Kansas jumps into national championship picture

By: By Bob Birge Email
By: By Bob Birge Email

November 5, 2007

It was as if Kansas coach Mark Mangino wanted to pay back Nebraska for several decades' worth of beatings the Jayhawks suffered at the hands of the Cornhuskers.

Mangino showed no mercy during Saturday's historic 76-39 rout of Nebraska, keeping his starters in the game in the fourth quarter. Even with a 69-31 lead, the Jayhawks continued to pass.

Mangino might be criticized for his approach. But you know the world of college football has been turned upside down when Kansas, of all teams, gets accused of running up the score.

The Jayhawks handed Nebraska the worst defeat in the program's 117-year history, and Mangino was unapologetic.

"I had conversations throughout the game with our offensive coaches," Mangino said. "We just said, 'Just keep running the offense. Let's keep rolling, run our system.'"

After a three-and-out on its first possession, Kansas reached the end zone the next 10 times it had the ball. The Jayhawks scored so easily that it almost didn't seem real. Then again, their entire season has been like a dream.

Mangino thought his team had a chance to have some success this season. He never imagined the Jayhawks would be 9-0 and ranked fourth in the BCS standings.

Saturday's win was only Kansas' second in its last 39 games against Nebraska, and it gave the Jayhawks their first 9-0 start since 1908. Historically, football season at Kansas has been a warmup act for the start of basketball season. Not this year.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you I thought we were going to be where we are now," Mangino said. "If some kids stepped up and we got the quarterback settled, got the defensive situation settled and the interior of the offensive line settled, then I thought we had a chance to have a pretty good football team. Those kids have developed, and here we are."

The quarterback who has emerged is 5-10 sophomore Todd Reesing, and his play has mirrored the unlikely success of his team.

Reesing passed for 354 yards and a school-record six touchdowns against Nebraska. With still three games remaining, he already has set a single-season school mark with 23 touchdowns.

"This is one of those games that you're never going to forget," Reesing said. "Any time you can score over 70 points against a team like Nebraska, it's unbelievable.

"We're ecstatic. We understand what we're doing, but we're playing within the offense. The coaches are calling good plays to put us in position to make big plays."

With losses by Arizona State and Boston College, the list of unbeaten teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision is down to three. The group includes Ohio State, Kansas and Hawaii.

The Jayhawks are ranked behind a pair of one-loss teams - Louisiana State and Oregon - because they haven't played an especially strong schedule.

Kansas has benefited from some creative scheduling as its non-conference slate included Central Michigan, Southeastern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International.

Still, the Jayhawks are in the championship mix and could find themselves in the BCS title game if they run the table. That would mean victories over No. 7 Missouri and probably fourth-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference championship game.

If the Jayhawks win both those games, they could climb over the two one-loss teams ahead of them and jump into the No. 2 spot in the BCS standings.

For now, Kansas appears to be on a collision course with Missouri to decide the Big 12 North title in Lawrence on November 24.

Before hosting Missouri, Kansas plays at Oklahoma State, which could be demoralized after blowing a three-touchdown lead to Texas last week, and at 2-8 Iowa State.

If Kansas and Missouri keep winning, the always emotional "Border War" will take on added significance. It would simply be the most important game the bitter rivals have ever played.

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