FOOTBALL 2008: ARE YOU READY. . .

THE HIATUS Alert Phog-bloggians might have noticed that nothing has been posted on this site for more than four months.

There is a reason for this. Anything that could have been said after the initial blush of the wonderfulness that was April 7, 2008 would only serve to hasten the passing of the moment.

But the time for moving on can wait no longer.

ARE YOU READY FOR SOME FOOTBALL!!!!!!

Of course you are.

Normally, I treat the coming of a new football season as a religious experience, as the dawn of a bright new day following four months of sports darkness. As a general rule, announcing the coming of a new season of the greatest sport in the history of mankind makes me feel like Elmer Gantry: “What is love? Love is a touchdown and a two point conversion.”

This year, I am a bit more subdued. The reason? Because it is time to move on from the second best sports year that any university has ever enjoyed.

Forty-nine and four. Let me say that again: The combined record of the Jayhawk football and basketball teams was forty-nine and freakin’ four.

That’s 12-1 in football, with an Orange Bowl victory over the No. 3 ranked team in the nation.

That’s 37-3 in basketball, with a National Championship.

When you are old and grey-haired (for those who currently have hair), you will look back on the 2007-08 sports year as the halcyon of Kansas athletics. It will not be topped—or even equaled—in a hundred years, let alone your miserably short lifetime, Mortal.

So why bother? Why not turn your thoughts to other endeavors, like solving global warming or learning a foreign language? Everything on the gridiron and basketball court is now anti-climactic. Why not just rage, rage against the dying of last year’s light? Why not just hold on to the gloriousness of the past sports year, keeping it fresh in your heart, as long as possible? Why allow lesser moments in to slowly, but surely move last year’s moments of exhilaration aside, to a compartment where they will reside merely as pleasant thoughts to bring a smile to your face, as opposed to the feelings of sheer ecstasy you have enjoyed for months?

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

First of all, that’s life. Just enjoy the fact that only one school has ever exceeded KU’s most recent sports year.

Second, even that remarkable year left a few loose ends to be tied. Fortunately, in a sense, the Jayhawks did not go undefeated in both sports last year. They did leave something for this year. While losing only four games total, two of them were to arch-rivals k-state and Mizzou.

Although the loss to k-state was in basketball, the Jayhawks must win this year’s football encounter to avoid a losing record in the two sports combined to k-state for the 2008 calendar year.

As for Mizzou, a victory is a must to prevent them from catching up in the all-time series, as well as even up the last six years. Not to mention evening the score in Arrowhead at 1-1. Not to mention the vengeance thing.

Further, this is KU’s best chance to win in Lincoln since 1968, after absolutely frittering away the game two years ago. I know a 58 year old gentleman, who can now order off the senior menu at some restaurants, who was a freshman at KU the last time the Jayhawks downed Nebraska on the Road.

There is also the matter of grabbing the Hawks’ first recognized win over Texas in Big 12 play, what with dishonest officiating depriving the Fighting Manginos of their victory on the field of play four years ago.

And don’t forget that KU was slighted last year in the respect department because of the Jayhawks’ schedule--even though it was every bit as difficult as Ohio State’s, and their overall resume was better than the Buckeyes’ (who lost a Home game for chrissake). Yet Ohio St was ranked No. 2 and played for the pretend national championship, while KU was ranked No. 8 and assigned to the Orange Bowl. Not that the Orange Bowl is a bad consolation prize. It was a fantastic moment for long-suffering KU football fans. And not to say that we would have beaten LSU in the pretend national championship game. We wouldn’t have. But we also would not have been embarrassed any more than—if as much as—than Ohio St.

The point is not that we were the best team in the country. The point is that we were better than Ohio St on paper (and, probably, on the field), yet were still ranked six spots lower than the Buckeyes heading into the bowl games. Heck, we were still ranked behind them after beating the No. 3 team in the country, while Ohio St got run out of the Superdome like they were a Division 2 team.

So, to the extent that you value the uncritical respect of the media types who place more weight on team names than performance, this season is important in establishing that KU has moved on from the days of Terry Allen—and every other coach it has ever had—and is a player in Memorial Stadium as well as Allen Fieldhouse.

2008 SEASON PREVIEW

There are those who have discounted KU before the 2008 season has even started because of the Jayhawks’ “tougher schedule” this year. It was, in fact, characterized in today’s USA Today as “much more demanding.”

Wrong.

This myth is the based on the false premise that playing Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma (the top 3 South teams) is “much more demanding than playing A&M, Okie St, and Baylor.

If all games were played on neutral fields, this might be a reasonable conclusion (except for the fact that A&M and Okie St were tied for third place in the South with the same 4-4 record in conference play as Tech—and they were only one game behind Texas, despite A&M playing both of the North Division co-champions and Okie St playing one, while Texas played neither. Instead, Texas got slaughtered at Home by North also-ran k-state, and needed a miracle fourth quarter at Home to avoid losing to a mediocre Nebraska team. And who can forget—other than the talking heads--the miracle finish the Longhorns needed to squeeze by Okie St on a field goal as the final gun sounded?)

But, let’s pretend that Texas and Tech were better than Okie St and A&M last year. Takes a healthy imagination, but give it a shot. Even if that were the case, playing Texas and Tech in Lawrence this year is no more demanding than playing Okie St in Stillwater (where Tech lost) and A&M in College Station (where UT lost) last year.

Of course, KU’s schedule is more difficult this year, but not because the hawks replace A&M and Okie St with Texas and Tech. It is more difficult because Oklahoma in Norman is a “much more demanding” challenge than Baylor in Lawrence. That’s it in conference play.

As for the non-conference front, the game at South Florida—a team that took out Auburn on the Road last year—is also more demanding than any out of conference game, all of which were in Lawrence, in 2007. Expect South Florida to be ranked and hungry to knock off the Orange Bowl champions. The other non-con opponents—all in Lawrence—are no more dangersou than last year's.

So what is in store for this year’s version of the Jayhawks? Will they go 12-1 and to a BCS Bowl again? Or even 14-0 and hold the pretend national championship in football at the same time that their roundball brothers are defending National Champions of the hardcourt?

Or will they fall to the oft-predicted 8-4, or (horror of horrors) even 7-5 and a lowly Independence bowl berth, courtesy of their “much more demanding” schedule?

Here is my projection of the Vegas lines for 2008:

August 30: Florida International: 30+ point favorite Sept. 6: Louisiana Tech: 20 point favorite Sept. 12: at South Florida: 2.5 point favorite Sept. 20: Sam Houston State: 30+ point favorite October 4: at Iowa St: 12.5 point favorite October 11: Colorado: 9 point favorite October 18: at Oklahoma: 8 point underdog October 25: Texas Tech: 4 point favorite Nov. 1: k-state: 9.5 point favorite Nov. 8: at Nebraska: 5 point favorite Nov. 15: Texas: 3 point favorite Nov. 29: vs. Mizzou: 4 point underdog

My pre-season predictions as to the likelihood of a Jayhawk victory in each game:

August 30: Florida International: 1.0 (i.e., 100%) Sept. 6: Louisiana Tech: .95 Sept. 12: at South Florida: .6 Sept. 20: Sam Houston State: 1.0 October 4: at Iowa St: .8 October 11: Colorado: .8 October 18: at Oklahoma: .3 October 25: Texas Tech: .7 Nov. 1: k-state: .8 Nov. 8: at Nebraska: .85 Nov. 15: Texas: .7 Nov. 29: vs. Mizzou: .6

This projects to a 9.1-2.9 record, meaning 9-3 is likely, but leaving the Hawks one or two breaks (good or bad) away from 10-2 or 8-4. 5.75-2.25 (6-2) in conference play.

South Florida will be formidable because this will be their chance to shine on national TV on a Friday night in a game that will have the country all to itself. They will also be out to make a name for themselves over a highly ranked Big 12 team. And they will be at Home. In fact, I would rate this game as a tossup, except that the Jayhawks are now comfortable on the big stage, comfortable on the Road, and learned last year how to finish—a skill set that would have turned 2006 from a 6-6 regular season into 10-2.

KU is loaded with incentives for the Nebraska and UT games, as mentioned above. Payback time. At least to the extent that one game can repay the pain KU has suffered at the hands of the the Huskers and Horns over the years.

And Tech? Another tough opponent, but probable W for the Hawks at Home. Don’t think for a minute that The Big M will let his team forget the big lead the 2004 Jayhawks squandered against the Red Raiders, turning a certain W into an L. Unlike the Texas game, it was a legitimate L--the Hawks had no one other than themselves and their inability to close to blame. Rather than payback, let’s call this game one of redemption.

Which takes us back to Elmer Gantry: “What is love? Love is a win on November 29 in Arrowhead.” All those who believe, acknowledge or renew your devotion to the cause and head for Kansas City in late November to bear witness to your faith at the Jayhawk Revival.

Yes, in August, it must be conceded that Mizzou will likely be the Vegas favorite three months hence. But betting favorites don’t always win.

Last year, both teams came out so intimidated by the big stage that it was clear that the first team to experience success, to loosen up first, would have an advantage. That team was Mizzou. KU dropped passes, Touchdown Todd’s gloved hand was out of synch with his receivers, and the Hawks missed out on an early six points with ill-fated field goal attempts. When the Hawks finally overcame their stagefright, they scored TD's on four straight possessions. Looked like déjà vu of the Nebraska game. And they were down by but the six points they had failed to convert in field goals. But, of course, they ran out of time.

This year, both teams should be comfortable on the big stage from the word “go.” But it is the Jayhawks who will have the psychological edge in this game between evenly matched teams. As well as two weeks to prepare. Yes, Mizzou has the same two weeks to prepare. But only the Jayhawks have Mangino. If both teams are healthy, the coaching edge goes to the Jayhawks. The incentive/coaching combo advantage makes this game a probable W for KU.

As for the Jayhawk Bowl game?

Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

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