October 25, 2007
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- Instant millionaire lottery winners aren't the only people with third cousins and one-time colleagues popping up all over the place.
So do football coaches whose teams stand on the brink of a breakthrough their school hasn't achieved in 101 years.
Mark Mangino of unbeaten and No. 12 Kansas isn't sure, but believes he does vaguely remember a couple of people who e-mailed this week. One glad-hander who claims they were pals back in college he can't recall at all.
"I've got all kinds of new friends," laughed Mangino, who's made a remarkable turnaround in his sixth season at a school where basketball has always ruled.
Led by an iron-willed little sophomore quarterback and a cocky cornerback-wide receiver who rises to every challenge, the Jayhawks are 7-0 for the first time since 1995. They're one of only five undefeated teams left in major college football.
If they keep their streak alive and win this week at Texas A&M, they'll be 8-0 for the first time since 1906. A Big 12 championship and a BCS bowl game might even lurk down the road, something that no one outside the Sunflower State would have dreamed possible a month ago.
"I've heard from guys I played baseball with 30 years ago," Mangino said. "A guy called who lived on the same floor with me for one semester in college. It's ridiculous."
The entire Kansas football program is basking in an unfamiliar national limelight these days. Walking through the picturesque tree-lined campus, linebackers and wide receivers are treated with adoration normally reserved for point guards and power forwards.
Mangino tries to take a few minutes every evening to answer the unsolicited letters and e-mails. He's taking special care to make sure his players don't get tangled up in all their newfound celebrity.
"I tell them, 'You should have the same friends today that you had a year ago,"' Mangino said.
Nevertheless, a little recognition does feel nice.
"If people are starting to realize that we are good, then good for them," said running back Jake Sharp. "You like to see some credit for your work and to see our names getting out there and us getting a little more respect. But we could really care less about what outside people think of us."
Aqib Talib, the All-Big 12 cornerback who moonlights as the Jayhawks' best wide receiver, is more blunt.
"We're not in it for popularity contests or anything like that," said the likely first-round NFL draft pick. "We could care less if people are talking about us or talking about basketball. We just want to win games."
Outside of Lawrence, few people paid much attention when the Jayhawks roared unbeaten through their four non-conference games, understandably so. A lineup of Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International seemed designed for laughs more than kudos. Those four now have a combined record of 9-21.
But then the Jayhawks went to archrival and then-No. 25 Kansas State, where they hadn't won since 1989, and won. Then it was on to Colorado, where No. 4 Oklahoma has taken its only loss. Quarterback Todd Reesing, who is generously listed as 5-foot-10, made play after play and the Jayhawks escaped with another win.
Now it's on to Texas A&M, which has beaten Kansas seven in a row and never lost to the Jayhawks at home.
But this confident bunch has been making a habit of blazing new trails. Already, they're the first Kansas team to record back-to-back 50-point games and score 30 or more points in six straight games. They scored more points in a season opener (52) than any Kansas team since 1912.
Heading to A&M, the Jayhawks are No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, No. 3 in scoring offense, No. 1 in kickoff returns and No. 4 in turnover margin.
But are they for real? They still have their doubters.
This is, after all, Kansas football, not Kansas basketball.
"We're a different team now," tight end Derek Fine said. "This is 2007 and we've worked really hard to get where we're at. ... I think that says everything in itself."
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Updated on Thursday, Oct 25, 2007 2:48 pm, EDT