To start this post off, I have to take you back.
That was me on Halloween night in 2003. This is the earliest instance of me, Joseph James Bush of Dot Net, expressing my existence as a KU fan that can be accessed online (if you’re friends with my dad on Facebook, or I guess are reading this post). I still have the jersey.
That was a post I made on Facebook in 2008. That was the first example of me stating my fandom of the Kansas Jayhawk’s Football Team in words.
I am wearing a Jon Cornish jersey in this video from April 7th of 2008. And yes, I have only regressed from the way I looked in 2008, you don’t have to remind me. (Also, the description for this video might be the first example of being critical of myself online)
This is the first tweet signifying my allegiance to Kansas, either as a state or as a university. It is critical, which is to be expected.
And, finally, that’s my hat from the KU homecoming parade in 2013, wherein a bird just flat out shit upon it. There is, perhaps, no better image for my experience with KU football since I arrived at the University of Kansas in August of 2013. I have attended every home game that the Jayhawks have played, and three away games during that time, and I have witnessed with my own two eyes a full six victories by these Jayhawks to this point in early November. I do not predict many more before I graduate. I would guess that there’s one win next season, but only because I know it’ll be against Rhode Island next year. I’m not even that sure about that either.
My point is this: This program is in a state of disarray. My question is this: Why do I continue watching? If you ask anyone, basically, you’ll get the same response.
It Might Get Better Someday
My dad was the same age that I was the last time that the Kansas City Royals won the world series. He had to wait another thirty years, through five presidential reigns, two Star Wars reboots, and the escape of the Rainforest Café from our local mall to see another one. It takes time for it to get better, and, you know what? It just might. But that’s the thing – Time. Everything takes such a long time. By the next KU victory, I will have at least gone a full year, probably nearly two, without having seen one. Am I prepared to wait that long?
Well, that’s the great thing about time, it doesn’t matter if I’m prepared to wait that long – I’m going to have to wait that long.
I know there’s talent out there, sure. I’ve seen it in motion, there’s some good talent at receivers, especially amongst sophomores and freshmen, and Ryan Willis seems to be a player who can throw the ball, and Ke’aun Kinner is actually really good, many of these defensive linemen have serious talent. We can hope that this recruiting staff can bring some talent in as well, seeing as they’ve brought in like 50% of the successful players this year.
So there’s a start right there. So often, I hear “untalented” or “undeveloped” as a description of this team, both of which are things we can still blame on the last coaching staff and the youth of these players.
Where Do We Go From Here?
KU Football fans are constantly looking backwards. You can’t go over a week on Twitter without hearing about the 2007 season, or how well Aqib Talib and Chris Harris are doing in the NFL. I’m tired of hearing about past success – So I’m now looking to the future and determining what I would consider reasons for optimism with this team.
THE 2015 SEASON
I have some reasons to be optimistic already with this team. All I have at the moment is optimism, to be fair, but I have something (I stated all of those somethings about three paragraphs ago) to be excited about. Back in August, I had basically nothing to point to, and I can list a few things off this month!
Like I was saying, there’s already something to be excited for. But what could make the season at least somewhat positive? Getting a win. At the time of writing this, there are three games left on the schedule: TCU is going to win, so we’ll get that out of the way.
West Virginia might be a different story. For the next two weeks, I can say that Kansas has never lost to West Virginia at home and put it in boldface every time. They have a great offense, but their defense leaves a little bit to be desired. They’re pretty firmly in the middle of the pack, below the top-4 tier, but above the the third tier of K-State, Iowa State, and Texas. They sit right next (and play very similarly) to Texas Tech, a team that really struggled in Memorial Stadium. I’m not saying that sort of lightning will strike a second time, because West Virginia seems to be genuinely competitive and was able to hold Texas Tech’s offense down last week. And you don’t come into FOOTBALL HELL as West Virginia and expect to win, because, as I’ve said before, Kansas has never lost to West Virginia at home.
The last game is Kansas State. They’re not as good this year as they were last year, judging by the way that they’ve lost five straight games and are flirting with missing bowl eligibility (and they go to Lubbock this weekend, which can mean literally anything – The better team doesn’t seem to win in Lubbock, regardless of if that team is Tech or not). If K-State comes into Lawrence with a record of 4-6 to play a Kansas team at 0-11, there’s a huge motivation for KU to come out with the victory (assuming ending a season Not Winless isn’t enough of one) and keep K-State out of a bowl game for the first time in years. I personally doubt that this happens, but I’ve pointed out before that it’s hard for me to do that.
After the South Dakota State game, I said that I really just wanted a team that would try really hard to compete as much as possible. This has been a competitive team in certain games, and they just need the right number of breaks to happen for a victory.
IDEAL POSSIBLE RECORD: 1-11
THE 2016 SEASON
How do you best recover from a winless season? I look to the last Power-5 team to do so, Washington, for the answer. In 2009, they went 5-7. I don’t expect that from KU, but I can look at the schedule and try to pick something out. Anticlimactically, I predict that David Beaty’s first victory is against Rhode Island next year. Rhode Island is very bad this year in the FCS, with only 1 victory. Hopefully KU can come out, play well, and show the crowd what they can be optimistic about. After that, I don’t know where to go. They get an Ohio team probably coming off of a mediocre season at home. Memphis will likely be in its post-Fuente state when KU comes to town, but it’s still on the road, and there has been exactly zero road success for KU since 2009. Iowa State will be at home and either between coaches or still with Paul Rhoades, either of which would be a reason for some hope. Three wins would be very surprising, but it’s not totally impossible in my mind.
Really what I would want to see the most here is the development of the current Freshman talent to a higher level. Some of the best players in recent KU history have had breakout sophomore years, like Clark Green & Nick Reid (2003), Aqib Talib (2006), Todd Reesing (2007), James Sims (2011), and Ben Heeney (2012). I think it will still be a few years off for the program as a whole to see improvement, but in 2016, seeing Willis, Stephen Sims Jr, Jeremiah Booker, Tyler Patrick, Dorance Armstrong Jr, and Ryan Schadler showing some sort of improvement would be a good indicator that the coaching staff is doing something right for the future. Also, any improvement on the offensive line, kicking game, and defensive secondary would be good to see as well. I’m not expecting perfection, and, hell, I’m not expecting many wins, but visible improvement would be nice.
Ideal Record: 3-9
Predicted Record: 2-10
THE 2017 SEASON
It’s hard to predict anything two years from now. By that point, we’ll have a new president, we’ll be like fifteen movies into the Marvel comic book film franchise, and maybe we’ll be rid of that huge crane on campus… and maybe Jayhawk Boulevard will be finally finished… and maybe the Touchdown Club will exist.
Speaking of which, I hope that the rumored Memorial Stadium renovation is at least in some sort of motion by this point. The stadium basically needs to be washed on the outside, and could use some sort of decoration somewhere. It doesn’t look quite as daunting as it does boring. I would recommend putting a banner somewhere, preferably over some of the thousands feet of bare gray wall on the outside of the stadium. The banner could say something along the lines of “KANSAS” or “JAYHAWKS” or “EARN IT”, perhaps. I, personally, recommend my own “Memorial Stadium is Football Hell” idea, maybe put some blue flames somewhere, or four big banners that spell out “H-E-L-L” on an outside wall, maybe just constantly run flames on the video board, pitch-shift the announcer’s voice down several octaves, you know how that goes.
Anyway, by 2017, the freshmen whose names I’ve been listing off should be juniors. Juniors, theoretically, are getting to the peak of their college careers. Also, along with them, hopefully, there’s a good group of freshmen and sophomores coming in. This would theoretically be the year where we actually start to see some turn-around. Not a winning season, that’d still be a few years off. But an improving season. Maybe they get a win over a good team, and, hey, this could possibly be the elusive away victory year. I don’t even rule out bowl eligibility for this year at the absolute best, but that would take some immense player development and great recruiting. I look back to this coaching staff’s history of turn-arounds, like OC Rob Likens’ work at Louisiana Tech and Cal. It took a couple of years for those teams to hit some success. Hell, even back when Glen Mason took over in 1988 (a situation actually relatively similar to this one), he didn’t have a winning season until his fourth.
So I’d say in the most ideal situation possible, Kansas ends up with a trip to a bowl game where Philip Rivers keeps passing in the fourth quarter to break a record in a game that will eventually be defunct anyway.
More likely is the losing season with several moral victories and reasons to think “Hey, we’re looking better!”
Ideal Record: 6-7
Predicted Record: 3-9
The 2018 Season
This would be the first season with a full group of players recruited by coach Beaty (I guess the current redshirt Freshmen would have had a year under Weis/Bowen, but, whatever), so 2018 would have to be the first example of how well “The Process” has worked. To compare the 2015 situation to the 1988 situation again, consider the fact that Glen Mason went 6-5 in his fourth season at the helm. That wasn’t good enough for a bowl game in 1991, but it would be in 2018. That’s what I would hope for – Competitiveness throughout the season, and a trip back to a bowl game (and hopefully a good showing in that one.
By this point, I really wonder what the conference makeup will look like. People talk about realignment in the Big XII nowadays like people used to talk about nuclear war during the 1980s. You get the feeling that it has to happen soon. Where would KU go? There’s really nothing concrete to talk about with it – There’s speculation that we’d fit in with the Big Ten mindset. I agree with that idea, and I know that our proximity to Kansas City would go along with the conference’s expansion mindset. I heard a lot of rumors that the Pac-12 would go after the two Oklahoma schools and the two Kansas schools back in 2010. I actually think the rumor that the ACC would go after Kansas after getting Syracuse and Louisville to be along with their traditional basketball schools.
What I would actually guess would happen is that between now and 2018, one big-name Big XII school gets left out of the playoff with one loss due to beating Iowa State on the last week of the season (It would likely be Oklahoma) and cries foul. The conference either goes off and poaches the last remaining few good Group-of-5 schools (Cincinnati has been the popular pick, along with BYU), or the conference totally dissolves. Texas joins A&M in the SEC, West Virginia goes to the ACC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State go to the Pac-12 together, and the other six are left in the balance. I would hope that the Big Ten goes after KU, it would make sense with every other instance of realignment up to this point. I don’t know if Iowa State would join the Big Ten, though they’re the most obvious location-based choice. I don’t know if Kansas and Kansas State would stay together in the same conference like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State seem to want to. I guess that depends on the desire of the state’s board of regents. I wouldn’t see it as totally impossible for K-State to get picked up by the Big Ten as well.
My main point here is this – I don’t know that we’re going to be in this conference for that much longer, and at least it won’t be the current ten team conference for much longer.
So I don’t know where to look in terms of victories in this season, because they might come against TCU and Iowa State, or Illinois and Minnesota, or North Carolina and Syracuse, or, hell Kentucky and Missouri if it ended up like that.
Speaking of which, I also would predict that we’re playing Missouri in a non-conference setting by 2018. Gary Pinkel has said he’d be willing to rekindle that rivalry, and with Beaty being at KU during the time of the rivalry, and Clint Bowen & Kevin Kane having played against Mizzou during their time in college, I don’t find it hard to believe at all that we could finally get over all that front-office bad blood and put back all the regular bad blood we had in the games. An alternating home-and-home series in perpetuity would be great, like Iowa and Iowa State do, put it on Black Friday, and play it up all year. That rivalry has been missing from both Kansas and Missouri’s programs for years.
Anyway, 2018 is hopefully the year of real turnaround. I don’t know what to think about in terms of anything concrete in four years, but if the recruiting keeps getting better, the scheming keeps getting better, and the team executes, 2018 should be maybe not great, but at least consistently competitive
Ideal Record: 8-4
Predicted Record: 6-6
From there, if this turnaround really happens, I hope we can keep the people who made it happen in place. Does Beaty leave like Mason did? Do Likens and Bowen get better jobs (assuming they keep their jobs in the first place)? Is this a springboard program, where a coach can prove his ability and then move up? (This hasn’t happened more than maybe once, when Pepper Rodgers moved to UCLA from KU (and then eventually to the USFL so did he really move up?)
I’m sure we’ll see decent highs again, or, at least, we’ll see the mid-level success and wins over some rivals each season of the Terry Allen era again. I guarantee we’ll see this level of play again at some point, that’s just the type of program this is. Mangino went 2-10 in his first season. Mason went 1-10 in his first season. Beaty will in all likelihood go 0-12 in his first. There’s only been one coach in program history with an overall winning record. There have only been two seasons of 10 or more wins since 1905. This is a program of mild highs and incredible lows, which is exactly what makes those seasons like 2007 and 1995 so memorable – When they happen, we don’t forget.
And when they happen again, we won’t forget.
The Last Thing
When I’ve been asked what the best game I’ve ever attended was, I’m always somewhat torn between four or five games.
There’s K-State in 2004, which was a huge weight being lifted off of the program’s shoulders, and a huge deal to me in elementary school, which I perceived to be probably 40% K-State fans, 30% KU fans, 10% Mizzou fans, and 20% kids who didn’t care. It mattered more than anything else to me at that time.
There’s Nebraska in 2005. That was probably the most fun I had had at a game, people around me were getting all of their beating Nebraska jokes out for the first time in 40 years. It was cathartic, we were finally seeing it after seeing Mizzou, K-State, and Iowa State finally getting their wins over the Huskers in years past. A 25 point rout with a weird score, 40-15. I still remember Kevin Kane sprinting down the sideline and one defensive lineman taking out the Husker’s quarterback to seal the pick-six.
Then, there was the game against the same team in 2007. If you wanna talk catharsis, it was finally dropping 76 on the team that had done it so many times before.
I can’t name any games since 2008 that I would put up among those. Maybe West Virginia in 2013, which felt like the beginning of a turnaround that didn’t ever end up actually happening. Iowa State in 2014 was such a bizarre game, incredibly fun, the ‘Hawks held that game in hand for all 60 minutes, but it was in this weird vacuum of an interim head coaching job, and we knew it couldn’t actually lead to anything because Bowen only had three or four more games at the helm. Hell, I had a great time celebrating that awful 16-13 victory over Louisiana Tech in 2013.
But the game that I’m glad I attended the most was September 2003, at home, against Missouri. Mizzou came in ranked in the Top 25, they were 4-0, and they had Brad Smith at the helm. We had Whittemore. The game ended 35-14, fans on the field afterwards, myself included. I couldn’t understand quite exactly why everyone was as happy as they were after the game. I knew it was a rivalry, I knew it was an upset, and I knew KU was 4-1, but I didn’t know exactly what it meant until years later. With many, but not all, programs, you can find specific moments and games to point at and call the turnaround of the program. That game was ours. I was there for that game, and I’m going to be there when it happens again.