Well, this certainly was unexpected.
Even the most pessimistic fans of Kansas University football thought the squad would win a few games this season.
I’m talking about the guys who expect bad things to happen more often than good, the guys who don’t really believe that anyone — not Mangino, not Weis, heck, not John Brown — could get the KU football program on the right track for very long. You know the type. And, yeah, even they thought the upgrade at quarterback, the new coach, and the new attitude would mean a new and improved look for the Jayhawks this season.
And it still could. But with a few of their best chances at victory now behind them, it’s going to take some serious work by the Jayhawks from here on out to turn this season into anything other than a bummer.
That certainly was the most popular way for fans to describe KU’s meltdown at Northern Illinois last weekend, which dropped the Jayhawks to 1-3 and, worse, marked the second fourth-quarter collapse of the young season.
So now what? Simple. It’s time to see what Charlie Weis is made of.
We know his reputation. We know about the Super Bowl rings and the wise-guy New Jersey attitude. We know about his work with Tom Brady, Brady Quinn, Jimmy Clausen and Matt Cassel. We know he’s an honest man with great work ethic who calls it like he sees it, expects hard work at all times and doesn’t like excuses.
It all makes for a pretty salty resume and one that seems befitting of a coach who would be capable of leading Kansas back to respectability, and perhaps beyond.
But now we need to see if Weis can grind.
It certainly looks like tough sledding the rest of the way, with nothing but talented Big 12 squads dotting KU’s schedule from here on out. And with so many members of this year’s team being so used to losing, one has to wonder what, if anything, it’s going to take to get them to snap out of the funk and find a way to win again.
The easy answer is leadership. It would be nice if some of that came from the guys on the field. I’m guessing it can and will. But it’s mandatory that it comes from Weis and, if my experiences with him thus far have taught me anything, I believe he's ready to dig in.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Weis surely will think harder and work longer in the coming weeks to try to figure this thing out. He’s already famous for arriving at the office before 5 a.m. and is known to burn the midnight oil so long that he keeps a mattress and blankets in his office.
Expect him to begin to do more.
History says Weis is both able and willing to do the dirty work. As has been well-documented, Weis is no stranger to turnarounds. He’s been a part of a few of them, and, each time, things started slowly and finished strong.
There’s one in particular that Weis likes to talk about — New England 1993.
Patriots coach Bill Parcells and Weis, his offensive assistant, inherited a team that had finished the 1992 season 2-14. Things were bleak and, at the time, not many fans expected that anybody — not Parcells, not Weis, heck, not Paul Revere — could get things turned around very quickly. For a while, it looked as if they were right.
New England started off the ’93 season 1-11, with the only victory coming on a deflected pass that Weis said the Patriots had no business coming up with. But they won four straight to end the season and, to hear Weis tell it, those four wins were as important as any for the franchise that quickly became used to winning.
“Although we wound up 5-11, we went into that locker room after beating the Dolphins on the last game of the year and you would think we won the Super Bowl,” Weis said.
The next year, New England made the playoffs. Not long after that they went on to the Super Bowl and became the closest thing to a modern-day dynasty that the NFL has seen.
While this year’s KU squad appears to be a long way from reaching that point, it’s worth putting a little faith in Weis on this one. After all, he’s the one who’s seen it.
“There’s a lot of parallels that I see so far (between the 2012 Jayhawks and 1993 Patriots),” he said. “But it’s still too early to tell.”
The first four weeks of the once promising 2012 season were largely disappointing for KU fans. But, as the Jayhawks head into their bye week, it's important to remember what so many, including myself, said so often throughout the offseason — this year's team should not be judged on its win-loss record. This team should be judged by the eye test.
The Jayhawks do look better in a lot of ways. So that's promising. And it makes sense, too. Getting them to compete all-out from start to finish was Weis’ top priority.
Now it’s time for the Jayhawks to figure out the next step.
• Kansas Jayhawks (1-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (2-1) •
— 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, Huskie Stadium, DeKalb, IL —
Opening Las Vegas Line: NIU -10
Current Las Vegas Line: NIU -9
Three and out, with Northern Illinois...
Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, a junior from Chicago, was named the MAC West Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after tallying 467 yards of total offense during the Huskies’ one-point win at Army last week.
The first-year starter threw for four touchdowns and a career-high 342 yards on 18-of-27 passing and also ran for 125 more on 13 carries, including an 88-yard touchdown run.
KU coach Charlie Weis said Lynch’s unpredictable skillset make him tough to slow down.
“The problem with him is he is running the ball so effectively in the read option that everybody is trying to load up the box against him and it opens up big chunks in the passing game,” Weis said. “You really have to pick your poison there.”
Added NIU coach Dave Doeren of his junior QB: “Jordan’s a gamer. He loves to compete, he plays extremely hard, he’s very aggressive.”
Lynch’s recognition marked the third straight week that the Huskies had been highlighted in the conference player of the week awards, with defensive end Sean Progar and defensive back Jimmie Ward earning back-to-back defensive player of the week honors to kick off the season.
NIU extended its school-record winning streak at Huskie Stadium to 16 games with its win over UT Martin in Week 2. The Huskies have not lost a game in DeKalb since Sept. 26, 2009, when NIU dropped a 34-31 decision to Idaho.
Northern Illinois has won 12 straight MAC games at home, dating back to a 33-30 overtime loss to Central Michigan on Nov. 12, 2008.
“The home stadium, we practice in it every day and it’s just so familiar to our guys,” Doeren said. “We’ve definitely, for three seasons now, taken advantage of understanding that we need to protect our home.”
Northern Illinois is one of 10 FBS programs to win at least 11 games in each of the last two years (2010 and 2011). The Huskies join Virginia Tech, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, TCU, Boise State, Oregon, Stanford, LSU and Alabama on the short list.
In fact, NIU and Stanford are the only teams whose 11-win seasons came under different head coaches, as Jerry Kill led the Huskies to 11 wins in 2010 and Doeren followed that up with an 11-3 season in 2011, which included a streak of nine straight wins the close the season and victories in the MAC championship game (23-20 over Ohio) and the GoDaddy.com Bowl (38-20 over Arkansas State).
This week’s game marks the third meeting all-time between the Jayhawks and Huskies. The series is tied at 1, with both of the previous meetings taking place at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence.
NIU won, 37-34, on Sept. 3, 1983, and the Jayhawks evened the score with a 45-42 victory on Sept. 10 of last year. In that one, then-quarterback Jordan Webb found wide receiver D.J. Beshears for the game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line with nine seconds to play. The game featured more than 996 yards of total offense and just three total punts.