No One Saw This Coming

KU's Jake Sharp (AP/Charlie Riedel)

Even the Jayhawks themselves know they're in rarified air, and they have a plan to stay there

Okay, everyone here who thought that KU would be 9-0 after the first Saturday in November, raise your hand.

That’s what I thought: one really drunk guy at the end of the bar at Louise’s West and some insomniac gambler in Phoenix who just ordered his new Porsche last week.

If you didn’t make that prediction, though, don’t feel bad. See, no one – and I mean noone – saw this coming.

I asked KU head coach Mark Mangino after Saturday’s game, if someone had told you back in August that the Jayhawks would be 9-0 and a serious BCS bowl contender on November 3rd, what would you have said?

His answer broke up the businesslike air of the post-game presser. The coach hesitated for a second and replied, “I’d ask what they’ve been drinking…and where I can get some of it?”

Truth be told, Mangino saw a great opportunity for the 2007 season, but he didn’t see it unfolding as it has. There were just too many question marks.

“I’m not going to stand here and tell you I knew we were going to be 9-0; that’s foolishness. But I thought we had a chance to have a really good football team. I felt that way about the kids through winter, through spring ball, through the summer, training camp. If some kids step up, and we get the quarterback settled, and we get some defensive positions settled and get the interior of the offensive line settled, then perhaps we’d have a chance to be a pretty good football team. Those kids have stepped up, they have developed and here we are.”

Even QB Todd Reesing, perhaps the most confident human being on the planet, didn’t envision this.

“I don’t know what I would have thought (back in August). I knew that we would have the potential to do that, but that’s thinking eight games past what we normally think about. At that point, you’re just thinking about getting through the off-season and winning the first game. But it’s the situation were in now and we’re excited and we’re having a lot of fun. We’re going to try to keep it going.”

This kind of success is pretty heady stuff for a group that felt pretty good about a 7-5 season just two years ago. Mangino said that while he didn’t expect this level of success, he’s not especially shocked by it, either.

“I’m not surprised because I think our kids’ approach to each game is consistent. They’re focused, they don’t get distracted, they stay on task. This is a pretty intelligent football team; we’ve got pretty smart kids here. They’ve got so much invested in it, they don’t want to do anything that might take them off course or distract them. I’m fortunate to have kids with that kind of focus.”

There they are again: Mangino’s 2007 variations on the theme “keep sawing wood”: stay focused, don’t allow yourself to be distracted and stay on task. He’s said them after every game all season, and the Jayhawks have bought into it. They get it. They understand the old adage, “The biggest game on your schedule is the one coming up.” To a man, they parrot back that same basic message.

LB Mike Rivera said, “It’s worked so far this season, so I’m going to keep it going one game at a time, one practice at a time. Don’t look too far ahead because there’s no reason to. We’re going to look at this next game, keep it rolling. At the end of the year, when we’re done, we can settle down and look at things. But right now, one game at a time.”

One would think it would be easy for a member of the college football nouveau riche to start reading their own clippings and lose that tunnel vision, but I’m pretty sure that if Kansas loses, it’s going to be because they played a better team, not because they got distracted and lost their focus. RB Brandon McAnderson said it’s not even necessary for coaches and players to police each other to make sure no one gets too cocky.

“It’s just not an atmosphere that breeds overconfidence. It’s just not, with our coaches and the workmen’s mentality that we’ve always had. We feel like this is something we could’ve been able to do in the past, but we just couldn’t finish.”

The Jayhawks are most certainly finishing games this season, all nine of them so far, thanks to a high level of talent, maturity, discipline, football IQ and a mindset that ensures they are mindful of one game and one opponent at a time, regardless of who they have coming up on the schedule.

Fans, on the other hand, have never been bound by the rule, “Don’t look ahead.” And we don’t abide by it, either. In fact, we’re lousy at it. Mangino says that’s fine by him.

“That’s part of being a fan: getting to talk about where we’re going to go, how many we’re going to win. They haven’t had that at Kansas for a long, long time. Our fans deserve to be able to talk at the water cooler and the barber shop about what could happen. When I came here, there was talk that Kansas fans didn’t care about football and no matter what you did, they’d never jump onboard. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our fans have been absolutely terrific and they’re enjoying the ride, as well.”

So go ahead, Kansas fans: check Expedia or Travelocity for airfares to San Antonio. You really want to go out on a ledge? Start asking yourself, “Who do I know in N’awlins with a spare bedroom?”

Don’t feel guilty. After all, this has been the screwiest college football season in memory; seeing Kansas in the national championship game would just seem right somehow. Besides, Mangino and the Jayhawks are determined not to see the ride end anytime soon.

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