Kansas was one of the biggest surprises in college football in 2007, but the Jayhawks knew they’d have a hard time duplicating their success with a much more challenging schedule this season.
Just three games into 2008, that schedule has already taken a toll.
After matching their loss total from 2007 last week, the 19th-ranked Jayhawks look to bounce back as they host Sam Houston State on Saturday.
Kansas wasn’t expected to be a major factor in the Big 12 - let alone the national championship race - last year, but the Jayhawks won a school-record 12 games, including their first BCS bowl, and lost just once to finish in the top 10. They benefited largely from a weak schedule, but don’t have the same luxury this season.
The Jayhawks (2-1) lost 37-34 to then-No. 19 South Florida last Friday in their first meeting with a ranked opponent. They still have games against No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 7 Texas and No. 11 Texas Tech - none of which they faced last year - as well as their regular-season finale against No. 5 Missouri.
Though it’s a daunting schedule, coach Mark Mangino liked what he saw last week, when his team overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit before giving up the game-winning field goal as time expired.
“I like the way the kids displayed character and fought back,” said Mangino, the AP coach of the year in 2007. “But we put ourselves in that position, so hopefully this is a learning experience.”
The disappointing finish overshadowed another strong game from quarterback Todd Reesing, who completed 34 of 51 passes for 373 yards and threw three touchdowns for the third consecutive game to open the season. The junior, who set school records with 33 TDs and 3,486 passing yards last year, is fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 1,041 yards and tied for fifth with nine touchdowns.
Mangino didn’t fault Reesing for an interception on a deep pass that would’ve put the Jayhawks in field goal range in the game’s final minute.
“He played really well,” Mangino said. “He competed for all four quarters, he made things happen. There was no question about that. He did a really good job. At the end of the game there, we were trying to make a play, get in field goal position. Those things happen, that’s not the issue. There are other issues that we need to deal with. One of them is not Todd.”
One area that could use improvement is the running game, as the Jayhawks managed 61 yards on 21 carries last week. Running back Angus Quigley remains confident the team will be able to bounce back.
“Obviously we’re not where we thought we were,” he said. “We’ll come out and get to work. That’s all we can do right now, try to stay positive. … It’s a new week and we’ll try to get ready for Sam Houston State.”
Sam Houston State (1-0) hasn’t played since its season opener Aug. 28 because of Hurricane Ike. The Bearkats were scheduled to play Prairie View A&M last Saturday, but severe weather in the Gulf Coast forced the game’s cancellation.
Though they may be rusty, the Bearkats put on a dynamic offensive display in their season opener. They passed for 213 yards and ran for 261 in a 58-14 victory over East Central.
Former Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar completed 14 of 22 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns in his return from knee surgery that ended his 2007 season after nine games.
“I really didn’t think about it,” Bomar told the team’s official Web site. “And when I got hit, it was normal. I didn’t even think about my knee at all, and it felt good out there.”
Sam Houston State, which has never faced Kansas, is the Jayhawks’ third Southland Conference opponent in the last three years. Kansas beat Northwestern Louisiana State 49-18 in 2006 and routed Southeastern Louisiana 62-0 last Sept. 8.