Matt Tait: Not ranked? Who cares? Not the Jayhawks.
Here’s the thing about the 4-0 Kansas football team not being ranked in either the coaches poll or the Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday.
It doesn’t mean the polls are worthless or broken.
It doesn’t mean this Kansas team is not any good nor does it indicate that KU’s resume is devoid of quality wins.
It doesn’t mean that the teams ranked ahead of Kansas are definitely better than the Jayhawks — or more deserving — and it doesn’t mean that the teams ranked below the Jayhawks are worse or less deserving.
It just means that there’s more work to be done.
And the guess here is that the KU players and coaches are 100% OK with that.
This is not a team that has reached this point by chasing glory.
Let’s face it; if that were the case, the daunting task of jump-starting the rebuilding process at Kansas might have seemed a little too overwhelming or unrealistic at the outset. Human nature’s a powerful thing.
Instead of trying to jump from the bottom to the top overnight, this group has gone about its climb by focusing on all of the right things. The opinion of pollsters, analyst’s predictions and the Las Vegas odds have nothing to do with the way they go about their business.
Sure, these guys are hungry for respect. But they know that the best and quickest way to be respected is to take care of business on Saturdays and show that they are worthy.
It’s never been about individual accolades or being in favor with the media. It’s always been about the work.
We know that because we’ve talked to the Kansas players and coaches about the past 16 months under Lance Leipold, and they’ve been open in sharing what they have prioritized.
That list includes: Hard work, a team-first mentality, locking in on the mantra of trying to improve by 1% each day and not worrying about what it says on the scoreboard or in the headlines.
It’s easy to say those things when you’re undefeated and one of the early feel-good stories of the college football season. But these guys were doing that stuff long before now. If they hadn’t been, now would never have arrived.
In the first year under Leipold, KU did its best to lay the foundation. And it was all about playing hard and trying to execute no matter what. Sometimes that was difficult and the overmatched Jayhawks simply could not find success. Still, they kept coming — quietly, consistently and methodically.
Other times, like in the late-season win at Texas or the two close-call losses that followed it, the Jayhawks discovered that their approach could work.
So they stuck with it. All offseason, as they added new faces and quietly targeted this type of success, they remained focused on the process that showed them that better days were ahead.
No one could have known that those better days would come this soon or be quite this good, but when you operate with your eyes fixed on improving for personal pride and the sake of those around you, that’s when special things can happen.
So, yeah, KU’s not ranked this week and there are a whole bunch of people out there who believe that’s some sort of outrageous injustice.
But I promise you these guys are not in that group.
They don’t concern themselves with things like that. Their focus today is the same as it was when the season started at 0-0 or when they took a 1-8 record and little hope into Austin, Texas, last season and won.
If it wasn’t, they never would have gotten here.
And for them it’s all about doing the work, believing in the process and letting the rest take care of itself.
So what if they’re 26th instead of 25th? And who cares if Iowa State opened as a 3.5-point favorite this week?
That had no bearing on Sunday’s practice plan or what the Jayhawks will do Monday through Friday.
Saturday is when it all will count, but even then their minds will be on perfect execution on the next snap or series and little else.