It's no secret that Kansas University quarterback Michael Cummings has been dealing with some kind of arm issue for the past few weeks, although you'd never know it from watching the guy play.
Series after series, play after play, Cummings has picked himself up off the turf, hustled back to the huddle and called the next play. Teammates occasionally check on him and ask how he's feeling. Junior wide receiver Nigel King said every time he or anyone else had asked Cummings if he was OK, the reply came quickly and usually was short-lived. “I'm OK, I'm OK,” King recalled Cummings saying during a recent game.
Cummings is not interested in focusing on himself or his well-being. He much rather would nod to show nothing's really wrong and move on to calling the next play and leading the offense.
After all, that's what he's here to do, and, pain or no pain, the guy is not about to give in to a little soreness while the opportunity of a lifetime is within reached.
Asked earlier this week how he was feeling physically, Cummings painted a genuinely sunny picture.
“I feel great today, actually,” Cummings said Wednesday afternoon before being asked how he felt a few days earlier. “Sunday was a little tough. Tuesday was a little tough only because we didn't lift on Tuesday.”
Against Iowa State, Cummings momentarily left the game with a right shoulder issue before returning to lead the Jayhawks to victory. Against TCU, the injury — or something like it — popped up again after Cummings plowed in for a one-yard touchdown run.
Despite taking a shot on the play, Cummings said he came away with no bad feelings about another quarterback draw being called in the future.
“If they're there, I'll run 'em,” Cummings said.
KU coach Clint Bowen, who called Cummings' physical toughness “underrated,” will be the first to tell you that, at this point in the season, if you've been playing for your team at all, you're going to be a little beat up. A lot of times, what separates those who become players and those who don't is the ability to play through that pain and continue to produce at a high level.
“If you're one of those guys that can't handle that, then college football is a rough business for you,” Bowen said. “And Michael is obviously proving week after week that he's a pretty tough guy, and you know you can count on him to go out there and battle through some of the discomforts that come with football.”
Cummings has done that and takes pride in it.
“I'm not walking around sore all day,” Cummings said. “I think it is just playing through pain. My shoulder was sore, but if they call a pass play, I have to hit it. If not, I need to be off the field. So if I'm out there I'm gonna do whatever the play calls me to do.”
From the minute he was named interim head coach of the Kansas University football program, on the same day former KU coach Charlie Weis was fired, Clint Bowen brought something to the program that previous head coaches couldn't — a deep and real connection to Lawrence.
That's not to say that Weis, Turner Gill, Mark Mangino and others did not appreciate Lawrence, enjoy living here or develop some kind of connection with the community. But it never came close to reaching the level that Bowen's has.
As you all know by now, Bowen grew up here. He played football at Lawrence High and KU, has been a Jayhawk for as long as he can remember and, perhaps most importantly, has no desire ever to leave. People know that. They also know that he can coach. And when you combine the two, you get the flood of support you've seen growing for Bowen day-by-day, week-by-week for the past couple of months.
I can't go a day or a place in this town right now without hearing somebody talk to me about Bowen and why he's the right guy for the job. It should be pointed out that most of these people are not qualified to hire a head football coach at a major university, but almost all of them are KU fans and it's those fans who will have a big role in helping KU football return to respectability, Bowen or no Bowen.
Some people just talk about their feelings. Others send emails and write letters or post their thoughts on social media sites. And still more have tried to think of ways to demonstrate their support for Bowen in a larger manner. One such way recently showed up at local bars Six Mile Tavern, in West Lawrence, and Louise's Downtown, on Mass Street.
Near the front of each establishment, hang giant banners that simply read “We Want Clint!” They may only be a couple of banners hanging at a couple of bars in town, but they speak for a lot of people and are merely the latest signs of support for the hometown candidate.
The KU administration is going to conduct a full and thorough search at season's end and it's absolutely the right thing to do. The last two hires went wrong and this one, for half a dozen different reasons, has to go right. So taking their time and making sure they get it right should be commended.
Besides, it's not like KU taking its time makes Bowen any less of a candidate or eliminates the overwhelming amount of support he already has received from the community. If anything, it might actually make that support swell.
Bowen will be in the mix. And he will get a legitimate chance to convince KU, beyond the recent results on the field, why he's the best choice for the job. Until then, don't be surprised if you see more banners like these popping up all over town.
I've been going to KU football practice for years now and, after a while, you start to wonder how much you really can see when you're there and, this coach or that coach, how different practices really can be.
I don't wonder any more.
Each week of the Clint Bowen interim era, I've seen something different, something new, something I had not seen before. That could be because we're allowed to stick around a little longer than we ever have before, it could be because things actually are that different, and it could, of course, be some combination of the two.
Either way, I left today's practice thinking to myself how crazy it is to see a bunch of guys who have done almost nothing but lose during their time at KU fighting their butts off in the freezing cold and having fun all the way to the end of the season.
Usually by now — at least during the past four or five years — it's been about going through the motions of getting the season over with and moving on to the next chapter of hoping for something different. Not now. Not today. After dominating Iowa State and nearly knocking off TCU, these guys really believe they can beat anybody right now and they practice like it, coaches included.
Quarterback Michael Cummings said earlier today that there's a feeling of missing out surfacing around the football complex because of the disappointment that they're just now starting to put everything together. Even with that, though, Cummings said it wasn't like the guys were dwelling on it. Instead, they're looking at the last two games as a great opportunity and he said it would be that way if they had two games, five games or 10 games left.
I saw an extra dose of energy out there last week, and coming off the Iowa State victory that made sense. But there was even more out there today. It's crazy to think, but this team really is just two special teams mistakes away from sitting on five victories and having two shots at getting that sixth win for bowl eligibility.
Had they not kicked off to OSU's Tyreek Hill, I think KU wins that game. And if Cameron Echols-Luper hadn't taken that punt back to the house last week to give TCU its first lead since the first quarter, I think that would've changed the outcome, as well.
I'm not the only one. Clearly these guys believe that and even though so many of them are down to the final two games of their careers, they're certainly not operating like the end is in sight.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at today's practice:
• I watched Cummings pretty closely to see how he held up health-wise and he looked fine. Good even. He was a full participant, threw the same amount of ball as the other quarterbacks and even bounced around out there like he wasn't in any pain at all. He said earlier that he felt great today and that most of the right arm/shoulder issue he's dealing with right now was simply a matter of how well he could play through pain. That's good news for Kansas because the answer to that question is, “very well.”
• Former KU center Chip Budde was the former player who spoke to the team before practice and, like many before him, Budde's message was short, sweet, to the point and received with all kinds of hootin' and hollerin', some of it even coming from Bowen himself.
• This week's depth chart has Larry Mazyck listed with the first stringers at right tackle but I also saw Jordan Shelley-Smith (the back-up at both left and right tackle) working with the ones a little bit today. No surprise there. Shelley-Smith has played plenty during the past couple of weeks and it could simply be a case of KU making sure both guys are ready for Saturday's match-up with OU's big and physical defensive line.
• There were plenty of NFL scouts at practice again today and, at least from where I was standing, it looked like most of them were very interested in senior receiver Nick Harwell. I'm sure they were taking notes about junior Nigel King, too, but their eyes seemed fixed on Harwell for extended periods of time. And good for him. After coming to KU with an almost-certain NFL future, Harwell sat out a year and then struggled to get going this season because of KU's offensive issues. He's hot now, though, and it looks like people outside of KU nation are taking notice.
By now, if you've even taken the time to read, listen or pay attention to any of the aftermath of Tuesday night's bloodbath in Indy, you know that KU's 72-40 loss to No. 1 Kentucky was an historically bad outing for a Bill Self-coached Kansas team.
So there's really no need to rehash that. The Jayhawks were overmatched, looked ill prepared and overall rattled and rocked by the bigger, deeper, more talented Kentucky squad that started strong and never let up at the fourth annual Champions Classic showcase.
An outcome such as the one the Jayhawks suffered Tuesday night certainly is not what anyone on the team was hoping for, but it also was not all that surprising. During its three games leading up to the clash with Kentucky, Kansas showed plenty of signs that it was still very much a work in progress and KU coach Bill Self warned all along that the bigger Wildcats would be a handful for his Jayhawks. They were. And then some.
These Champions Classic events are great when you've got a veteran team or some guys ready for the bright lights. But they can be a nightmare when you don't and KU found that out — again — last night.
Duke is now the leader in the four-year history of the event, at 3-1, while Kentucky and Michigan State are both 2-2 and the Jayhawks 1-3.
It's cliché, but it's also true. Getting rocked like that in front of the entire world could be the best thing to happen to this team. The young Jayhawks surely now realize that they need to listen to anything and everything Self has to say, and coaches always say it's easier to teach and coach after a loss than a victory, so this week's practices should be, well, interesting. KU will be fine. They'll regroup, learn from this and start to come together in the very near future. The people screaming doomsday or freaking out about Self or his players are overreacting a bit, as easy and understandable as that is to do after watching your team play like that.
1 – It's college basketball and not college football. Had this happened to a top-ranked team on the gridiron, it would've been devastating to their title hopes and haunted them the entire season. Not in hoops. Sure, this one might have been devastating for KU's title hopes — in the sense that everyone not named Kentucky appears to be playing for second place this season — but the Jayhawks can move past this and still have a heck of a season. That's exactly what happened in 2011-12, when Kentucky rocked KU in NYC and the two met for the national championship in New Orleans a few months later. The Jayhawks are too talented and too proud to not regroup and move on from this setback.
2 – Several freshmen showed up to compete, they just didn't play that well. It would've been easy — and completely understandable — for those young guys to be overwhelmed by the big stage and scary opponent. But that did not appear to be the case. Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, particularly, seemed fairly comfortable out there, the Jayhawks were just in too big of a hole too quickly for it to truly matter. It's tough to ask or expect a group of freshmen to lead the way when experienced veterans like Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis aren't clicking around them, and I think there's less concern about the young guys today than those vets.
3 – It probably can't get any worse than that. It figures to be a long, long time before the Jayhawks play another game where they look quite as overmatched and out of sync. We're talking 10 years or more. Most teams cant' say that, so at least KU fans can hold onto that as they mourn Tuesday night's embarrassment.
1 – This team is lacking leadership on the floor. Wayne Selden, though competitive, has yet to fully step into that role. And neither point guard — Frank Mason or Devonte' Graham — seems to own the leadership vibe that this team is missing. It's not that the Jayhawks need someone out there who will scream and shout and rant and rave, but they do need a guy they can look to for encouragement in tough times and a guy who can pull the group together and get them going when needed. That can't and shouldn't always come from the guy in the suit on the bench. It's just not the same thing as when it comes from someone on the floor.
2 – The start of the second half was awful. Obviously, the entire second half was pretty terrible, too, but after cutting UK's 18-point, first-half lead down to nine at one point and 10 at the break, the Jayhawks put themselves in position to come out fast and get back into the game. Instead, they scored just 12 points the entire second half and shot 13 percent (3-of-23) during the final 20 minutes.
3 – There were so many other bad statistics and numbers that it was easy to overlook KU's sub-par performance at the free throw line, but the Jayhawks struggled there, too. Kansas made just 15 of 27 free throws in this one (56 percent) and too often came away with empty trips that should have been points and could have helped keep the game close – at least closer. Poor free throw shooting is often something coaches just gloss over and expect the players to fix by practicing on their own and focusing in a little more. That's probably what will happen here, but the Jayhawks need to get on the right side of the free-throw stat sooner rather than later before it becomes a real problem, both on the scoreboard and in their heads.
The Jayhawks' 32-point loss at Kentucky in Indianapolis:
· Moved KU to a 1-1 record to start the season for the fifth time in the Bill Self era.
· Expanded Kentucky’s lead for all-time wins in NCAA Division I history to 16 games. Kansas now has 2,127 wins in its history, while Kentucky has 2,143.
· Added to Kentucky’s lead on the series, which stands at 22-6 in favor of the Wildcats, including three-straight wins.
· Made Kansas’ record against ranked teams 53-29 in the Self era.
· Made KU 7-16 all-time against the Associated Press No. 1 ranked teams, including 2-2 under Self.
· Changed Self’s record to 3-4 against Kentucky, 326-70 at Kansas and 533-175 overall.
· Made KU’s all-time record 2,127-823.
The Jayhawks return to action at 7 p.m. Monday, when Rider, which does not feature nine All-Americans or any kind of platoon system that we're aware of, comes to Allen Fieldhouse for Game 3 of the 2014-15 season.
They may be small steps, but, at least for a few moments in the past week, Kansas University football was relevant once again.
Don't get me wrong, I fully recognize that there are plenty of die-hard KU football fans who live and die (and most often agonize) with the ups and downs of the program and show up ready to support their team win, lose or draw.
To that group, the Jayhawks are always relevant. But I'm talking relevant to college football. I'm talking relevant in the sense that something crosses one's brain that makes college football fans everywhere go, 'Huh, Kansas. Look at that.'
Last week, the Jayhawks had at least two of those moments. The first and most obvious came on Saturday, when KU put a heck of a scare into No. 5 TCU and threatened to single-handedly shake up the entire college football playoff standings, at least for a week. Truth be told, the Jayhawks did that even in a 34-30 loss to TCU, which entered last week ranked fourth in the ever-important college football playoff standings and, by some time tonight, will know whether that close call with Kansas hurt them or not.
The Jayhawks had plays that popped up on SportsCenter and other highlight shows. The names you know well were kicked around nationally for a couple of minutes and, although it went down as just another L, the effort regained Kansas some national respect.
I figured that respect would come and go pretty quickly but then I read this rundown of the playoff standings from the folks at FOX Sports, who not only gave TCU some credit for holding off Kansas (inspired team, on the road, Big 12 foe, all that jazz) but actually sounded off about the coaching search currently under way here. It caught me off guard and when I read it I had to read it a second time to make sure what I saw was right. But it was. There in the third comment under No. 5 Baylor was mention from former college football great Charles Davis — one of a 13-man FOX panel designed to track the playoff progress — gave a shout-out to interim head coach Clint Bowen for a job well done.
Davis: “(Baylor) will benefit from TCU’s struggle at Kansas (give Clint Bowen the job, Kansas; he deserves it), and the 'TCU’s ahead of Baylor in the poll, but Baylor beat TCU head-to-head!' discussion gets quelled, at least for this week. Baylor’s schedule is catching up as they finish with all Big 12 games, including hosting Oklahoma State Saturday night on FOX.”
It might be a small mention and it certainly is not KU impacting the national scene the way the next head coach (whoever that will be) and athletic director Sheahon Zenger want, but it's infinitely better than the blowouts of the Turner Gill and Charlie Weis days and something that, short as it may have been, KU fans can hold onto and take pride in.
The Kansas University football team did not win Saturday's thrilling showdown with No. 5 TCU at Memorial Stadium, but you'd never know that from the reaction that came after it.
Smiles radiated, pride beamed and the Jayhawks walked, talked, looked and sounded like a real football team again. There was even an opportunity for interim head coach to blast the officials for a couple of interesting calls, but, true to the form he's had throughout this whole ordeal, Bowen paused, thought carefully and chose to take the high road.
It was a good move. Even if he didn't agree with the calls that went against his team, whining about them in the postgame press conference would have done nothing — not for the game, not for his candidacy for the full-time job and not for the attitude he's instilled in his team since taking over. That attitude, of course, focuses on one mindset and one mindset only: Work hard, be tough and worry only about the things you can control.
That recipe almost enabled the Jayhawks to pull an all-time upset against a TCU team vying to stay in the conversation for the first ever college football playoff. The Horned Frogs won, and that's all that mattered, particularly on a day when other top-tier teams struggled or lost. But it could be argued that it was the Jayhawks who came away from this one having gained the most.
Never has the support behind Bowen been greater. Interest in the program is headed in the right direction again. Fans of KU football are no longer embarrassed to call themselves that out loud.
Bowen had a lot to do with that, but to give him all of the credit for it would be wrong. He's the captain of the ship, but the guys with the oars are some pretty big time players with a lot of heart and pride. And most of them are pretty good at football, too.
TCU found that out first-hand on Saturday and left Lawrence feeling fortunate to have survived.
If it's football you want to talk about, Saturday's effort against a darn good TCU team proved that the Jayhawks might have a chance to be competitive in their two remaining games. That's something almost no one thought they could say a couple of weeks ago. But this team is tough, the offense is clicking and the defense is confident it can play with anybody. That alone should make for a fun couple of weeks. If it's the coaching search you're more interested in following, Saturday's game was relevant there, too. Bowen has proven he can coach. He took a group of guys who have done nothing but lose and made them winners. Maybe not on the scoreboard all that often, but they'll leave here with their heads up and remember this season much differently than it looked like they were going to. People realize that. People like that. And it's made a huge difference in the way a lot of people view Bowen as a candidate for the job.
1 – If the way Jimmay Mundine competed out there did not earn your respect, the guy must have done something to your family. Seven catches, 137 yards, a touchdown and a part of what seemed like 40 missed tackles. All while having a heck of a time. Mundine was sensational in this game and has been a huge part of the reason for the solid play turned in by QB Michael Cummings. His effort against a Top 5 team on top of all he already has done this season should put him in the lead for first-team all-Big 12 honors at tight end.
2 – Forget about Michael Cummings' statistics, let's talk about the young man's toughness. I counted three times where he walked off the field looking like he might not be able to continue, yet, each time he trotted back out there and not only played but also threw darts. I could go on and on and on and on here, but you get the point. The kid's tough. He's a heck of a competitor. And he deserves a ton of respect even if he's not impressed.
3 – That's two weeks in a row that the Jayhawks have started fast and you can see what that's doing for their chances to be competitive. After brutal starts against Texas, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, the Jayhawks have finally stopped digging themselves huge holes that they can't crawl out of no matter how well they play. The improvement of the offense — credit Bowen, Cummings and Eric Kiesau for a big chunk of that — has played the biggest role here, but so has the general mindset of this team. For the first time in a long time, these guys truly believe they're good enough to win and are getting results and production that back that up.
1 – KU's special teams cost them again. Against Oklahoma State, a Tyreek Hill kickoff return for a touchdown — and the decision to kick it to him — cost the Jayhawks a victory and on Saturday against TCU, punter Trevor Pardula's big leg got the Jayhawks into trouble for a change when Cameron Echols-Luper returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown that proved to be the difference. Those things will kill a lot of teams, but they're especially deadly for a team like KU that just doesn't have much margin for error.
2 – With all the talent returning in the backfield heading into this season, you would've never been able to convince me that the KU passing game would be more productive for this team. But it has been lately. KU averaged just 2.1 yards per carry against a tough TCU defense. Corey Avery (10 carries, 27 yards and a touchdown) had good moments and it would've been very interesting to see him get three more carries when the Jayhawks took over at the TCU 10 yard line late in the game down by seven. But hindsight's 20/20 and there's no guarantee Avery or anyone else would've got in either. The way Cummings and the pass catchers are playing — along with the improvement of the O-Line — the running game doesn't have to be great. But it does need to be a threat to keep the defense on its heels and 2.1 ypc won't cut it.
3 – It really is a shame that Saturday's loss was the home finale. With the new wave of support building behind Bowen and his boys it would be cool to see what the crowd would look like if the Jayhawks had one more home game this season.
KU's four-point loss to fifth-ranked TCU on Saturday...
• Moved the Jayhawks to 579-596-58 all-time. • Pushed TCU's lead in the all-time series lead 19-8-4. • Increased a streak of 15-straight losses to opponents ranked in the Top 25. • Prolonged a span of more than three years since the Jayhawks have won games in consecutive weeks. • Pushed the stretch of years it's been since KU topped TCU to 18. • Increased KU’s deficit to TCU in games played in Lawrence to 9-6. • Gave KU an even 3-3 mark at home in 2014.
KU will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, this weekend for a match-up with the Sooners at 11 a.m. Saturday.
The Kansas University men's basketball team got a little bit from both factions of its roster during Friday's 69-59 season-opening victory over UC Santa Barbara at Allen Fieldhouse.
Veterans like Perry Ellis (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Jamari Traylor (10 rebounds, praise from KU coach Bill Self) chipped in to do their part and freshmen such as point guard Devonte' Graham (game-high 14 points) and Cliff Alexander (9 points in 12 minutes) chipped in to do theirs.
Not everybody on the roster played as solidly as those four, but KU didn't need them to, as the Jayhawks played 11 guys — 9 who got 12 minutes or more — and did just enough to hold off a tough UCSB squad in what proved to be a great test for an opening game.
The Kentucky Wildcats will be much tougher at all five positions than the Gauchos were, but it was good for the Jayhawks to have to grind one out early because the only way they'll beat Kentucky on Tuesday is by grinding.
It's easy to look at all of that talent and all of those options and say to yourself, “Damn, they've got another loaded team.” And the Jayhawks do. But games like the one we saw Friday night remind you that, even with all that talent and depth, it's still going to take some time for this team to be clicking on all cylinders. The Jayhawks were good at times during Friday's opener, but careless and sloppy at others and slow and sluggish some, as well. Particularly on offense. If there's one thing that Friday showed you it's that this team really might be a team that hangs its hat on defense. If it is, I'm guessing that would be just fine with Bill Self.
1 – Perry Ellis did some serious work on the glass. Ellis was nearly invisible in the rebounding department during KU's exhibition games, but that changed in a hurry Friday. He finished with 10 boards — six of them offensive — and got his hands on at least two or three other loose balls just by being active. Ellis was aggressive and played with urgency and that showed up big time on the stat sheet.
2 – After hearing all week how good the Gauchos were, it was good to see that KU actually took the warning seriously. Never did it appear that the Jayhawks were disinterested or thinking more about Kentucky on Tuesday. They locked in from the opening tip and competed to the final horn. Again, I think that's a product of having all of that depth. Guys know that when they're out there they better go hard because they can be pulled off the court just as quickly as they were thrown out there.
3 – It was just one game and I have been the guy saying not to read too much into what Cliff Alexander has done thus far, but I'm over that. He's a beast. And more importantly, he may very well be developing into this team's go-to scorer. Alexander looks more hungry than any player on this roster when he's on the offensive end and his ability to punish the rim from point-blank range or step out and stroke the 15-foot jumper makes him such a weapon. During that stretch in the second half when KU pushed the lead to double digits, Alexander demanded the ball and almost everything ran through him. That should only grow from here, even if the opponents do get better. The guy's a big-time player who shines brightest under the lights.
1 – I thought Wayne Selden disappeared too often, at least compared to what I was expecting from him. Yeah, the sophomore guard finished with 10 points and played a team-high 32 minutes, but he only made 2-of-8 shots, scored six of his points from the free throw line and tallied just one rebound, two assists, two turnovers, a block and a steal. Maybe it's a good thing that he's letting some of these young guys assert themselves, especially early, but for a talented veteran who was on the floor that long to have that kind of line made me shrug my shoulders a little bit.
2 – There were still far too many times where the Jayhawks gave up a layup or dunk because a post player had to rotate over to stop the drive and left his man all alone for the easy dish and score. Defensive rotation takes time to perfect and even when you're darn good at it, good players can break you down. So I'm not saying this is complete cause for panic, but we saw it a ton last year and on the few occasions I noticed it happened on Friday, I saw Perry Ellis roll his eyes after leaving his man to go help only to see the guy he left score.
3 – Popped into the starting lineup to see what he could do, Brannen Greene left a little to be desired. With a good game on Friday, Greene could have made it tough for Self to take him out of the starting lineup any time soon, but I don't think that'll be a problem on Tuesday night. Greene finished with just three points on 1-of-3 shooting, two rebounds, one assist and one turnover in 17 minutes. There were spurts when he looked pretty good, but he was nowhere near as active and aggressive as he was in the exhibition finale and that has to leave you scratching your head. Just a guess here, but I'd say Graham will take Greene's starting spot on Tuesday.
The Jayhawks' 10-point, season-opening victory on Friday...
· Gave them their 42nd-consecutive Allen Fieldhouse season-opening victory dating back to the 1973-74 season.
· Marked KU’s 13th-straight season-opening victory dating back to 2001-02.
· Gave the Jayhawks an all-time record of 714-109 in Allen Fieldhouse.
· Increased KU’s record against UC Santa Barbara to 2-0 all-time.
· Improved head coach Bill Self to a 12-0 record in season opening games at Kansas. While also increasing his coaching record at Kansas to 326-99 and 533-174 overall.
· Improved KU’s all-time record to 2,127-822.
Here's a quick look at the updated all-time wins list:
• UK 2,141
• KU 2,127
• UNC 2,115
• Duke 2,028
• Syracuse 1,903
It's a heavy weight showdown in Indy on Tuesday night, when KU takes on Kentucky in the Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m., central time.
As you all surely know by now, Saturday will mark the final home football game in the careers of several Jayhawks. And while the task at hand seems daunting — TCU enters ranked No. 5 in the nation and favored by 28 points — there are plenty of ways Saturday will be memorable for these guys, win or lose.
In all, there will be a total of 20 seniors honored before Saturday's 2 p.m. kickoff with No. 5 TCU.
According to a KU spokes person, tight end Scott Baron is graduating and not returning for a fifth year of eligibility; senior running back Brandon Bourbon, who missed the season with a knee injury, will take part in the senior day activities, but senior running back Taylor Cox, who missed the season with an Achillles' injury, will not. Senior safety Jaccare Givens also will not take part in the Senior Day activities.
The aforementioned notes are the result of a personal decision for each player and are not related to Bourbon and Cox's pending eligibility. That has not been determined yet.
Here's a quick look at the seniors who will be honored on Saturday along with a few seniors who KU is pushing for postseason honors:
2014 Kansas Football Seniors being honored Saturday
No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Exp. Hometown (High School/Previous School)
83 Scott Baron TE 6-2 ½ 236 Jr. SQ Santa Ana, Calif. (Orange Lutheran HS)
25 Brandon Bourbon RB 6-1 ½ 225 Sr. 3L Potosi, Mo. (Potosi HS)
43 Ed Fink TE/FB 6-2 ½ 235 Sr. 1L Belleville, Ill. (Althoff HS)
63 Ngalu Fusimalohi OL 6-2 315 Sr. 1L Daly City, Calif. (Jefferson HS/CC of San Francisco)
8 Nick Harwell WR 6-1 193 Sr. TR Missouri City, Texas (Elkins HS/Miami (Ohio)
31 Ben Heeney LB 6-0 230 Sr. 3L Hutchinson, Kan. (Hutchinson HS)
99 Tedarian Johnson DL 6-2 290 Sr. 1L Jackson, Miss. (Murrah HS/Hinds CC)
61 Pat Lewandowski OL 6-5 ½ 290 Sr. 3L Overland Park, Kan. (Blue Valley West HS)
19 Justin McCay WR 6-2 210 Sr. 1L Kansas City, Mo. (Bishop Miege HS/Oklahoma)
12 Dexter McDonald CB 6-1 ½ 205 Sr. 2L Kansas City, Mo. (Rockhurst HS/Butler CC)
41 Jimmay Mundine TE 6-2 240 Sr. 3L Denison, Texas (Denison HS)
16 Trevor Pardula P/K 6-5 212 Sr. 1L San Jose, Calif. (Leigh HS/De Anza College)
3 Tony Pierson WR 5-10 ½ 175 Sr. 3L East St. Louis, Ill. (East St. Louis HS)
55 Michael Reynolds BUCK 6-1 240 Sr. 2L Wichita, Kan. (Kapaun Mt. Carmel HS)
33 Cassius Sendish S 6-0 195 Sr. 1L Waldorf, Md. (North Point HS/Arizona Western CC)
24 JaCorey Shepherd CB 5-11 195 Sr. 3L Mesquite, Texas (Mesquite Horn HS)
27 Victor Simmons BUCK 6-1 ½ 225 Sr. 3L Olathe, Kan. (Olathe North HS)
85 Trent Smiley TE 6-4 240 Sr. 2L Frisco, Texas (Wakeland HS)
65 Mike Smithburg OL 6-3 305 Sr. 1L Fairfield, Iowa (Fairfield HS/Iowa Western CC)
98 Keon Stowers DL 6-3 297 Sr. 2L Rock Hill, S.C. (Northwestern HS/Georgia Military College)
• As of Sunday, Nov. 9, Heeney led the FBS and Big 12 in solo tackles (8.0 per game) and ranks first in the conference and eighth in the NCAA in total tackles (11.2 per game), en route to 101 stops through nine games in 2014.
• Heeney has led the Jayhawks in tackles in seven of their nine games on the year, posting double-digit efforts in six of those contests.
• Heeney led all FBS players on Saturday, Oct. 18 with a career-best 21 tackles in KU's game at Texas Tech. Heeney's 21 tackles are the most by any player in the Big 12 in 2014 and are the second most by any player in the NCAA this season. Among Heeney's 21 stops, were 17 solo tackles – just three short of the FBS record of 20 in a game.
• His 17 solo stops vs. Tech were the second most in Big 12 history and are the most in the NCAA in a single game since Tyler Matakevich of Temple recorded 19 solos agains Idaho on Sept. 28, 2013.
• Ranks first in the Big 12 and eighth in the NCAA in receiving yards by a tight end with 400 yards on 33 receptions.
• His 33 receptions rank tied for third among 'Power 5' tight ends, while his 400 receiving yards are the fourth-best.
• Has recorded five or more grabs in four games with 24 of his 33 receptions resulting in a first down.
2014 SEASON HIGHS
RECEPTIONS: 7, at Texas Tech
RECEIVING YARDS: 88, vs. Oklahoma State
TOUCHDOWN CATCHES: 1 (2x), last vs. Iowa State
LONGEST RECEPTION: 35, vs. Texas
• Leads the Big 12 Conference and ranks 13th in the NCAA in punting average at 44.8 yards per punt.
• Has recorded 24 punts of 50 yards or more, including two of 70 yards or more in one game.Has dropped 33.3 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, while 13 of his punts have been fair caught.
• Has dropped 33.3 percent of his punts inside the 20-yard line, while 13 of his punts have been fair caught.
2014 SEASON HIGHS
PUNTS: 14, at West Virginia
NET PUNT YARDAGE: 621, at West Virginia
LONGEST PUNT: 72, at Duke
PUNTS INSIDE THE 20: 4, two times, last vs. CMU
Wednesday's KU football practice was one that closely resembled what the game time temperatures are expected to be this weekend when the Jayhawks and TCU Horned Frogs kick off at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Biting winds that dropped the temperature to around 12 degrees made Wednesday a little different than most of the other practices the Jayhawks have had this season, and, although most adjusted accordingly there, there were a few warriors among the bunch out there today.
While most players bundled up with long sleeves and tights to stay warm, a few guys went with short sleeves and shorts just like it was a normal September practice.
The ones I saw who bared all were: Kyle Pullia, Mike Smithburg, Jordan Shelley-Smith and Preston Randall. Go figure, three of the four were offensive linemen. Props to those guys. I stood out there for about 40 minutes and even bundled up in a coat and gloves, it was cold. (I was an idiot and forgot a hat or hood of any kind, so I was toughing it out a little bit).
Anyway, all of this might seem irrelevant, but it really might not be. The high temperature in Fort Worth, Texas, on Wednesday was 45 degrees. While not exactly warm, that was about 30 degrees warmer than what the guys in Lawrence were dealing with. And with afternoon temperatures the next two days hovering around the same mark, it's definitely possible that the game day temperatures expected to be in the high teens — with a 90 percent chance for snow, by the way — could have a much bigger impact on TCU's roster, which includes 79 native Texans, than KU's, which has been practicing in weather like that all week.
We'll see. A heavy dose of snow would make it interesting for both offenses, but, if you're KU, you'll take that trade off because it could even the playing field a little bit.
Here's a quick look at what else caught my eye at Wednesday's practice:
• Joe Dineen may very well have a new position yet again. The freshman from Free State High was working with the linebackers on Wednesday, this after he moved from safety to running back during preseason camp after the Jayhawks lost Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox to season-ending injuries. It's hard to know what this means for Dineen's future, without talking to him or KU coach Clint Bowen, but there was some talk before he even signed with KU about the potential for the 6-foot-2, 208-pound Dineen to move to linebacker in the future. Good to see him getting a look there late in the season. Either way, I think his future's on defense.
• Keon Stowers, Andrew Bolton and De'Andre Mann all were practicing and appeared to be going full speed through the drills I saw. That bodes well for KU's lineup this weekend. Still waiting for more information on offensive lineman Ngalu Fusimalohi. We might not fully know his status until game time.
• Maybe it was just their way of combatting the cold, but the coaches, including Bowen, had an extra dose of intensity on Wednesday. Probably not worth reading too much into, but that's one thing that always has impressed me about this coaching staff — no matter who the opponent is or what their odds are for the upcoming game (and remember they are playing the No. 5 team in the country this weekend), the coaches prepare like they'll be right there and like they have a great shot. That kind of mentality rubs off on the players and can become the foundation of a program.
Another exhibition season is in the books for the Kansas University men's basketball team and like most exhibition seasons that came before it, the Jayhawks learned a little, questioned a lot and got a few of the kinks worked out before kicking off the regular season against tougher competition and under more intense conditions.
KU coach Bill Self made no secret of the fact that he does not put too much stock into what happens in these exhibition games and he made it clear that he's not an easy guy to impress in games like this, where the Jayhawks are far superior to their opponent in size, speed, depth and overall talent.
Take Tuesday's effort by freshman forward Cliff Alexander, for example, in KU's 109-56 victory over Emporia State.
Self said Alexander did not play well enough to score the 12 points he did, but got most of his buckets off of easy dunks and nice efforts by his teammates to set him up.
That's not to say he doesn't get some credit for his 12 points and 6 rebounds in 13 minutes, but it's also not to say he's the early leader for national freshman of the year. Somewhere in between is more likely.
I said it after the last game and I think it holds true after this one as well. The most important part of the exhibition schedule is not to see what kinds of numbers guys can put up but how guys play together, how they perform in front of a live crowd and how ready they are for the season. There were plenty of good moments and bad in both exhibition games, but the real answers to those questions will become a little clearer starting Friday night.
In addition to all of the nit-picky coaching ploys, Self also pointed out perhaps the most important aspect of these exhibition games and that's that they give the young guys a chance to have some success and gain some confidence. Very few of KU's games, if any, will be as easy as Tuesday night's game was, but Alexander, Devonte' Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kelly Oubre and even guys like Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucas were able to experience domination, finishing plays and feeling the love from the Allen Fieldhouse faithful. It may sound ridiculous to say those types of things are an adjustment, but even the good things take some getting used to and these young Jayhawks now have had a small taste.
1 – Any time you can put eight guys in double figures, that's a good night. I don't care who it comes against. And here's why: It proves that you've got an unselfish team that plays together and plays for the best/right shots, not just a bunch of individuals looking to get theirs. Any number of these guys probably could've scored 30 last night, but their unselfishness — and, of course, the substitution pattern — spread the wealth and allowed a lot of guys to leave the gym feeling good about their efforts instead of just two or three.
2 – Brannen Greene looked incredibly active on the offensive end, both in terms of looking for his shot and going after the offensive boards and loose balls. This was a great sign for two reasons: 1. Greene's coming off of a head injury and looked to be fine. 2. The more he can “plug himself in” to all aspects of the game and not just float around as a shooter/scorer, the greater his chances become of being a regular part of the rotation.
3 – KU drastically improved its free throw shooting in this one, which was pretty much a lock to predict but still good to see. After knocking in just 50 percent from the line against Washburn last week, the Jayhawks hit 25 of 32 free throws (78 percent) vs. Emporia State and looked a lot less rusty every time they stepped to the line. They focused on this a little in practice and, clearly it worked, but Self has always said he's never been a big fan of spending too much practice time on free throw shooting so it's clear that these guys took it as a personal challenge to improve the stat.
1 – Self said it and we already alluded to it above, but Cliff Alexander clearly was a little off against the Hornets. Maybe he was just trying too hard or pressing too much, but after sitting for nearly the first 10 minutes of the game, Alexander came in and missed a shot he forced, traveled on another possession and picked up two quick fouls. He eventually settled down and rocked the rim a few times to finish with a pretty good line, but the thing worth focusing on was not his numbers against inferior talent but why he sat so long before coming in.
2 – Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk started but did not do much to take advantage of the opportunity. He missed four of five shots — which happens — and picked up three boards, two turnovers and two assists in 18 minutes. He looks great at times, especially defensively and any time he releases a jumper, but also did not go all-out after a few loose balls and looked a little sloppy handling the ball. It wouldn't surprise me for a second if this was just because of the nerves associated with starting for the first time. These guys are all still young, but especially Mykhailiuk.
3 – The Jayhawks dominated the glass — 45-29 — but still gave up 10 offensive boards to an undersized ESU team. Some of them were just loose ball pick-ups and the like, but there were a couple of moments, especially in the first half, when the Hornets got second- and third-chance opportunities.
KU's 109-56 runaway victory over Emporia State...
• Made Kansas 65-9 in exhibition games.
• Extended KU’s home exhibition winning streak to 42 games, dating back to the 1994 season.
• Upped Kansas’ all-time record against Emporia State to 20-3 in favor of the Jayhawks, including 7-0 in exhibition games.
• Improved head coach Bill Self to a 33-2 record in exhibition games at Kansas, including 24-0 in home exhibition contests.
• Made KU 56-4 in exhibition games inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks officially will open the 2014-15 season Friday night at 7 p.m. against UC-Santa Barbara at Allen Fieldhouse.