It’s no secret that conference realignment has changed the landscape of intercollegiate athletics and mostly not for the good. Gone are traditional rivalries and traditions and with them have come leagues that look much different from just a few years ago.
Another huge change has been the way scheduling is done as a result. The Big 12 is now at 10 teams and stuck that way for the foreseeable future, even if other leagues seem to be strengthening or growing.
With that, the Big 12 is now and has been a traditional round robin, with each team playing nine league games instead of eight. This takes away one non-conference matchup, which traditionally would be a “cupcake” game, in which a smaller school is traditionally paid to visit and take a beating while helping the home team to prepare and hopefully not expend itself too much with league play beginning a week later.
Under Mark Mangino, the Jayhawks used that formula to perfection, following in the footsteps of his mentor Bill Snyder at Kansas State. You try your best to schedule four home games, hopefully netting you four solid victories and with your 4-0 record, you’d head into conference play knowing all you had to do was win two games and you were bowl eligible. The positive start also put you in a good position to have strong momentum which would sometimes produce big years of many wins and a big bowl game.
Now, you have three non-con games and in some years, you could only have four league home games such is the case at Kansas this season. They’ll only host four Big 12 games and only six games total at Memorial Stadium.
Bluntly put, it’s going to be hard for any school looking for football respectability to get any favors for the schedule. They’re just going to have to do it the hard way and with Weis’ scheduling philosophy, that’s just how it’s going to be at Kansas in the coming years with road trips to Memphis, Houston, Rutgers, Hawaii and Illinois scheduled after this year’s return game to Duke, who is coming off a 10-win season and an appearance in the ACC Championship Game.
As fall camp opens, we take a look at the gauntlet that will be the 2014 Kansas season.
Game 1 – September 6 vs Southeast Missouri State
Let’s face it, after disasters in past years such as a loss to North Dakota State in 2010 and Rice 2012, until further notice, there are no more guaranteed wins at Kansas, a harsh statement, but a fact. However, this game against SEMO is the only game all season that can come close to qualifying as such. KU must win and do so impressively to get momentum going, especially after it opens the season with a bye week on opening weekend for the second consecutive year.
Game 2 – September 13 at Duke
When this series was scheduled beginning in 2009 season, it was never thought that it would be completed in 2014, two coaches later and that Duke would actually be good in football. That was even more the case, after Todd Reesing and Kerry Meier led the Jayhawks to an easy 44-16 route in Lawrence, on September 19, 2009.
Fast forward to this year and Kansas visits Durham to face a Blue Devils team that returns many players from a team that came one improbable Johnny Manziel led comeback away from an 11-win season and convincing bowl game victory. This won’t be easy and if KU isn’t careful could be ugly, which must be avoided to have further ramifications going forward. A win, however would have a huge positive effect and set Kansas up with some momentum that could be a game changer.
Game 3 – September 20 vs Central Michigan
In 2007, Kansas opened the season with a 52-7 win over the Chippewas at Memorial Stadium. Who would have known then how that season turned out? In 2014, it would be in KU’s best interest to win and do so with a solid performance.
Game 4 – September 27 vs Texas
New coach Charlie Strong and Texas visit Lawrence to open Big 12 play and will be the Jayhawks homecoming opponent this season. Kansas hasn’t won a homecoming game since defeating Iowa State 41-36 in 2009, in a game that made KU 5-0 and ranked in the Top 15. It was also the final victory of the Mangino era.
In 2014, if Kansas can pull off the major upset over what will likely be a very talented Longhorns team, shockwaves would be sent throughout college football and Weis would finally have his signature win.
Game 5 – October 4 at West Virginia
As of now, Weis’ signature win was last year’s 31-19 win over West Virginia, which snapped their long conference losing streak. The game was also never that close, as KU held a 31-7 lead midway through the fourth quarter. You can guarantee that Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen Will Down a couple of extra Red Bulls in anticipation of this one. Weis would love nothing more than to get his first Big 12 road win against a team and coach who made some not nice statements about him going into their 2012 matchup.
Game 6 – October 11 vs Oklahoma State
A week later, always talented and potent Oklahoma State will visit Lawrence. The Cowboys suffered heartbreak to end last season, blowing a late lead and losing to Oklahoma at home in the final seconds. They then followed that up by letting the Big 12 down by losing to Missouri at the Cotton Bowl.
Head coach Mike Gundy, one of the league’s best will have a dynamic and fun team this season and will enter the year gunning for another league crown. This game will be big for Kansas and tough, but in 2012, they came dangerously close to rallying to win at home before falling 20-14. Every time the Jayhawks and Cowboys hook up in Lawrence, fireworks abound and fun is had by all.
Game 7 – October 18 at Texas Tech
A year ago, Weis pointed to KU’s homecoming tilt with Texas Tech as an opportunity to claim a monumental win. When the Red Raiders were through destroying Kansas 54-16, the Jayhawks were reeling and any semblance of swagger or student fan support pretty much vanished.
This year, the Jayhawks will look exact revenge and score a huge road win at a place where they nearly did it in 2012. Then, the Jayhawks came close, but couldn’t get over hump, losing in double overtime 41-34.
Game 8 – November 1 at Baylor
Unlike in 2013, Kansas will have a bye week in conference play and it will be needed, as they face Baylor in posh new stadium. Art Briles will be sure to have another high flying and high scoring squad that is coming off its first Big 12 championship and BCS (RIP) bowl appearance.
Game 9 – November 8 vs Iowa State
The game that many Kansas fans will be looking at. This will be the day that Mark Mangino paces the sidelines at Memorial Stadium once again.
Unfortunately for some Kansas fans, he will be doing so as the offensive coordinator at Iowa State, a role in which he won national awards and helped Bob Stoops guide Oklahoma to a National Championship in 2000.
The Kansas/Iowa State series has usually been one in which KU fans looked to as a good chance to win a league game. In Weis’ two years though, that has not been the case. In 2012, the Cyclones pasted KU 51-23 on Senior Night, before clanking them 34-0 a year ago on the literally frozen tundra of Jack Trice Stadium. Needless to say there will be ample storylines going into a game that may very well be a must win for the Jayhawks, especially if they are flirting with bowl eligibility.
Game 10 – November 15 vs TCU
As if the schedule wasn’t favorable enough, Senior Day come a full two weeks early this season, as the Jayhawks host TCU on November 15th. Kansas has played the Horned Frogs tough in their first two years in the Big 12. In 2012, they survived a plethora of turnover and still had a chance late, before losing 20-6. In 2013, they were in the game into the final minutes, but fell 27-17. This year, they must fare better, especially considering the final two games on the slate.
Game 11 – November 22 at Oklahoma
Simply put, this is brutal. The Sooners come off a Sugar Bowl upset over Alabama and will be loaded in 2014. A road win in Norman seems highly unlikely, but you never know. A year ago, Kansas did jump out in front 13-0 at Memorial Stadium by playing smash mouth football behind running back James Sims, before falling 34-19.
Game 12 – November 29 at Kansas State
The regular season will once again end with the Sunflower Showdown. The questions are will this be the final game of the season for Kansas? Will this series be competitive or even give Jayhawks cause for hope, even when they see Bill Snyder emerge from K-State locker room.
Since his return, Snyder has returned the Wildcats to dominating their in-state rivals, as they have won their Super Bowl by scores of 59-7, 59-21, 56-16 and 31-10. Following a 17-10 upset in 2009. Ironically, last season was closest Kansas has come to being in a game with K-State, though to be fair, it was 21-0 at the end of the first quarter and you got the feeling that the Wildcats could have named their score if they wanted to.
It’s that kind of mental warfare that they must overcome and nothing would quite do that like a win on the road, which would shock everyone in purple. It’s also what is needed to reverse the fortunes of Kansas football. The resurgence of K-State football has mirrored the decline of Kansas football. Their 52-21 romp over the then Ron Prince led Wildcats on November 1, 2008 seems like it was a generation ago. Or worse, it now seems like it never happened.
For the Jayhawks to truly send message to all that they are back, a win over their now “most hated rivals” would do just that and then, the Charlie Weis era at Kansas would truly take flight.