Students used to be so passionate about the Kansas vs. K-State rivalry that they’d play pranks on the opposing school’s campus. Players were required to know the most intricate details of the rivalry’s history. A victory over the rival school was bigger than a bowl game.
Last year’s 64-0 Wildcat win was the largest margin of victory in the 100-year history of the series. Kansas still leads the all-time series 61-34-5, but with K-State winning the last 10 meetings in mostly lopsided fashion, fans and players alike have fallen out of touch with the once-heated Sunflower Showdown.
“I didn’t know it was a 10-game losing streak,” said junior safety Tony Stubbs. “I knew we’ve been losing for a while, but I didn’t even know it was a 10-game losing streak.
“Everybody’s behind us and they want us to beat the Wildcats this year so we can bring… it’s called the Flower Cup? Some trophy… I don’t even know what it’s called… but (we’re supposed to) bring it home.”
Um, okay Tony. That’s the Governor’s Cup trophy you’ll be playing for. But you’re forgiven since it’s been a while since anyone in Lawrence has seen it.
Saturday’s 1:10 p.m. game in Manhattan could spark a reversal of fortune, however, or at the very least prove to be the most competitive clash since K-State’s 21-13 victory in 1994.
Offense has been the operative word in the series. K-State has had plenty of it while Kansas has lacked significantly. The Wildcats have outscored the Jayhawks 387-69 during the last eight meetings.
K-State again has a high-powered offense with Heisman Trophy hopefuls Ell Roberson and Darren Sproles. Roberson is 16th in the nation in passing efficiency while also running for 448 yards. Sproles is 16th nationally in rushing yards per game.
While K-State has been loaded with plenty of talent and even more depth during the last 10 years, Kansas finally has an offense capable of putting up enough points to keep up. Both squads average 37 points per game, while the Jayhawks are actually ahead of K-State in total offense this year. Kansas is 10th nationally, averaging almost 470 yards per game, while K-State is 31st with 418 yards per game. KU quarterback Bill Whittemore remains No. 2 nationally in passing efficiency and No. 6 in total offense.
“(Fans) probably like seeing a lot of scoring and all of that,” said KU coach Mark Mangino. “As coaches, we like the idea that our offenses are going pretty well. We would all like to play better defense. For my program, I think we played pretty well on defense this past week. We made some strides in that area. It is great to put up a lot of points, but you have to be able to play some defense if you want to compete for championships.”
With both offenses clicking on all cylinders, defense is the X-factor that will keep the Vegas line favoring K-State. Losing Terry Pierce and Terence Newman weakened the Wildcats’ defense a bit, but they’re 31st nationally against the run, 26th against the pass and 18th overall.
“They play with the same type of intensity K-State has always played with on defense,” Mangino said. “They may be a few players short of what they have had in the past as far as talent, but they are trying to make up for it with aggressive, hard-nosed football. They play that hard, swarm-to-the-football-style defense even though they are down a little bit in areas.”
Kansas is up in all areas defensively since 2002, but at No. 77 nationally is still a ways behind K-State. The Jayhawks have taken some intriguing strides in practice to prepare for the Wildcats, however. For starters, sophomore kick returner Greg Heaggans – a quarterback in high school – is serving as a Roberson impersonator so the defense can prepare for Roberson’s speed while running the option. Redshirt freshman Matt Patterson is doing the same for Sproles.
“We’ve got a lot of speed with the linebackers,” Stubbs said, “so as long as we can contain them I believe that we will be just fine.”
Stubbs’ optimism is an attitude that defines a Kansas team on the brink of its first winning season and bowl berth since 1995. The Jayhawks are 5-2 and tied for first in the Big 12 North for the first time since starting 2-0 in Conference play in 1997. For the first time in eight years there seems to be more respect for, than fear of, K-State. For the first time in a long time there’s not talk of “closing the gap” with the Wildcats, rather players have legitimate expectations of victory. For the first time in even longer, these Jayhawks have genuine confidence heading into the K-State game.
“Anybody who has confidence going into anything, it’s definitely a big factor,” said senior offensive lineman Danny Lewis. “Everything tastes better, everything smells better. If you have confidence you feel like you can do anything, and if you think you can do something you probably will.”