It’s only natural. From 1991 to 1998, Mangino served as recruiting coordinator, running game coordinator and, in ‘98, assistant head coach under Kansas State’s Bill Snyder. Like it or not, Jayhawk fans, what Snyder accomplished at Kansas State was amazing. Truth be told, you’d give your left…leg to have the kind of run KSU experienced.
But Kansas State never got the respect that they thought they should get – and that maybe they deserved – in large part because of a steady diet of non-conference cupcakes every year. Some highly-visible bowl losses didn’t help, either. And what accounted for those bowl losses? In the eyes of many, it was a weak schedule.
Perennial powers like Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, Indiana State, Akron and Louisiana-Lafayette hit the Wagner Field turf (literally) and picked up a healthy paycheck for getting drilled by far superior Kansas State teams.
And so it was in 2007 and, in large part, throughout Mark Mangino’s tenure at KU. This whole “drilling inferior opponents” thing is still pretty new, though. In past years, at least one eminently winnable noncom game jumped up and bit KU on the rear-end. Think Toledo in 2006 and Northwestern in 2005.
The Kansas Jayhawks sit at 4-0 headed into conference play for the first time since 1995. They’ve outscored four badly-outmanned, out-classed opponents, 214-23, while averaging over 550 yards total offense. Quarterback Todd Reesing is averaging close to 300 yards passing per game (299.8, to be exact).
Much of the credit goes to a vastly improved Kansas defense that’s giving up just over 200 yards per game total offense and a Jayhawk offense that has finally, really and truly arrived at a starting quarterback. That’s one starting quarterback. Singular. Uno. One.
The rest of the credit goes to Larry Keating, KU senior associate athletics director, who helps Mangino make out his football schedule each year.
Mangino has maintained that his team is doing a lot of things well, but that this non-conference schedule was necessary.
"No question we accomplished a lot of the goals that we set for ourselves,” Mangino said. “Number one is to win, and we accomplished that. We needed some good work on defense with some of the veteran guys working with young guys. We've gotten that. We were in-sync except for early in the game tonight. We had some things occur that should not have, a couple of turnovers and penalties in key situations. I want to clean that up. But I feel good. Like I've said all along, there's a lot of people that wish they were 4-0, there are a lot of people that were supposed to be 4-0 that aren't. Bottom line is we are and we have to get ready for conference play."
Kansas doesn’t start conference play until October 6, which leaves Jayhawk fans two whole weeks to wonder if a series of tomato cans has prepared KU for Big XII play. To a lot of people, the outcome of that conference opener against Kansas State in Manhattan will either validate Mangino’s methods or shoot them full of holes.
I’ve really enjoyed scoring a ton of points and watching KU’s offense grab seven or eight yards pretty much anytime they felt like it. That aside, KU’s non-conference football schedule needs an upgrade starting next season, and the score of the upcoming Sunflower Showdown couldn’t possibly figure into that opinion any less.
Fifteen years ago, Kansas State was an up-and-coming program that learned how to win playing directional schools. I don’t think anyone ever argued that Snyder’s formula was a bad idea. You’ve got to crawl and walk before you can run, after all.
But that went on for a lot of years. Even in years when Kansas State was running, they had a habit of scheduling some truly awful opponents and beating them by about a billion points.
By the time Kansas State finally began to schedule non-conference opponents like Southern California and Iowa, it was too late. The media had already made up their minds: Kansas State was a paper wildcat. All those 66-10 routs of Our Sister of Perpetual Weeping Sores made it impossible to see some very solid wins over “name” schools.
I don’t think I’m alone in the assessment that the Jayhawk football program is an up-and-coming one.
It’s time that Mangino, director of athletics Lew Perkins and the many others who administer KU football take a good, hard look at how much longer four games like the ones we saw in Memorial Stadium the last four Saturdays will benefit the program.
Sure, the players get to experience a lot of success. They gain confidence. It’s also a lot of fun. Everyone gets to play, and there are a lot of smiles to go around.
I think Central Michigan was supposed to be a tough game against a high-octane, better-than-average mid-major. I also think Toledo, preseason favorite to win the MAC, was thought to be a solid opponent.
Knowing what we know now, both of those schools would be 3 ½-point dogs to the Salt Hawks of Hutchinson High next Friday night.
I argue that a game, and not necessarily even a road game, against a middle-of-the-pack BCS-conference team would allow the team to experience a little more adversity and steel more character than a snoozefest over Florida International. Schools like Washington State, Oregon State and Kentucky used to show up in Memorial Stadium on a regular basis some years back.
I know: a loss in the non-conference portion of the season pretty much ruins your chances at a national championship. Even my crimson-and-blue glasses, however, let me see that KU is still light-years from that.
A run at the Big XII North division and the right to play Christians to the Oklahoma Sooners Lions in San Antonio isn’t unreasonable, though. A tough non-conference loss doesn’t mean a lick once the conference season gets underway.
I’ve heard Mangino’s basketball counterpart, Bill Self, say it a million times: “Teams don’t really pull together until they’ve been through some ‘stuff.’”
Mark Mangino has always been his own man. I hope he gives serious consideration to folding up the Bill Snyder Road Map to Success at the end of this season and decides to strike out to find his own way on this one. Kansas is indeed a program on the rise. The program is not on thin ice; rather, it’s sitting on a strong foundation. The team won’t collapse with a non-conference loss to a name opponent, and it will reap tremendous benefits and respect from a win.
Let’s upgrade the schedule. It’ll be fun for the fans, good for the players and, I’m confident, more beneficial to the long-term health of the program.