'Hawks Want Strong Statement in Home Opener

Mark Mangino and the Kansas Jayhawks hope to make a strong statement in their home opener on Saturday vs. Northern Colorado. Phog.net's David Garfield with a preview, inside.

Kansas football closed out last season with a bang by beating Missouri in a thrilling game and then whipping  Minnesota in the Insight Bowl on New Year's Eve.

The Jayhawks have spent many tireless hours since then in off-season conditioning, spring ball, and fall practices.

Now, they're ready to roll into the 2009 season.

It all starts Saturday when KU hosts Northern Colorado. Kickoff is 6 p.m. (CT) at Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised on Fox College Sports Central.  

This innovative broadcast will connect the FCS broadcast team with Phog.net and it's users throughout the game. The FCS broadcast team will be following Phog.net during the game to pull the most interesting posts and questions for discussion during the broadcast. Phog users will be able to twitter questions or comments directly to sideline reporter, Samantha Steele, during the game.

KU coach Mark Mangino and his players are hyped about the season opener.

"We have been looking at this since August 6 (when fall practices began)," Mangino said. "We haven't seen a different color jersey for a month. You take a look at 15 practices in the spring, 15 practices for a bowl game and 29 practices leading up to the first game. That's a lot of practices to have only seen one opponent, so our players are anxious to get on the field and compete."

Any statement KU hopes to make in its season debut?

"We just want to play well," Mangino replied. "We want to play smart football, aggressive football in the way we always do. Good, tough hard-nosed ball is what we're looking forward to doing."  

KU, which has won five straight season and home openers, faces a Northern Colorado team transitioning into its fourth year of moving from Division II to Division I. The Bears, who went 1-10 last year (1-7 in Big Sky Conference), return 16 starters— six on offense and seven on defense. They feature some quality players, including talented junior college transfer running back Andre Harris and standout senior quarterback Bryan Waggener. He passed for 2,546 yards last season, the sixth highest total in school history.

"They are a team that can give you some problems because they use a lot of different looks on offense," Mangino said. "You can see them in one back, in two backs, two tight-ends. They also do a good job with their package of empty backfield. They've given some teams problems with that, including last year when they played Purdue."
"This is a big game for UNC," Mangino added. "It's an opportunity for them to come to a Big 12 stadium and compete, and it's our job to not only be concerned with them, but also be in competition with ourselves. We must use this game as a measuring stick to see where we are in various positions on the field and to get better."

Mangino has liked what he's seen from his team in practices thus far, and hopes those positives translates into the game. The Jayhawks are certainly hungry to get started.

"We're looking to be consistent through four quarters," said senior receiver Kerry Meier. "Hopefully, we get ourselves up by quite a few touchdowns and we can get those younger guys in and get (them) experience and see what college football is all about."

But Meier and the Jayhawks aren't taking the Bears lightly. They know upsets can happen like two years ago when unknown Appalachian State knocked off No. 5 Michigan in Ann Arbor. From watching tape, Meier said the Bears look like a "bunch of guys who give a lot of great effort."

"I know their head coach (Scott Downing) is telling them, ‘If we can go to KU and beat those guys, it would probably make (our) season," Meier said. "They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you let those teams hang around for a little bit, they get confident. Teams that get confident, they start playing well."

Freshman receiver Bradley McDougald certainly isn't overlooking the Bears, a program which had gone just 3-31 the last three years.

"Coach said this is like their Super Bowl," McDougald said.

 Kansas will be ready.

"If we just execute and do the things we're taught to do, I think we'll be fine," Meier said.

"We're trying to start the season off with a bang."

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