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Thursday's Sunflower Showdown a big game for Big Blue
So here we are, a little more than 24 hours away from kickoff of this year’s Sunflower Showdown and a few things are starting to become pretty clear.
The most important thing I’ve learned in the last 24 hours? This is a huge game.
Before you chastise me for stating such an obvious fact, let me explain.
In addition to the usual bragging rights between families, feel-good moments for fans and general good vibe that goes along with beating your rival, this year's KU-K-State matchup has something a little extra to it.
Before the season, many who cover the Big 12 referred to the match-up between KU and K-State — 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Stadium — as a game with serious bowl implications. The winner, many thought, would go bowling, while the loser would fall short of reaching the six-win plateau and, therefore, remain home during bowl season.
With four wins already, K-State’s a lot closer than KU to reaching that magic number of six wins necessary to be bowl eligible, but the Wildcats might have a tougher road ahead. Games at Kansas and Baylor are up next and they’ll be followed by home dates against Oklahoma State — currently ranked 20th in the Top 25 — and Texas, along with a trip to No. 21 Missouri in consecutive weeks.
That makes Thursday’s game a bit of a must-win for the Wildcats.
But enough about them. What’s this mean for the Jayhawks? For starters, it’s also a must-win for Kansas. Let’s face it, if the Jayhawks fall to 2-4 overall (2-2 at home) and can’t knock off their very average in-state rival, they’re not going to a bowl this season.
However, if Turner Gill and Co. win this one, and move to 3-3 overall, things could get interesting. Here’s why.
Colorado just lost two key players from its squad, starting safety Anthony Perkins, who was among the team leaders in tackles and a rock in defending the pass defense and backup running back Brian Lockridge, who was more than competent in spelling starter Rodney Stewart. The loss of both players is a big blow for the Buffs and makes KU’s game against Colorado — at home on Nov. 6 — a lot more winnable.
The same goes for the prospects of winning the Iowa State game on Oct. 30 in Ames, Iowa, now that news of an injury to Cyclones running back Alexander Robinson has surfaced. Robinson, one of the top backs in the Big 12 a season ago, has a foot injury that likely will keep him out of this week’s game against Oklahoma.
Maybe with proper treatment and some time off, the injury will be a non-factor by the time the Jayhawks and Cyclones meet in two weeks. But, with running backs, foot injuries rarely are considered minor, so, at the very least, this might mean that Robinson will be less effective than he would have been when KU faces him. Add to this the potential lingering of a shoulder injury (non-throwing arm) to ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud and you’re looking at the potential to see a completely different Iowa State club on the day before Halloween.
Again, both players could be fine by the time they face the Jayhawks, but, if they’re not, it would be a huge advantage for Kansas.
I understand that five or six weeks into any college football season, teams are going to have bumps and bruises to deal with. Heck, KU has had its share of injuries this season, too. But if the Jayhawks remain healthy and the rest of the teams on their schedule continue to weaken, the odds increase, even if by just a little, that KU could pull out six wins.
The bottom line here, injury talk or no injury talk, is that the Jayhawks must win Thursday in order to hold on to any hope of becoming bowl eligible, something that still might be a longshot either way.
However, a win Thursday along with victories against Iowa State and Colorado would bring KU’s win total to five. With home dates against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, along with the always-wild Border War at Arrowhead still unaccounted for, anything’s possible at that point.