Sunflower Showdown Today

After a decade of dominance by K-State, Mark Mangino's Jayhawks are starting to turn the table over their rival from Manhattan.

When the two teams kickoff this Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Memorial Stadium, KU (5-3) will be looking to win its third straight game over the Wildcats (4-4) and extend the series lead to 65-36-5. Heck, that hasn’t happened since 1988-90. KU has also won three of its last four games against K-State.
    
Once called “America’s most hapless team” by Sports Illustrated before Bill Snyder took over the program in 1989, KSU won 11 straight games over the Jayhawks (1993-2003) on their way to national prominence and 11 consecutive bowl appearances.
    
While Snyder gets credit for the “Miracle in Manhattan,” it was a young assistant coach named Mangino who also deserves props for the program’s rise since he joined the staff in 1991. He watched the miracle take place for eight years at K-State, serving as recruiting coordinator from 1991-96, running game coordinator/offensive line coach (1997), and assistant head coach in 1998 before leaving the program to become an assistant at Oklahoma.
    
In Mangino’s eight years at K-State, the Wildcats went 71-23-1, recorded six-straight nine-plus wins seasons, and went to six consecutive bowl games.
    
Mangino then served three seasons in Norman, and was honored in 2000 (OU won the national championship) with the Frank Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in college football.
    
When Mangino accepted the Kansas job in December of 2001, he was thrust back into the KU-KSU rivalry and determined to establish the Jayhawks as the premier team in the state after previous head coach Terry Allen’s five years of failure at Mount Oread.
    
Snyder, for one, thought Mangino could turn the program around.
    
“Mark is a very good hire for the University of Kansas,” Snyder said at the time. “He is very intelligent and a hard worker. Mark knows what it takes to develop a successful program, having been part of that both here at Kansas State and at Oklahoma.”
    
Mangino gave Snyder props for helping prepare him for the KU head coaching job.
    
“I have a great deal of respect for Coach Snyder,” Mangino said at his introductory press conference at Kansas on Dec. 4, 2001. “Let me make this perfectly clear, if it wasn’t for my eight years at Kansas State, I wouldn’t be sitting here in front of you. He has done a great deal for me. I just think that I owe him a lot. Coach Snyder is someone I care about a great deal.”
    
Snyder and the Wildcats didn’t show much love for Mangino during the new KU head coach’s first game against KSU. The No. 14 Wildcats crushed KU 64-0 in Lawrence in 2002. KU, which went just 2-10 that season, didn’t fare much better in Manhattan the following year in a 42-6 loss. But KU was gradually getting better, evidenced by its 6-7 record and trip to the Tangerine Bowl, the Jayhawks’ first bowl game since 1995.
    
And then it happened.
    
After 11 long years of heartache and frustration, Kansas finally beat the Wildcats, 31-28, on Oct. 9, 2004 in Lawrence. It was the biggest crowd at Memorial Stadium (50, 152) since that dark night against Nebraska three years earlier on Nov. 3, 2001, when then-KU athletics director Al Bohl fired Allen after the Jayhawks’ 51-7 loss to the Cornhuskers.
    
While Kansas fell to K-State at Manhattan the next year, 12-3, you could see the momentum beginning to shift KU’s way. The Jayhawks went 7-5 in 2005, winning four of their last five games, including a resounding 42-13 victory over Houston in the Fort Worth Bowl. K-State, meanwhile, suffered back-to-back losing seasons and won just two games in conference play (5-6 overall).
    
Snyder wound up retiring  after 17 years at KSU.
    
Ron Prince took over at K-State, and Kansas gave him a rude awakening with a 39-20 victory in Lawrence on Nov. 18, 2006. And then, after cruising through its nonconference schedule with four straight wins last season, KU won a defining game over the No. 24 ‘Cats (30-24) on Oct 6, 2007. It was the Jayhawks’ first win in Manhattan since Glen Mason’s second year as head coach in 1989.
    
KU proved to the country and themselves they could beat a ranked team on the road. The team’s confidence grew after that game, and KU wound up winning a school-record 12 games, capped off with a sweet Orange Bowl victory.
    
After 11 years of K-State superiority, Mangino’s Jayhawks are now beating the Wildcats on the field and off the field in recruiting. A stellar recruiter, Mangino has been signing the best players in Kansas basically since he got the job, including guys like Mike Rivera, Caleb Blakesley, Jake Sharp, and Darrell Stuckey.
    
While he learned the coaching trade under Snyder, Mangino has helped build the Jayhawk program in his own image. However, he is still quick to credit Snyder for his success, though adding that it’s not as simple as taking the blueprint from KSU’s program and “applying it here.”
    
“One of the things that’s really a challenge is you can be an assistant coach at a really good program or around really good people, but each university has its own circumstances,” Mangino said. “Everything from resources, infrastructure, academic restrictions, geography, recruiting base — there are so many things that are different.
    
“You can’t say, ‘OK, ‘I’m going to take this blueprint from this program and apply it here.’ You got to do it your own way. You got to understand what the hurdles are, where the challenges are, what the limitations are, and then design your program within those parameters. When we worked for coach Snyder, he was able to do that. He was able to find what was the proper path for the program. What a lot of us (then-assistant coaches at K-State like current OU head coach Bob Stoops) may have learned is what is the proper path for our programs.”
    
Mangino has certainly built the proper path for the Jayhawk program. He was the consensus national coach of the year last season, and is the only coach in school history to lead the Jayhawks to three bowl games. With a win over K-State on Saturday, KU will have six wins and become bowl eligible. KU will no doubt win a few more games this season and go to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.
    
Mangino has currently won 42 games at Kansas, just fourth behind Bert Kennedy, Glen Mason and Jack Mitchell. Mangino needs just 12 more wins to surpass Kennedy (53-9-4 from 1904-1910) and become the winningest coach in KU history.

 Meanwhile in Manhattan, Prince has fallen under some hard times. Prince has just a 16-17 record in his third year with the Wildcats, and K-State enters the Sunflower Showdown losing three of its last four games. The K-State faithful have turned on Prince, and there are rumors he might be fired after this season. Kansas State has the second-lowest average home attendance in the Big 12 (45, 323).

It’s a different story in Lawrence. KU is on pace to set a new home season average attendance record for the fourth straight year. The Jayhawks’ home opener against lowly FIU on Aug. 30 set a single-game attendance record (52, 112) at Memorial Stadium.

Despite losing two straight games, optimism about Mangino and KU football is still sky high in Lawrence. The K-State game is a sellout and expect the Jayhawks’ fans to wave the wheat and rock Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Mangino was once part of the KSU family, and remains grateful for everything Snyder did for him. But with a victory over K-State on Saturday, it will be quite clear that the Jayhawk are now THE team in Kansas.
    
Ri vera certainly wants to make that happen.
    
“It would be great to see the times turning,” Rivera said. ‘”KU is the big school in Kansas. We want to go out and have the best game we can and show that we can beat them consistently year in and year out. We’re a solid team, we’re tough, and we’ll fight to the finish.”
    
The Jayhawks could do it no other way under Mangino. When Mangino retires, maybe KU Athletics, Inc. will even rename Memorial Stadium in his honor, as K-State did for Snyder when they renamed KSU Stadium/Wagner Field the new Bill Snyder Family Stadium after he stepped down in 2005.

After a mostly lackluster 20th century of KU football, Mangino has given KU pigskin fans reason to believe, and seems on his way to building his own Miracle at Mount Oread.

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