Take it to the Bank: Eric Bana Edition

With Thanksgiving on the horizon, KU fans everywhere need to take this Saturday to thank our seniors. And juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. And coaching staff. And the players who laid the groundwork for KU’s respectability, like Nick Reid, Bill Whittemore, even Brian Luke, et al. And Al Bohl. That’s right, I said Al Bohl. He might have limped away from Lawrence a crushed dove, but he had the guts to stand up to his ultimate crusher and insist on taking the first steps to make KU more than a one sport school. And he played a key role in the selection of the Man who might well be KU’s best coach ever.

After KU was manhandled by UT in 2001, I recall Bohl saying that the next time KU came to Austin, we would bring a team KU fans could be proud of. This was after ruffling the feathers of UNC’s current basketball coach by removing Terry Allen before the end of the season and before The Big M was hired. And, yes, although the score in Austin in ’05 was not an improvement over ’01, that team had beaten UT on the playing field the year before, and did us proud for the season, ending the preposterous losing streak to NU that was approaching four decades, and culminating in an OT victory to secure a Fort Worth Bowl bid (where we put the hurt on someone else for a change).

And although I have been as proud of every KU team that has clawed and scratched and scraped in losing efforts against better teams—often much better—as I am of this team, I must admit that this is nicer.

The games of Week 12:

1. Iowa St +26 at KU

The Clash of the Vegas Titans.

KU is 9-0 against the spread this season. Iowa St is on a 4 game streak of its own. And Vegas, for the fourth consecutive week, has shocked me with the respect it affords the Jayhawks. 26 is a lot of points, even at Home, against a team that has spent the last month winning some games, hanging tough in others.

The question is: How badly do the Hawks want to win by 26+? Are they distracted by BCS talk? Are they looking ahead to Arrowhead next week?

Through ten games, KU has not been distracted by anything. This is due in part, in my opinion, to my Eric Bana theory. (No, not a reference to The Incredible Hulk—and no Mangino jokes, please. Or the little seen “Lucky You”—that ending sucked.) You will recall, of curse, the film in which Bana portrayed an Angel of Retribution, single-mindedly seeking out and causing the demise of one Munich terrorist after another. Distracted by nothing—well, except for the gratuitous cold-blooded murder of an operative who had exercised bad form by taking out one of his personal friends on his death squad.

The Jayhawks have, likewise, engaged in a single-minded week by week quest to this point. No looking ahead, no pondering the consequences of winning a particular game on polls, on the BCS rankings, or on whether they will silence the East Coast doubters. And thinking about consequences is what gets players and teams out of their comfort zone, leading to failure to accomplish the very thing they want so dearly.

To this point, the Jayhawks have been able to hold thoughts of season-long goals and consequences at bay, because each opponent has presented a short term goal of its own. Each week has brought the opportunity to exorcise ghosts of seasons past.

It started with the mid and no-majors, who have frequently derailed the Jayhawks in the past before they could even start dreaming of accomplishing something noteworthy. Most notably, the inexplicable loss to Toledo last year cost the Hawks a chance to go bowling to even the minorest of minor bowls.

This year: check, check, check, and check.

k-state? KU hadn’t beaten them in Manhattan in 18 years. Check.

Baylor? Biggest giveaway of 2006. Check.

Colorado? Last win in Boulder: 1995. Check.

A&M? Another fourth quarter folly of 2006. No wins ever in College Station. 1-7 all time. Check.

Nebraska? Yet another fourth quarter collapse last year in Lincoln. OT debacle. Not to mention 1-37. Check.

Okie St? 42 second half points in 2006, erasing—no, obliterating—KU’s 17 point lead at the half. 300+ yards receiving by one player. Check.

But Iowa St? What Cyclone demon is there to exorcise? We beat them like a drum last year. Secured our Fort Worth Bowl invitation against them in OT in ’05—in the process, keeping them out of the Big 12 Championship game. The last REAL gripe I have against ISU is their barrage of 40 foot shots falling like layups in 2001, depriving us of a share of yet another basketball championship. Like this year’s football team carries a grudge about that. . .

I’ve got nothin’. It’s Iowa St that should be out to prove something. And often the toughest opponent for a team on the rise, like KU, to beat, is one of your former peers, that will (a) not believe you are that good, and (b) do everything in its power to avoid being left behind to rot in shanty-ville while watching you enjoy a new life, a better life. Of course, we had the same scenario with Baylor and did all right. But ISU is a little better than Baylor. Of course, who isn’t?

I will not be shocked if ISU plays us tough. Too tough, even, for comfort.

But I also will not be surprised if this version of the Hawks just takes care of business, even without any opponent-specific motivation, because that is who they are.

Gotta keep taking the team that has covered every week until they don’t.

KU

2. Okie St -14.5 at Baylor

Who isn’t 15 points better than Baylor?

OKIE ST

3. Oklahoma -8.5 at Texas Tech

Mike Leach doesn’t know if the Big 12 refs are biased FOR UT or AGAINST Tech. Come on, Mike. You’re a smart guy, having a law degree and all. Here’s betting you get a fair shake this week in spite of annoying the powers that be by being crazy enough to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

TECH

4. Mizzou -7 at k-state

How can Mizzou not be looking ahead? Well, for one thing, a loss here likely ends its dream of winning the North. k-state, though, will be on the same mission Nebraska was on last week to rid itself of the bad taste of being hit in the mouth with a 70 spot. Giving up 73 to Joe Ganz in his second start ever, however, makes it tough to think k-state can hang around against Chase Daniel and Co. This spread is enough to give one pause and wonder what Vegas knows that no one else does. . .

MIZZOU

5. Penn St -3 at Michigan St

In these days of global warming, it is important to go green. And Home.

MICHIGAN ST

6. Ohio St -4 at Michigan

Quick: When was the last time these teams both came into this game off losses? Roughly about the same time KU was last 10-0? Michigan is the more suspect team, having been taken to the cleaners three times this year. I mean, can you REALly see a team in the Rose Bowl that lost to Appalachian St?

OHIP ST

7. Wisconsin -14 at Minnesota

Well, okay. Maybe there is a team that isn’t 15 points better than Baylor. But who, other than Baylor, isn’t 15 points better than the Golden Gophers?

8. Northwestern +13.5 at Illinois

The Illini are so young and erratic, I would like this line in Evanston. I almost like it in Champagne. But not quite.

Illinois

9. Duke +6 at Notre Dame

So this is what it has come down to: Notre Dame favored by a mere TD sans PAT at Home against a basketball school. Would be 2-3 points on a neutral field. Would be a pick in Durham. Has the world turned upside down? Are the toilets in the northern hemisphere flushing clockwise? What next? A basketball school vying for a BCS berth?

If the Fighting Irish have ANY pride, they cover this spread. If not, it’s paper bag time for Touchdown Jesus.

Notre Dame

10. Louisville +7 at South Florida

Brian Brohm vs. Matt Grothe. A lot of points, not much separation.

LOUISVILLE

11. Vanderbilt +11.5 at Tennessee

The Vols are still in the running for the SEC’s automatic BCS bowl bid. Vandy? They are in the running for bowl eligibility. Expect the Commodores to hang around for a quarter or two.

TENNESSEE

12. LSU -19.5 at Ole Miss.

LSU tries to hold off Oregon and KU in the human polls. Ole Miss has stayed within two scores of Mizzou, and one score of Florida and Alabama, all at Home. Also lost by 36 to Arkansas. They will play tough on Senior Day.

OLE MISS

13. Kentucky +8 at Georgia

UK has fallen on hard times recently after appearing earlier in the season as if they might be the top basketball school in football. I would like their chances in this game in Lexington. Between the hedges, not so much.

GEORGIA

14. Cal -7 at Washington

In the Emerald City, there is, indeed, no place like Home.

WASHINGTON

15. Oregon St +2 at Washington St

The same seems to be true throughout the Evergreen State.

WASHINGTON ST

When the time comes for the story of the 2007 Jayhawks to be made into a feature film ( I like the title “Glory Road,” because the Road is where this team has earned its glory—and because it is worthy of the title, unlike some fluke basketball team), I know who I want in the role of KU QB.

Let the games begin.

--Mark

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