5 overall, 0-4 Big 12) will take their second and final bye of the 2014 season, which many players said comes at a perfect time. Not only will it give them some time to rest up and get healthy, but it also will give them a little more time to further absorb Bowen's coaching style and set the tone for the way they want to finish the season. After the bye, KU will travel to Waco, Texas, for a match-up with Baylor on Nov. 1.
I don't care how many times I go out there the rest of the season, I think I will continually be impressed by how much attention the KU coaching staff gives to fundamentals and proper technique during their normal practice routine.
That was the biggest thing I took away from Wednesday's hour or so that we were out there as the Jayhawks continued preparation for this weekend's game at Texas Tech, and, it showed up everywhere on the field.
Offensive line coach John Reagan worked closely with the tackles on one-foot bursts that helped position them deeper to take on pass-rushers and, while doing so, showed no patience for wasted time.
While working with left tackle Pat Lewandowski at the 5-yard line, Reagan barked to right tackle Larry Mazyck behind him around the 8 to be set up and ready for his reps next. Before Reagan even turned around, Mazyck was in the proper stance and ready to work. This rapid-fire, back-and-forth approach continued throughout the drill.
Down the field 60 yards, the same sort of instruction was being given by defensive backs coach Dave Campo, who routinely stopped one drill to demonstrate with his body what he was yelling with his voice.
It's funny because during Tuesday's media session, Campo slyly pointed out that, even though being a head coach at the college level is a young man's game, he still believed he had plenty of energy left in the tank. Wednesday, I saw it on full display. What a resource.
At one point, Campo was caught in the middle of the drill and nearly taken out by safety Isaiah Johnson, who, wisely, wrapped up his coach and did all he could to prevent himself from taking him to the ground. Rather than sighing or taking a moment for relief, Campo rolled his eyes, mumbled something or other under his breath and hustled back out to his spot in the drill. Great stuff.
It's not as important for the veterans who have been through this whole thing before, but seeing the coaches work like this really helps send a message to the young guys and, in my opinion, is exactly what's necessary to change the culture and future of the program.
Here's a quick look at some other things that stood out from Wednesday's practice:
• Former KU kicker Scott Webb was on hand to watch the action. Webb, as you may recall, was the KU kicker on the Orange Bowl team in 2008.
• Senior Tony Pierson spent the early portion of practice working exclusively with KU's running backs. The good thing about Pierson right now — other than all that speed — is that he's reached a point where he's advanced enough as a receiver and yet still comfortable enough as a running back to be used in either spot (or even both) week in and week out.
• Want one for the attention to detail file? During a drill with the running backs, who ran through the gauntlet to simulate tacklers reaching and grabbing to bring them down, running backs coach Reggie Mitchell recognized that Aaron Plump did not have a ball. Rather than letting it slide and moving on to the next drill, Mitchell made Plump go get a ball and take his turn again.
• I watched the O-Line for quite a while on Wednesday and the main thing I took away was this — these dudes are working hard. I can't say I heard as much grunting and groaning during all of the drills I saw in preseason camp as I did during one or two drills on Wednesday. Say what you want about the line, but don't say it doesn't matter to these guys and that they're not working to get better.
• At least for the time I was out there, senior cornerback Dexter McDonald was a full participant. KU coach Clint Bowen said earlier this week that he expected McDonald to play Saturday and I didn't see anything that would indicate otherwise.
The first signs showed up at the weekly Hawk Talk radio show at Salty Iguana a little less than 36 hours after he officially had accepted the title of interim football coach at Kansas University.
But things are starting to get a little more serious now.
That night, back on Sept. 29, friends, family and football supporters packed the restaurant in West Lawrence to standing-room-only capacity to show their support for Clint Bowen, who stepped in to replace the fired Charlie Weis as the leader of the Jayhawks.
Since then, the love for Bowen has only grown. First was the decoration of the football complex that greeted the Jayhawks upon arriving home after their 33-14 loss at West Virginia, Bowen's first game as a head coach. Then came the show of support by former KU players and Bowen teammates prior to last Saturday's 27-20 home loss to Oklahoma State. Between 150-200 former Jayhawks showed up to line the field as the Jayhawks ran out of the locker room, and many said they came specifically because they believe in Bowen, a former Jayhawk player himself, who has spent 16 of 19 coaching seasons in crimson and blue.
The latest in the Bowen love fest showed up sometime Sunday, when a Facebook page touting Bowen as the choice for KU's next head coach was created. By the time I posted this blog it already had received 608 “likes.”
The goal of the Facebook group is spelled out ever-so-simply in the “About” section of the social media site: “This is a page dedicated to making Clint Bowen the next HC for KU football; through the support of KU students, alumni, and fans. WE WANT BOWEN,” it reads. It includes a couple of photos, a couple of posts — the most notable reads “Let Zenger hear us loud and clear - WE WANT BOWEN!!! — and a bunch of familiar names from past KU football rosters.
I first saw the page early Monday morning and thought to myself, 'Huh, look at that, more love for Bowen.' At the time it had around 140 likes and I didn't really think much more about it.
Later in the day, someone sent me a link to the page and when I checked in again, the number of likes had doubled. The same thing happened Monday night, just before I sat down to write this, and that's when I began to pay attention.
Don't get me wrong, I get it; 500, 1,000, even 5,000 likes on a Facebook does not magically make Bowen become the automatic choice to be selected as the next head coach of the Jayhawks. No matter how high the number grows, it likely will never register high enough for KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger to truly factor it into his decision. But I can guarantee you that Zenger, provided he finds out about it, will take note of the page and it will mean something.
What that is is anyone's guess. But, if nothing else, it's a clear sign that Bowen is well liked, and that gives him a chance.
Just for fun, let's say the page was created around 10 p.m. Sunday night. I wrote this blog around 10 p.m. Monday night. So in that 24-hour period, 608 people found it worthwhile to log on to the page and click the like button in support of Bowen.
If the page continues to grow at that pace —which may very well be tied to the question of whether Bowen's Jayhawks continue to play the way they have the past two weeks — then by the time he runs onto the field at Kansas State for the Jayhawks' season finale on Nov. 29, the “We Want Bowen” Facebook page could have more than 29,000 likes, which is probably a little more than the number of people who actually showed up at 50,000-seat Memorial Stadium for last weekend's game. Even that number is not as high as it needs to be to consider the potential hire a home run, but it sure wouldn't hurt.
Reaching that number is probably the longest of long shots. In fact, there's probably very little chance that the number of likes on the page even reaches five digits. But whether they find their way to the Facebook page or not, people everywhere are making it known that Bowen is the guy they want to lead the Jayhawks into the future. I've received emails, phone calls and Tweets that say just that and I'm just one person.
That does not include the feelings of everyone out there, of course. Nor does it mean that many of those same people would be upset if Zenger chose to go a different direction. There are plenty of guys who would be great choices for the job and several who probably would have a terrific shot at becoming successful. But not many of them, if any, would move into the head coach's office at the Anderson Family Football Complex with the kind of backing that Bowen currently has.
He has to sustain that, of course. And the only way for that to happen is for him to continue to make the Jayhawks competitive in what ESPN.com recently voted the second best conference in football in its latest College Football Power Rankings. So, there's that. But if it happens, and especially if Bowen can find a way to lead Kansas to a win or two, then there will be no need to take a poll to find out how people would feel about Bowen being hired. They've already spoken.
Here's a look at the "BOWEN should be HC" Facebook page