Big 12 Media Day

Expectations are high in Lawrence, and head coach Mark Mangino isn't running from those expectations. Jim Williamson and Kevin Flaherty were on hand for Big 12 Media Day, witnessing just how high the bar continues to remain for KU Football this season.

Expectations are high... and Mangino likes it
Just a year ago, Mark Mangino was answering questions about whether or not his team would be good enough to qualify for a bowl game. So, one might expect the coach of a team coming off their first Orange Bowl win since Lyndon Johnson was president to soft sell his team a little bit.

But he did just the opposite at Tuesday's installment of Big 12 media day in Kansas City. Mangino attended with junior QB Todd Reesing, senior LB Mike Rivera and senior DB Darrell Stuckey.

Mangino didn't talk trash or say anything about anyone's mother, but he welcomed the expectations just as he welcomes the addition of Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech to the Kansas schedule.

Expectations are a byproduct of progress and success, he said.

“We're excited about (expectations). We embrace those expectations because there was a time when I first arrived here that there were no expectations for Kansas.”

There's plenty of work to be done, Mangino acknowledged, but he thinks he'll have “a pretty good football team again” when the August 30th home opener against Florida International rolls around.

Reesing expected to repeat
Much of the onus for the Jayhawks being a good team again will fall on junior QB Todd Reesing, who shredded opposing defenses – not to mention the KU record book – in his first full season as a starter.

“He certainly had a big 2007, and we would anticipate and expect that he would perform at the same  high level,” Mangino said.

Along with the usual on-the-field challenges, though, Mangino said Reesing's biggest challenge may come off the field. Everybody wants a piece of a rock star, especially in a small town like Lawrence, but Mangino is pleased with how his signal-caller is taking care of business and maintaining balance.

“For Todd, the challenge is being able to manage all the attention that he's received, and I think he's doing a pretty good job of that.”

Don't discount KU's 2007 schedule
Mangino is excited about playing the South Division big boys, but he encouraged the media to gain a little perspective on last year's so-called weak schedule.

“Just stop and think for a minute that Kansas' football coach has been asked about his schedule not being tough in a year where they defeated Nebraska, Texas A&M, Colorado and Virginia Tech. All that tells me is that we're making progress, if you're asking the question,” Mangino said.

No worries at OT, RB, in the booth
The Jayhawks seem to have some question marks coming into this season at some key positions, thanks to graduation and the NFL draft, but Mangino said this is nothing new.

“Last year, we had two returning tackles and no returning centers or guards that had played significantly. This year, it's just reversed: we have veteran guards and the center, but two unknowns, so to speak, at tackle.”

Mangino said the key wasn't so much his players' abilities but rather coaches putting them in a position to be successful.

“Let's do things that play to their strengths and we'll be fine,” he said.

Brandon McAnderson's graduation has led to questions about KU's running back corps. Mangino pointed to the summer of 2007, when no one had emerged to replace single-season rushing record-holder Jon Cornish.

Jake Sharp gained more than 800 yards last year and looks to get more carries. Mangino also wants to use Angus Quigley who saw limited action last year due to injuries and then a longer-than-expected transition to full-time player.

"He had to shake some rust off," Mangino said.

Mangino said the team had some talented young runners to go along with national juco player of the year Jocques Crawford. Mangino said, like any newcomer, Crawford would have to earn it on the field.

“We think he will,” Mangino said. “We have high expectations for him.”

Another change for the Jayhawks comes in the coaching booth. Lifelong Jayhawk Clint Bowen will assume the defensive coordinator responsibilities upon the departure of Bill Young for Miami. Mangino says the transition was easy.

“Clint Bowen, behind the scenes, had been a key player in the success of our defense,” Mangino said. “It's not like we're just grabbing at somebody. He is well-prepared for this challenge and he'll do a great job.”

Receivers shine in workouts
LB Mike Rivera singled out the wide receivers as the group that had been most impressive through summer workouts.

“They really stand out this summer,” Rivera said. “Those guys have really come together. They lost Marcus Henry, they lost Derek Fine … and they're both big leaders. But there are a lot of guys stepping up. Dexton Fields, Marcus Herford, (Dezmon) Briscoe, they're all stepping up and they've become like a little family. That's pretty good to see. I think they're going to be a really exciting group this year to watch.”

Rivera also said fellow linebacker Joe Mortensen was “back into things” following his injury and said he looked great.

“There's a lot of guys that are standing out,” Rivera said.

KU will take the same approach
So how do the new-and-improved Jayhawks maintain the success and the progress they realized in 2008? KU fans have heard it before, and Tuesday, they heard it again.

Mangino said, “We focus on the task at hand, we keep zeroed in on what we're trying to accomplish. We're not going to let things outside the program affect the way we prepare, the way we work, our mindset. As I say all the time around our program, and it's been used a lot but I mean it sincerely: we just stay at it. Keep after it and keep sawing wood.”

While you're at it, don't bother telling Rivera the Jayhawks shouldn't be contending for the conference championship.

Rivera said a two- or three-loss season would still be a success after last year's 12-1 record, but he said making it to the Big 12 title game at the same stadium he grew up watching football would be more his idea of a good time.

“That would be huge,” Rivera said. “It would be a dream come true. That's obviously one of my goals this year and I'm looking forward to that point. Hopefully, we can get there.”

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