KU football finishes season ranked No. 23

Kansas coach Lance Leipold holds up the trophy after the team's 49-36 win over UNLV in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl NCAA college football game Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Kansas football team has finished a season ranked for the first time in 16 years.

KU, which concluded the year at 9-4 with a bowl victory, earned a No. 23 ranking in the final AP Poll released following Monday’s national championship game.

This is just the eighth time the program has received a season-ending ranking; most recently, the Jayhawks were No. 7 after winning the Orange Bowl to conclude the 2007 season.

It was a season full of milestones for KU, which built on last year’s return to bowl eligibility under Lance Leipold. This time around, the Jayhawks opened the season with four straight wins but played their best around the middle of the year, upsetting then-No. 6 Oklahoma on Oct. 28 in a nationally prominent “Big Noon Kickoff” game on Fox and then picking up a rare road victory at Iowa State the following week.

An injury to quarterback Jason Bean — himself the backup, only playing because Jalon Daniels struggled with recurring back tightness all year — slowed the Jayhawks’ momentum as they took disappointing home losses to Texas Tech and rival Kansas State, but they closed out the regular season with a win at Cincinnati in Bean’s return.

That earned KU a spot in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl in Phoenix, where Bean threw six touchdowns, three each to Luke Grimm and Lawrence Arnold, to offset three interceptions as the Jayhawks won 49-36 on Dec. 26.

KU players earned a combined 15 all-conference honors, highlighted by a defensive newcomer of the year nod for edge rusher Austin Booker and first-team selections for Booker, left tackle Dominick Puni and cornerback Cobee Bryant. Running back Devin Neal and safety Kenny Logan Jr. earned second-team honors while six more Jayhawks picked up honorable mentions.

Booker declared early for the NFL Draft and Puni is a likely draft pick himself, but Bryant has announced his plans to return next year and ESPN has reported that Neal intends to do the same.

Bean, Logan, Puni, tight end Mason Fairchild and linebacker Rich Miller are among KU’s most prominent losses to graduation. The Jayhawks have, however, signed 17 freshmen to help supplement their roster for 2024.

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