The Kansas Jayhawks are the most interesting losing team in college football.
The Jayhawks football team has seen unprecedented attention for a non-blue blood football school who is nowhere near being a winning team. Normally schools who don’t typically garner the national spotlight weasel their way in by doing what the Jayhawks did in the 2007 season when they went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl.
However, the most recent Jayhawks team did essentially the inverse of the 2007 team by finishing 1-11 and extending their Big 12 conference losing streak to 21 games. In fact, KU hasn’t beaten a current member of the Big 12 since October 10, 2009 when they beat Iowa State in Lawrence. Mark Mangino was still the coach at KU then and Barrack Obama had been president for just a few weeks short of 10 months at that point.
So why exactly is KU getting national attention for uniform changes and recruiting the third best class in the Big 12 – seven spots behind Mizzou nationally – through July 12?
The hire of Weis was always – and still is – a huge gamble. The idea was to bring in a guy with a national identity who was a good enough coach to rebuild a program that was viciously murdered by Turner Gill and former athletic director Lou Perkins. His polarizing personality, Kansas City Chiefs ties, three Super Bowl rings, and flame out at Notre Dame makes him a character that cannot be ignored by the media. Yes, most of the attention on him is not positive, but it is attention. And any attention on KU football is good attention as far as the program goes.
His need to shed the unfair label of worst coach in college football brought him to Kansas, and the hope is he leaves KU the way he left Notre Dame: a bowl eligible program. Of course the standards at Notre Dame are slightly different, but if he leaves Kansas with the team averaging six wins a year he will be hailed as the savior of KU football. Especially since KU has won just six games in the last three years combined.
If he is ever going to reach savior status, this season is the pivotal year.
Weis went all-in on junior college transfers with his 2013 recruiting class, hauling in 17 of them. The advanced talent in addition to now eligible transfers Jake Heaps, Justin McCay, and, potentially, Nick Harwell, changes the look of KU’s roster tremendously. They are built to “win” now.
What exactly is the definition of “win” as it relates to this season and KU is the question.
If the Charlie Weis experiment is going to work, then KU needs to win at a minimum three games this season, with one of those games being a conference game. Again, considering the program has won six games in the last three years combined, this will not be an easy task. However, one would think that with a non-conference schedule that features South Dakota, Rice, and Louisiana Tech, nailing down at least two wins should be a doable thing. It is so doable Vegas puts the over/under on KU’s win total at 3.5.
Failure to reach at least three wins means KU would have won three or fewer games in the Weis era in 24 games, making his recruiting pitches where he shows off his three Super Bowl rings less effective than they used to be. Kansas has to show progress in the win column to keep the momentum rolling in the recruiting world, in the homes of KU fans, in the office of athletic director Sheahon Zenger, and in the wallets of boosters. If Weis cannot keep those things trending positive, the amount of time he will have to become the savior of Kansas football will start to get smaller.
Still, the odds Kansas can pull off at least three wins are high.
It should also be noted Kansas lost five games by one possession last season, including an overtime loss to Texas Tech, and a last second loss to Texas, with far less talent than what the Jayhawks will feature this year. There is a pretty solid case to be made that if KU had Heaps starting at quarterback last year, they would have won one or two of those games at the very least. So yes, while KU was very bad, they were discernibly better than 2011 when they won two games. Another year into the program, an actual quarterback, and improved talent on both sides of the ball should mean some of those close losses flip into wins.
There is a reason for hope in Lawrence.