We're a little late with some of our content, but (cliche!) better late than never. We're trading some questions with Cory over at the KU blog Rock Chalk Talk.
His first answer I think is right on. Most people haven't watched Kansas play football. Human beings don't inherently like change. We're all accustomed to seeing traditional powers as the teams we want to watch. Admit it!
KU comes in with their best season in 100 years. There are a lot of people who still see this season as a product of the 'perfect storm' - an incredibly easy schedule with an above average but not great team playing in a mediocre half of the Big 12. Defend your Jayhawks and tell us why that perception isn't correct.
To me, it is really simple. Watch a game. Most of the people who are calling the season a 'perfect storm' have yet to actually sit down and watch Kansas play football. Our offense is far different from the offense of years' past, and the biggest difference (by far) is QB Todd Reesing. He is so much different from the QBs people are used to at Kansas; he is a playmaker. You can call that a 'gunslinger', or whatever you want, but the fact is he makes plays, specifically late in games.
But the real key to our team, the real reason we are 'for real', is our defense. Every level of the defense is a top unit in the Big 12, highlighted by the incredibly improved secondary. Last season, everyone and their brother could throw for 300 yards against our secondary, but it doesn't even look like the same unit this season. Aqib Talib is an absolute stud, but the real key has been the emergence of other corners Kendrick Harper and Chris Harris. Harper was the starter coming into the season, but he hurt himself the first day of fall practice and didn't return until the conference opener against Kansas State. Harris, a true freshman, wasn't recruited heavily, but has been remarkable so far this season, despite not having moved to the nickel back position to make room for Harper.
Overall, you can tell this team is 'for real' if you simply sit down and watch them play a football game. You can pore over stats (we look pretty good in those too) and spreadsheets and recruiting rankings as much as you want, but sometimes all it takes it to watch a game.
In July, I picked Mark Mangino as the Big 12 coach second most likely to be fired. Clearly it hasn't worked out that way. (Picked Gary Pinkel as #1, but Franchione and Callahan #3 and #4, respectively). Coming into this season, was the feeling among Jayhawk fans that Mangino was their guy and things were going in the right direction, or are you guys surprised as the rest of us?
It was a big debate over the summer amongst us Jayhawk fans. My feeling was he needed to win 8 games this season, with this schedule, or he would be on the hot seat for next season. But I don't think that, under any circumstances, he would have been fired during or after this season. Of course now that we are 8-0 and looking phenomenal, everyone is scared that he will leave and go somewhere else. Funny how one really good season can change an entire fanbase's opinion of a coach. CN: Or one really horrid season....?
The Jayhawks look like a team without stars on offense. A group of good wide receivers, a pair of decent but not great running backs. Todd Reesing is good, but perhaps not great. Is Reesing the guy that makes this offense go, or would you be okay if he went down?
Ugh. Don't even start. Kerry Meier is a good QB, yeah, and he has tons of athletic ability, but Todd Reesing is perfect for this offense. Perfect. If Reesing went down, we would still be a pretty good team, but nowhere near the level of the current team. You are right in the sense that our offense really doesn't have a 'star', but Reesing is becoming that kind of guy,
If you had to pick a defensive player that you can't afford to lose, would you pick defensive tackle James McClinton or cornerback Aqib Talib? Is there anyone else that's the heart and soul of the defense you want to mention?
Aqib Talib is the most important player to this team, not just because of his play in the secondary but because of what he represents. He is everything to this team; the heart, the soul, the mouth to this football team. He is one of the few players with any sort of national profile, and it is clear that he is who most young players look up to. James McClinton might actually be a better actual football player, and he is the leader of the front 4, but he isn't on the same level important-wise as Aqib Talib.
The other big leader of the defense is Joe Mortensen, the same Joe Mortensen whose scholarship was pulled back following the firing of Frank Solich. Mortensen has been yet another vocal leader of the defense, and has played very well so far this season. But the best LBer is probably tremendously underrated James Holt, who coming into the season was considered the worst of the trio.
What do you fear the most about coming into this game against Nebraska, if anything at all?
Honestly, I just fear the team possibly overlooking the Huskers. However, Mark Mangino has always done a good job of getting his team to play the team laid in front of him, and that shouldn't change against a traditional powerhouse like the Cornhuskers, no matter how poorly they have defended the run in recent weeks.
And I know you didn't ask, but just in case you wanted a score prediction:
Kansas 31 Nebraska 14