One, Two, Three Questions

Three KU football questions on my mind while counting the days until the Jayhawks' opener against Northern Colorado at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 5.

1-Who is the best coach in KU football history?

In 1999, a blue-ribbon Jayhawk panel voted for Jack Mitchell as the best coach in KU football history, followed by Don Fambrough, J.V. Sikes, Pepper Rogers, George Seurer and Glen Mason. Surprisingly, A.R. (Bert) Kennedy was not on the list. The winningest coach in KU history, Kennedy guided KU to a 53-9-4 record during his sevens seasons from 1904-10.

With all due respects to Kennedy, Mitchell and all the others, it's got to be current head coach Mark Mangino, who's brilliantly resurrected Kansas football after taking over what he described in many ways a Division II type program under predecessor Terry Allen. Heck, in just his second season at Mount Oread, Mangino led the once morbid KU program to the Tangerine Bowl, KU's first bowl since 1995.

Mangino, the 2007 National Coach of the Year, hasn't stopped there. In seven seasons at KU, Mangino has accomplished a lot of firsts, including guiding KU to:

  • most bowl games (4) of any coach in Jayhawk history
  • back-to- back bowl games for the first time in school annals
  • first BCS game (Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech in 2007)
  • three consecutive bowl wins for the first time in school history
  • Twenty wins in a two-year period (2007 and 2008), the most in consecutive years in Jayhawk history
  • ranking in a school-record 19 consecutive AP polls from 2007 through half of 2008
  • top three total offense seasons in school history and top two passing seasons in KU annals
  • top three rushing defenses in KU history

And he's done so much more. With his demanding tough love, Mangino has changed the program's attitude, morale, discipline, toughness and overall perception. He recruits winners and demands nothing less on the practice field, game days, and in the classroom and off the field.

What's left for Mangino and his staff to accomplish is start winning Big 12 Championships and beating Big 12 South powers like Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State on a relatively consistent basis. This could be the year that starts. Look for KU to upset preseason No. 3 OU at home on Oct. 24. If all goes according to plan, that would put KU at 7-0 and tie Mangino with Kennedy for all-time wins at KU with 52.

His next win, hopefully at Texas Tech the following week, will give him the distinction of becoming the winningest coach in school history. But for me, Mangino is already the best coach this school has ever seen.

2-Will Jake Sharp rush for 1,000 yards in his farewell season at KU?

YES!

In fact, I'm betting he rushes for at least 1,200 or 1,300 yards, barring injury. Sharp rushed for a career-high 860 yards last season while averaging just 14.3 attempts per game. However, he didn't emerge as the team's top running back until the fifth game of the season. Discounting his first four games, he averaged 17.8 attempts per game on 4.84 yards per carry for 86 yards per game.
    
As the main man this year from the get-go, expect the senior to carry the ball at least 20 times per game. And if he matches his 5.1 yards per carry career average, he'd rush for 102 yards per game. With 13 games (12 regular season and one bowl game), that would put his total at 1,326 yards, the most since Jon Cornish rushed for 1,457 yards in 2006.
    
And here's something more amazing. If Sharp maintains his 5.1 yards per carry career average and carries the ball at least 134 times (just 11.2 attempts per game), he will tie Hall of Famer John Riggins' school record for the highest yards per carry (5.1) for a career with a minimum of 500 attempts.
    
And I wouldn't be surprised if Sharp breaks Riggins' record. This is a guy motivated by doubters, people who've questioned his size and game at every level. He has a big chip on his shoulder and wants to prove he can carry the load this season as KU's big-play back. Sharp is also motivated by people counting on him. As a senior and co-captain, that will definitely be the case this year.
    
"If you have people counting on you," Sharp said, "you're going to do absolutely everything you can not to let them down."
    
This is his college swan song, and he'd like nothing more than to continue playing football at the next level. Sharp knows a great season will help his cause. But if this is his last season playing football, he surely wants to go out with a bang as well.
    
As Mangino said, it will be a sad day for Sharp when he's no longer playing the game he loves.
    
You can bank it. Sharp rushes for 1,000-plus yards in 2009, and don't be surprised if he breaks the 1,300-yard barrier.

3-What will be the final score in KU's season opener against Northern Colorado?

KU has racked up at least 40 points in each of its last three season openers. Expect this game to be more of the same against a Northern Colorado squad which went 1-10 last season and 1-7 in the Big Sky Conference. UNC, which returns 13 starters, will be no match for Kansas.

Look for Todd Reesing to pass for 325 yards with both Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe having 100-plus yard receiving games. The Jayhawks win 52-10 and are on their way towards a magical season.

See you at Memorial Stadium.