During the past several weeks, as Kansas has kept winning and winning, the question has been asked with more frequency: Do the Jayhawks really deserve an opportunity to play for the national championship?
With highly ranked teams falling all around it, KU, just 6-6 last season, has managed to come this far unscathed. It is one of only two unbeatens in the nation, the only one from a BCS conference.
And with yet another upset — Oregon, second in the BCS standings, lost Thursday at Arizona — the Jayhawks will likely rise to No. 2 with a win today against Iowa State. After seemingly endless questioning of its credentials, KU’s national title destiny would be under its own control.
“To be at this point in the season and be undefeated and start to get some more recognition for the program is awesome,” quarterback Todd Reesing said. “I think we’re enjoying every second of it. But we know what’s at stake.”
The Jayhawks, 10-0 for the first time since 1899, have gotten this far with the help of rotund, intense coach Mark Mangino, Reesing, cornerback Aqib Talib — who has flashed his talents as a two-way player — and a extremely friendly nonconference schedule.
Ah, yes, the nonconference schedule. And “extremely friendly” as likely a charitable way of describing a murdered row of Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International. That has been the major pillar in the case against Kansas.
The schedule was a page that Mangino took from in-state rival Kansas State, who during the Bill Snyder era padded the win total and built confidence against weak early-season competition. The ’07 Jayhawks ledger was designed to get them bowl eligible, but it could have potentially hurt their BCS title game chances.
A similarly weak nonleague slate kept an undefeated Auburn squad out of playing for the championship in 2004. However, there were two other unbeatens from BCS conferences, Southern California and Oklahoma.
This year, there are none.
“The reason why we’re 10-0 right now is because our players and coaches are focused on the task at hand,” said Mangino, who is 35-35 in his six seasons at the school. “If I spend my time politicking, that’s going to take me away from preparing our players for each game.”
There will be no need for Kansas to campaign in the coming weeks, as the time to earn their due has arrived. Next week brings a showdown with Missouri, ranked fifth in the BCS standings, with the Big 12 North title on the line.
A Jayhawks win brings a likely date with Oklahoma, No. 4 in the BCS, in the conference championship game. If KU wins and improves to 13-0, it will have as many truly impressive wins as any national title aspirant, save for Louisiana State. And no school will have as many big wins so late in the season, when the pressure can be suffocating.
KU will deserve to play for No. 1.
“We are willing to earn our way,” Mangino said. “That is something that our players believe in, that I believe in, and our staff believes in.
“At the end of the day, if we take care of our business, work as hard as we can and just stay on task, I think things will turn out favorable.”
To an extent, the Jayhawks have already proven their worth.
They defeated a Kansas State team that, a weak earlier, won at Texas. They defeated a Colorado squad that beat Oklahoma. And sure, Nebraska is down, but KU’s offense — ranked second in the nation in points per game — hung 73 on the Blackshirts defense.
The catalyst of the offensive onslaught is Reesing, who is listed at just 5-foot-10 but has thrown for 2,657 yards and a school-record 26 TDs with just four interceptions.
“It’s like he says without saying it out loud, 'If you get open, I can get you the ball. If you do what you’re supposed to do, I’ll do what I’m supposed to do, and we’ll get ’er done,’ ” offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said.
And even if those around them continue to question their fitness as a title contender, the Jayhawks intend to keep getting it done.
“Our goal is to put this program on the map and prove to people that KU football is for real,” Reesing said. “We’re not the KU of old, and we’re going to make things different around here.”
Three and out
• Why are college football observers drooling with excitement over all of the games left to be played that could have an impact on who competes for the national title? Because major college football does not have a playoff system. Be careful what you wish for.
• The phrase, “It’s almost like they’re playing a video game,” is overused when referring to a ridiculously productive performance. But Navy’s victory against North Texas last week — when the schools combined for 1,315 yards and a Bowl Subdivision record 136 points — fits that description perfectly.
• Tune in to Ch. 12 for at least a few minutes today to catch history when Duke (1-9) plays at Notre Dame (1-9) — perhaps the worst nationally televised college football matchup ever.
Maize and blue will likely be worn in Honolulu and Boise, Idaho, — not to mention the Western Athletic Conference offices — today, as the events in Ann Arbor, Mich., could determine if next week’s Boise State-Hawaii game is for a BCS berth.
A Wolverines victory against the Buckeyes would give Michigan the Big Ten title — and activate the BCS top-16 clause. A champion of a non-BCS conference that finishes in the top 16 of the standings, and ahead of the champ of a BCS league, earns an automatic invitation.
Hawaii is 16th in the BCS standings; BSU is 18th. Michigan is 21st and unlikely to pass the Broncos-Warriors winner.
“It would be great to get a chance to prove (critics) wrong,” said Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, whose club needed to hold up its end of the bargain by beating Nevada on Friday night.
• Dennis Dixon: A poll of Heisman voters by the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard showed the Oregon quarterback as a heavy Heisman favorite. If his left knee injury keeps him sidelined, all bets are off.
• Tim Tebow: The Florida quarterback is second in the nation in pass efficiency and is averaging 71 rushing yards a game. But if the Gators’ three losses do not eliminate Tebow, team record certainly should not disqualify. …
• Darren McFadden: Arkansas’ four losses are no fault of the star running back — and the most talented player in the land — who has rushed for 1,431 yards and 12 touchdowns.
• Chase Daniel: Missouri likely would not be sniffing a Bowl Championship Series berth without its quarterback, whose average of 355.4 yards of total offense ranks fourth in the country.
• Matt Ryan: After his team’s loss at Maryland last week, the Boston College quarterback is collecting parting gifts.
Last month, Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen told the Tribune that officiating in his league is not nearly as bad as its reputation, saying that there has not been a controversial incident this season.
That changed last week, when a botched call in the Washington-Oregon State game denied the Beavers a game-clinching touchdown. Running back Yvenson Bernard appeared to have stretched the ball across the goal line before losing it, the Huskies recovered, and no replay review occurred. Fortunately, the Beavers won.
(What is it with replay fiascoes and the state of Oregon, anyway?)
However, that screw-up was not as embarrassing as the reaction of Pac-10 instant replay director Verle Sorgen, who dismissed the whole episode by saying that it “wasn’t that egregious unless you are an Oregon State fan.”
In case you have not heard, a Rose Bowl berth could be on the line when Southern California visits Arizona State on Thanksgiving night.
This report includes information from other media sources.