Year In Review: The optimist’s take on the 2019 Kansas football season
photo by: Mike Gunnoe
Before the 2019 Kansas football season began, I took a stab at a couple of different viewpoints on what was to come.
The first belonged to the optimist and was a look ahead at KU’s first season under Les Miles from the perspective of those who believed there were plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
The second belonged to the pessimist and was just the opposite.
Now that the run is over and Miles and the Jayhawks have put the finishing touches on their 3-9 season, it’s time to do the same by looking back at the season that was and all that came with it.
First up: The year in review from the eyes of the optimist. We’ll run with the pessimist’s point of view tomorrow.
Despite the final record, this one’s actually pretty easy.
If you’re the type who can ignore the final scores and believe that the puzzle of a rebuilding project is put together not of individual moments but by snapping together notable accomplishments, you probably think Year 1 went pretty well.
And in some ways it did.
Let’s take a quick look back at the three most notable achievements by the Kansas football team during Year 1 under Miles. None of the three have been anything close to a given during the past decade. And all three not only happened but also happened in the same year.
First, the Jayhawks won a road game. Remember when that used to be basically impossible?
And before you scoff and think back to how bad that Boston College team that KU beat 48-24 was in mid-September, you might be interested to know that the Eagles are bowl-bound after finishing the season 6-6.
Any Kansas football season that includes the Jayhawks winning away from home is one worth remembering. And the Jayhawks not only won their first road test of 2019, but they also had late leads in the fourth quarter of two other road games that went down as losses — at Texas and at Iowa State.
A 1-4 record away from home doesn’t sound like much. But it does when put in the context of a 1-49 road mark in the nine seasons that came before it.
Second, Kansas won a Big 12 game.
This accomplishment has a similar ring to KU winning on the road, with the Jayhawks picking up just their sixth Big 12 Conference win in the past 10 seasons.
That, of course, came when the Jayhawks followed up their near-win at Texas with a wild victory over Texas Tech at home, and that two-game stretch was by far the Jayhawks’ best football of the season.
For context, Texas Tech finished the season 4-8 yet won two Big 12 games — vs. No. 21 Oklahoma State and by 21 at West Virginia.
The third thumbs-up for 2019 came on the heels of the close call in Austin and the home win over Texas Tech, and even though it did not result in a victory it was nearly as impressive.
For the first time in 10 years, Memorial Stadium was full on a Saturday in the fall. And while the visitors in purple accounted for 20-25% of the sellout crowd, Jayhawk fans certainly did their part to fill the stadium. And it was some sight.
The game itself did not live up to the buzz surrounding it, as the Wildcats rocked the Jayhawks 38-10 in a contest that really wasn’t that close.
But the mere fact that Kansas football could generate enough excitement in early November to inspire fans to pack the stadium can only be viewed as positive.
The bottom line is this: KU’s overall record in Les Miles’ first season was not any better than what we’ve seen for the past decade. But the path to 3-9 featured higher highs than many expected and seemed to come with folks paying more attention than in recent years, expecting Kansas to at least be competitive week in and week out.
The Jayhawks didn’t always live up to those expectations and there were certainly some duds, none worse than the 61-6 drubbing by Baylor in the season finale.
But whether it was because people tuned in to see if KU could win or because of the excitement brought on by the move to Brent Dearmon as offensive coordinator, this was the first season in a long time that featured so many Kansas fans paying attention to KU football deep into November.
They talked it, watched it and were frustrated by it. Isn’t that a step forward from the annual apathy that we’ve seen in years past?