That dreary, gray season started Thursday night with much-improved and athletically-superior Kansas State routing the Jayhawks, 59-7, in the 2010 football edition of the Sunflower Showdown.
It didn't help, either, that there were several promotional spots on the jumbotron for Friday night's "Late Night in the Phog." Just rub a football fan's nose in it, why don't ya? And pour a little Tabasco on that open cut.
I started having flashbacks at halftime of 2002, when first-year head coach Mark Mangino led Terry Allen's team – one that probably could've beaten any 4A high school team in Kansas – into battle against the #6-ranked Wildcats. He came out a 64-0 loser of a game that wasn't that close. The halftime score was 42-0. The Wildcats chose not to score in the fourth quarter or they could've had 100, if they wanted to. Just to show how dominant his team was, KSU coach Bill Snyder put his defensive starters back in to preserve the shut-out the one time KU got within a cab ride of the end zone late in the game.
Yet this rebuilding Kansas State team that's supposed to be on the bowl eligibility fence looked nearly as dominant as that nationally-ranked wrecking crew. I should feel better that this game was only 31-0 at the intermission, but I don't.
Even if you didn't think Kansas would win (and only the most loyal Jayhawk did), I think most reasonable fans thought it would be closer than it was. Even so, most thought there would be something to build on after the game was over.
There was nothing positive to take away from this game. Nothing.
One can't point to Jordan Webb's growing confidence as a Big 12 quarterback. One can't point to increased pressure from the Kansas defensive line. One can't talk about a resurgence in the once-promising KU rushing game. This game was a massive step backwards for the Jayhawks.
Yeah, yeah – I know: "It's just one game." I've heard that somewhere before.
Even with all those negatives, though, what alarms me most is the uninspired football played by the Jayhawks.
Passion and intensity were conspicuously absent on the Kansas side, even before the game turned into the Kansas State Invitational Track Meet. Heads were hanging, hands were on hips and my old high school coach's rule, "No one walks on a football field," went out the window before the first half was over.
Give Kansas State coach Bill Snyder all the credit in the world: he's repaired most of the damage done in his three-year absence from the KSU program. The Wildcats aren't the biggest, the strongest or the fastest team in the conference. They do, however, play hard, smart and physical.
Maybe most important, they play with passion and intensity. They don't yell and scream. Not that kind of intensity. It's a quiet, calculating kind of intensity. And that makes sense: that's exactly how I've always perceived Snyder. Everything he does is for a purpose; there is no wasted energy. He dissects you and, eventually, finds your weakness.
The Kansas State Wildcats are a classic example of the old adage, "A team is a reflection of its coach."
First-year KU coach Turner Gill has been called a "player's coach." His players describe him as "laid-back" and "easy-going." His cool demeanor is like a cool breeze around the practice field. Players take their helmets off on the sideline, something that used to be a big no-no.
In the game of football, passion and intensity are not optional qualities.
A team is a reflection of its coach.