Kansas mentioned twice in ESPN’s recent draft of college football’s best seasons
photo by: Nick Krug
While waiting for the 2020 college football season to kick off, three veteran football writers at ESPN recently drafted their favorite college seasons in history — and Kansas was a factor in two of them.
Naturally, one of those mentions on the 15-season draft by Bill Connelly, Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach is the 2007 season, in which the Jayhawks earned an Orange Bowl victory. The other one was from a season more than half a century ago.
Maisel picked the 2007 season at No. 2 in the first round, and part of his reasoning was “all the chaos” the season included. For example, LSU, under current Kansas coach Les Miles, became the first two-loss team to win it all that season. Beyond that, though, Maisel pointed out that 13 top-five teams lost to unranked foes, and he made special note of the fact that Kansas went to the Orange Bowl, Illinois went to the Rose Bowl and Hawaii was in the Sugar Bowl. None of those three programs has had anything close to that kind of success since the wild 2007 season.
Maisel also pointed out that the 2007 season was Nick Saban’s first at Alabama, Chip Kelly’s first at Oregon and the year that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy turned 40.
The other Kansas mention in the five-round draft came at the top of the third round, when Connelly chose the 1960 season with his third pick.
That was the year that KU chose to play running back Bert Coan in its win over then-No. 1 Missouri, which had reached the top of the national polls for the first time in history. Coan eventually was declared ineligible by the Big Eight Conference, but the Jayhawks, believing they had done nothing wrong, played him anyway.
Kansas defeated Missouri 23-7 that afternoon, handing the Tigers their only loss of the season. But a couple of weeks later, the loss was removed from Missouri’s record because of Coan’s ineligibility. The Tigers went on to win the Orange Bowl and finished the season 11-0, but they wound up ranked fifth in the final AP poll. Minnesota, with two losses, was named college football’s national champion.
The Coan controversy continued for as long as the Border War lingered, with each school claiming a different record in the overall series because of the outcome of that game.
Even though the Kansas football program is mired in as tough a decade as any Power Five football program has ever had, there are plenty of names and achievements in the program’s history that still rank as relevant on the national stage, and the fact that these veteran college football writers found two of them to be factors in their all-time draft is a good reminder of that.
With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at my picks for the five best seasons in KU football history:
1 – 2007 – These Jayhawks set plenty of records and won their last game of the season on the biggest stage in college football, which gives them a solid claim to the top spot on the list. Todd Reesing owns every major passing record in KU history. Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier are at the top of all of the program’s receiving records. KU finished second in the nation in scoring and 12th nationally in total defense. Beyond that, the 2007 team roared to an 11-0 start and reached No. 2 in the polls before losing to No. 3 Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium. MU’s loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game the following week opened the door for the Jayhawks to earn a BCS bowl berth, and Kansas made the most of it by knocking off Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl and finishing the season at 12-1. In the final AP poll, KU ranked No. 7, and it earned one first-place vote. KU also had two first-team All-Americans: Anthony Collins and Aqib Talib.
2 – 1968 – Pepper Rodgers’ tough and talented squad made it to the 1969 Orange Bowl, where it lost to Penn State in the infamous 12-men-on-the-field game. KU finished 9-2 overall that season — 6-1 in Big Eight Conference play — and was ranked No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll. KU climbed all the way to No. 3 in the rankings at one point, and the Jayhawks featured one of the nation’s most potent offenses, led by tailback John Riggins and quarterback Bobby Douglass.
3 – 1960 – Even with the Coan controversy swirling, the Jayhawks finished the 1960 season at 7-2-1 overall and 6-0-1 in Big Eight play, led by All-American quarterback John Hadl. Their only losses were to No. 2 Syracuse and No. 1 Iowa, both on the road. KU finished 21st nationally in points per game (21.9) and 24th in points allowed (8.9 per game). KU’s record would have been good enough for a Big Eight crown, but the conference stripped the Jayhawks of their final two victories of the season (over Missouri and Colorado) and handed the Tigers the Big Eight title instead.
4 – 1995 – Led by quarterback Mark Williams and tailbacks June Henley, L.T. Levine and Eric Vann, the 1995 Jayhawks were one of the season’s surprise teams, finishing 10-2 with an Aloha Bowl victory and a No. 9 final ranking in The Associated Press poll. KU ranked 31st nationally in points per game (28.8) and 42nd defensively in points allowed per game (21.8), and the Jayhawks played the 34th-toughest schedule in the country. The Jayhawks started the season 7-0 before losing at No. 14 Kansas State and to No. 1 Nebraska in a three-week span down the stretch. KU racked up wins over No. 4 Colorado and No. 15 Oklahoma — both on the road — during that 7-0 start.
5 – 1961 – Behind future NFL stars John Hadl (KU’s first two-time All-American) and Curtis McClinton, the Jayhawks entered the season ranked No. 8 in the preseason polls and finished it with a 33-7 rout of Rice in the Bluebonnet Bowl. The Jayhawks could have finished even higher had it not been for their struggles early on. After dropping a one-point game to TCU — then of the Southwestern Conference — in the season opener, KU tied Wyoming and lost at Colorado by a point to start the season 0-2-1. From there, the Jayhawks won seven of their final eight games to finish 7-3-1 — six of those wins came in one long streak that included games at Nebraska and at Oklahoma. KU finished 15th in the final UPI Coaches Poll.