When the week began, oddsmakers in Las Vegas pegged today’s 6:30 p.m. match-up between 1-0 Kansas and 0-1 Rice as a game without a favorite. The opening line was set at pick ’em, and, in the eyes of the gambling world, both teams had an equal shot to win.
Not long after the opening line was set, the line jumped and Rice became the favorite. First it was by four points. Then it was six. It eventually reached a full touchdown, and that was just fine with the Jayhawks.
“The fact that we won a game (last week vs. South Dakota) doesn’t (change) what people still think of us,” junior quarterback Jake Heaps said. “They have Rice as a seven-point favorite and that definitely plays a lot in our heads. They think we’re an underdog and that’s perfectly fine. We’re just gonna go in and play our game and see what happens.”
Linebacker Ben Heeney said the Jayhawks would use what they perceived to be a slight as motivation.
“Obviously it bothers us that we’re predicted to lose,” Heeney said. “But I don’t see us as underdogs by any means. I’m not worried about predictions at all. We’re just gonna go down and play our game, and that should speak for itself.”
Rice LB expected to sit
Senior linebacker Cameron Nwosu, who missed Rice’s season opener Aug. 31 at Texas A&M, is expected to sit out again tonight, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle. Nwosu, who ranked second on the team with 92 tackles in 2012, had offseason knee surgery. He will be replaced in the Owls’ starting lineup by senior Michael Kutzler, who made his first career start against A&M.
Returning for the Owls this week is preseason Conference USA defensive player of the year, Phillip Gaines, a cornerback who the Jayhawks know plenty about.
“Phillip Gaines and Bryce Callahan, both of those guys are really good players,” Heaps said. “I think that’s the strength of their defense is the corners and their secondary. They’re very disciplined, they’re good football players and you really gotta bring your A-game when you go and play against guys like that.”
The KU roster lists 25 players from the state of Texas, but five of them grew up in or around Houston, which makes this week’s match-up even bigger in their eyes.
“This is as close as I’ll ever play to home in my KU career,” said sophomore BUCK Ben Goodman, who grew up an hour east of Houston in Beaumont, Texas. “I’m expecting to have like 40 people there and I’m gonna be juiced up.”
Joining Goodman in going home are defensive lineman Keba Agostinho (Katy), cornerback Greg Allen (Houston), offensive lineman Zach Fondal (Houston) and BUCK Darius Willis (Houston). The demand for tickets has been intense for each, but Agostinho, a fifth-year senior, has hardly minded.
“I’m excited to go home,” Agostinho said. “It’s always fun when you can have all your people come watch you. A lot of my family and friends are coming to the game. They’ve called me every day asking me if I’m excited, if I’m ready. I just tell them that I can’t wait to see them.”
Weather no worry
The forecast for kickoff calls for temperatures around 90 degrees with that famous Houston humidity lingering, as well. Although things have cooled down in Lawrence, the Jayhawks said the past couple of weeks had prepared them for the hot conditions.
“We already know what to expect (in) Houston,” said senior running back James Sims. “It’s gonna feel the same way that it’s felt here, so everyone is just hydrating and getting prepared for it.”
Tonight’s game will mark the third meeting between KU and Rice, with the series tied at one win apiece. Rice won last year’s meeting in Lawrence, 25-24, and KU’s lone win came in December 1961, when the two schools met in the Bluebonnet Bowl. KU rode the running of John Hadl, Ken Coleman and Roger McFarland to a 33-7 victory on a rainy day in Houston.