It takes a special kind of confidence and optimism to represent Kansas University football.
At Big 12 media days in Dallas, surrounded by peers from both traditional powers and sure-to-be Top-25 teams in 2014, senior Jayhawks Nick Harwell, Ben Heeney, Jimmay Mundine and Cassius Sendish spoke on matters of winning, going to a bowl game and turning around a downtrodden program. All the while, they knew many of the people with whom they had these discussions, as well as the outsiders who read or heard their comments, would scoff at the idea of Kansas succeeding on Saturdays this fall.
Their realistic coach, Charlie Weis, gets it, too.
“We haven’t done a thing in the two years I’ve been here,” Weis declared at his Dallas news conference.
Entering his third season at KU, the coach even gave the bullet-point lowlights: the Jayhawks won one game two years ago, only three the next and haven’t won a game on the road in his tenure.
Of course, the on-field product didn’t capture many hearts and minds before Weis arrived, either. The past five seasons (two under Turner Gill and one coached by Mark Mangino), Kansas is 14-46 overall, 3-40 in the Big 12. The Jayhawks’ last road win came in Mangino’s final season, 2009, at UTEP. The year ended with seven straight losses.
Season — Overall record (Big 12); coach
2013 — 3-9 (1-8); Charlie Weis
2012 — 1-11 (0-9); Weis
2011 — 2-10 (0-9); Turner Gill
2010 — 3-9 (1-7); Gill
2009 — 5-7 (1-7); Mark Mangino
2008 — 8-5 (4-4); Mangino
2007 — 12-1 (7-1); Mangino
2006 — 6-6 (3-5); Mangino
2005 — 7-5 (3-5); Mangino
2004 — 4-7 (2-6); Mangino
2003 — 6-7 (3-5); Mangino
2002 — 2-10 (0-8); Mangino
So, yeah, linebacker Heeney said, the players realize what those kind of numbers do to a program’s reputation.
“We already know that everyone considers us at the bottom of the totem pole,” Heeney said. “The media, you guys, do. Everyone here (at media days) does. That’s not a surprise to us. We were voted number 10 in the conference (preseason poll). Rightfully so. We won one (Big 12) game last year. You can’t expect to get any respect when you win one conference game. At the same time, it just gives us that much more fuel to our fire, so that way we can prove people wrong.”
Being perceived as a member of a lesser program, Mundine said, didn’t bother him, because he focuses on getting back on the field this fall with the rest of KU’s experienced senior class. The tight end from Denison, Texas, remains convinced the Jayhawks have play-makers who can win one-on-one battles in the Big 12.
“Everyone knows the polls don’t mean anything,” Mundine said. “The polls don’t see all the work we’ve put in since January and where we are now, as far as a team.”
Scoring more, the players know, would be a significant step forward. Kansas averaged 13.9 points a game in 2013. That was just one reason Weis overhauled the offense, handing the keys to new coordinator John Reagan.
Even Heeney, the defensive captain, referenced the offense when talking up KU’s potential.
“We know what we’re capable of,” the senior linebacker said. “And we’re a lot better this year than we were in previous years.”
Weis didn’t want to state publicly how many games Kansas needs to win this season to make it a success, and his players followed his lead. Still, without giving a prediction, wide receiver Harwell said playing in a bowl game is the goal.
“It doesn’t matter (which one),” said the senior transfer from Miami (Ohio), who caught seven passes and a touchdown in his previous team’s 35-21 GoDaddy.com Bowl win as a freshman. “We’ve got guys on the team who haven’t been to a bowl game, so that’s why I want to help the team go to one.”
The players trust, Sendish added, their offseason work will enable them to buck KU’s losing trend.
“I think we just need to bring the productivity to Saturdays,” the safety said.
Kansas last finished a season with a winning record — overall or in the Big 12 — in 2008 (8-5, 4-4). Heeney and his fellow leaders seem convinced the Jayhawks can do that again in 2014.
“I’ll put my team against any team,” Heeney said.