It’s not as if the first half of the Kansas University football schedule isn’t dotted with land mines, but it’s nowhere near as tough as the second half of it.
When reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford leads the Oklahoma Sooners into Memorial Stadium on Oct. 24, that triggers a six-week span during which Kansas faces two of the nation’s top three teams in the Associated Press poll (No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Oklahoma), plus 24th-ranked Nebraska, plus a road game against Texas Tech and an out-of-state game versus chief rival Missouri.
If Kansas is going to make national noise, a 6-0 start to the season is imperative. A Sept. 12 game at UTEP, which features prolific quarterback Trevor Vittatoe (3,274 yards passing, 33 touchdowns, nine interceptions in 2008), poses a serious threat to KU’s chances of having a perfect half-season.
So does an Oct. 17 game at Colorado, although the Buffaloes still have problems at quarterback. Coach Dan Hawkins vowed, “Ten wins and no excuses,” at the team’s postseason banquet last winter. Kansas has a chance to keep that from happening and maintaining an unbeaten record.
Going 6-0 would be a potentially huge step for a program that two years ago started the season 11-0 because making it through the first half of the season unblemished could lead to major national exposure. Nothing quite resonates with young football fans quite the way an appearance on ESPN’s Game Day does. A 6-0 start would give Kansas a good shot at playing host to the Game Day crew for the Oklahoma game.
The Sooners will be coming off their Red River Shootout against Texas, not a bad time to play Oklahoma. Not a good time, either, but there never is a good time to play a team as loaded as Oklahoma. The fact the game will be played on the underdog’s field helps the chances of landing Game Day, too, because it lessens the chances of a rout.
Nationally, not many sexy matchups take place Oct. 24. In fact, the only other game that features a pair of teams ranked in the preseason top 25 features No. 17 TCU at No. 20 BYU.
Other games of interest: Oregon State at USC, Auburn at LSU, Boston College at Notre Dame, UCLA at Arizona, Tennessee at Alabama, Iowa at Michigan State, UConn at West Virginia.
None of those games can put a pair of names on the marquee to match Sam Bradford and Todd Reesing. Plus, ESPN loves to play up the Fighting Manginos angle and would enjoy getting Bob Stoops to talk about his days working with Mangino at Kansas State and hiring him away from Bill Snyder’s staff to work for him at Oklahoma.
Television audiences love high-scoring games featuring big-name quarterbacks and explosive receivers. Both teams offer an abundance of them, and provided the young Kansas offensive line could protect Reesing, the game might shape up as a shootout decided in the fourth quarter.
Three weeks later, wild students and alumni return to Memorial Stadium to watch the Jayhawks take on Nebraska, possibly for the right to take the lead in the Big 12 North race. That game’s circled on the schedules of both fan bases, another sign of progress for KU football.