The Fevah!

(Steve Puppe photo)

Kansas football fever has officially hit Lawrence, Kan. With KU (No. 20) ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1996 and riding a 5-0 start heading into its matchup with Baylor on Saturday, Jayhawk fans are already thinking about a big-time bowl game.

But first things first. After a bye-week and then beating Kansas State last Saturday in Manhattan, the ‘Hawks are returning to Memorial Stadium since its last home game on Sept. 22 against Florida International.

A win over Baylor would mark the first time Kansas posted six wins in three straight years since 1960-62...A 200-yard passing game by Todd Reesing would tie a school record with Mike Norseth for most consecutive 200-yard aerial games (six)...A victory would give KU a six-game winning streak for the first time since 1995 and just the second time since 1968...John Riggins, the NFL Hall of Famer and standout on that ‘68 Orange Bowl team, will be inducted into the Ring of Honor at halftime.

These are just some of the story lines entering Saturday’s game. And yes, the home team has won nine of 10 games in the KU-Baylor series. So with Baylor 3-3 and KU 5-0, the ‘Hawks look to inflict some major damage on the Bears in Memorial Stadium and get some revenge after BU’s come-from-behind 36-35 victory last year in Waco, Texas.

KU head coach Mark Mangino is cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances.

“Baylor is better than their 3-3 record,” he said. “They are throwing the ball extremely well and moving their offense extremely well. Blake Szymanski threw for over 400 yards again last week. Brandon Whitaker, out of the backfield, had a bunch of catches and has all year. They have seven or eight guys that have double-digit receptions. On defense they play hard-nosed football. They are going to be a good challenge. We are working hard to get ready for them.”

KU is certainly up for the task. After finishing last in the nation in pass defense (269.1 yards per game) in 2006, Kansas has been opening some eyes with their pass coverage this fall. KU ranks No. 8 in the country, giving up just 161.20 passing yards per game. The ‘Hawks also rank fifth in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

KU junior cornerback Aqib Talib is looking forward to Baylor’s pass-hungry offense.

“They are going to throw the ball 60 times,” Talib said. “That means that we will have 60 opportunities to get our hands on the ball. Their offense is a lot different than Kansas State’s. It will not be anything like it was last week.”

Senior defensive lineman James McClinton has one thing on his mind come Saturday.

“Sack, sack, sack, sack city,” he said. “I know my defensive ends are going to like it. Russell Brorsen and John Larsen are going to love it.”

While the Jayhawks are enjoying their Top 25 ranking, they know there is much room to improve. Mangino said his club needs to get better tackling and communication on defense, and offensively, the ‘Hawks “need to polish up some routes and catch the football.”

So don’t look for the new national ranking to make Kansas soft.

“It gives us some confidence, but it’s still too early,” McClinton said. “Like Coach Mangino says ‘with great success comes great responsibility.’ We just can’t handle adversity, we have to handle success, too. We handled it in a good way, we are not cocky.”

McClinton and company know a win over Baylor will be another step forward in KU’s quest to win the Big 12 North, compete for the conference championship, and land a major bowl game.

“I think it is wide open,” said Reesing about the Big 12 race. “I do not think anyone is in the driver’s seat, in either division. We have to go out each week and take care of business. If we keep winning then we are going to be right in the thick of things to play for the North and maybe even the Big 12 Championship.”

And if that happens, Jayhawk football fever will be at an even higher pitch. KU just might not be known solely as a basketball school any longer.

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