Excitement’s building around Kansas Jayhawks football as Saturday game vs. Duke nears

Gary Bedore/gbedore@kcstar.com

Kansas’ once downtrodden football program — the one that last won more than three games in a season in 2009 — has emerged as one of the country’s feel-good stories three weeks into the 2022 campaign.

Wins at Houston (48-30) and West Virginia (55-42, OT) the past two Saturdays have not only caught the attention of ESPN, which reportedly considered bringing its GameDay show to KU’s campus for Saturday’s 11 a.m. home game against Duke, but also the voters in the AP poll.

GameDay will instead travel to Tennessee, which will play host to Florida on Saturday in an SEC battle, but Kansas received 23 points in Sunday’s AP poll, as well as five votes in the coaches poll. KU, which last surfaced in the AP poll on Oct. 18, 2009, when the Mark Mangino-coached Jayhawks were ranked No. 24, is nine slots from being ranked in the Top 25. KU came in at No. 34 overall this week.

“I’m excited for us to get our little time nationally,” second-year KU coach Lance Leipold said Tuesday at his weekly news conference, adding that “it’s good for our current players, good for future players (in recruiting). It’s good for this university and our community.

“We are not DVRing it back and forth,” he added with a smile, referring to taping shows that feature KU talk on TV, such as GameDay. “It’s like everything else: Hopefully we can continue to build excitement and consistent excitement.”

Leipold noted that the positive publicity “isn’t (because of) a player. It’s not Lance Leipold. It’s a program and staff that has worked hard since we arrived. It’s a group of players that has bought into all those things.”

The KU head coach is hoping for a huge crowd Saturday for the team’s nonconference game against Duke, which is also 3-0. Additional home games follow the ensuing two Saturdays (Iowa State, then TCU).

“It’s great to be back home after a couple on the road,” Leipold said. “Hopefully we’ll have a good crowd for a lot of different reasons. I think we have a chance now to create some energy and a homefield advantage.”

Leipold, who has spoken at countless KU alumni events since taking over as KU’s coach, has heard fans say they’re eager to return to the stadium to support a competitive team, like this one.

“I’m excited standing here with three wins and three home games coming in a row,” he said. “I know in my year and a half of being here, listening to our fans, the loyal fans that have been waiting for something, starving for something to be successful … Hopefully it’s meshing at the right time that we have three weeks of great crowds (in stadium that holds 47,000 fans). Great crowds can be beneficial to help this program take another step.”

Leipold believes his players remain hungry and will not have any type of letdown following two exciting road wins.

KU quarterback Jalon Daniels was named Big 12 offensive player of the week after throwing for three touchdowns and running for two against Houston. Cobee Bryant was defensive player of the week for his play against West Virginia and Lonnie Phelps was the league’s defensive player of the week after a Week 1 win over Tennessee Tech.

“How does this program holistically, from the top all the way through, handle success?” Leipold asked rhetorically. “I think we’re doing a good job. It’s easy to get distracted, but I think once they are in this building (the KU football facility), they have done a good job.

“We talked about that as a staff on Sunday. Yes, it’s nice to be 3-0. It’s only as good as what are we going to do this week? Staying locked into small things and the expectations of our players on and off the field have to stay consistent. That’s what we plan to do.”

Duke arrives on the heels of Saturday’s 49-20 home win over North Carolina A&T. The Blue Devils also beat Northwestern (31-23) on Sept. 10 in Evanston, Illinois and Temple at home, 30-0, on Sept 2.

Duke is led by first year coach Mike Elko, who previously was defensive coordinator at Texas A&M for four years. Last season, the Blue Devils defeated KU 52-33 in Durham, North Carolina.

“They are playing with a lot of confidence. They haven’t lost a game,” Leipold said. “They got after us last year at their place. That should be another reason we have good focus.”