During a third-quarter daze while watching last night’s Atlanta Falcons vs. Baltimore Ravens NFL game on The NFL Network, I began thinking the unthinkable.
What if Kansas won this game on Saturday?
I know, I know. It’s virtually a lock that Nebraska, ranked No. 9 in the nation, is going to win and win big. But is it that hard to envision a scenario in which the Jayhawks pull off the upset?
I know. “Yes” seems like the obvious answer, so while I watched and wondered if the Falcons really were good enough to win the Super Bowl this year, I came up with short list of questions and answers that might help us better evaluate KU’s chances this weekend.
Take a look.
Question 1: How many turnovers would the Jayhawks need to create to have a chance?
Answer: KU coach Turner Gill said the Jayhawks must get three or more. I think he’s right. So far this season, Nebraska has fumbled an astonishing 31 times. The Huskers have lost only 11 of those fumbles, but the mere thought of that many balls bouncing around on the turf in Lincoln made me think that getting three or more turnovers might not be that tough. For the sake of the game, let’s say the Jayhawks get four. Two fumbles, one interception and one fluke takeaway on special teams.
Question 2: How many turnovers can the KU offense give up while still being OK?
Answer: None. No questions asked. When you’re playing a team as talented as Nebraska at their place, you have to be nearly perfect in every aspect of the game to have a chance. But the one area that you absolutely cannot slip up is giveaways. Let’s say Quinn Mecham stays hot, takes care of the interceptions and the KU running backs run hard with two hands on the ball at all times.
Question 3: How many points will the Jayhawks have to score to win this game?
Answer: For Iowa State last week, 32 was the magic number. For Missouri the week before, 32 would have done it there, too. 32 points also would’ve been enough for South Dakota State and for Texas. So, in the last six games — of which Nebraska has lost just one — 32 points would’ve been enough to beat the Huskers four times. Let’s say the KU defense is up to the task of slowing the NU offense down the way it was against Georgia Tech in Week 2. If that happens, 32 points could win this game.
Question 4: How many points can the Jayhawks give up without digging too deep of a hole to climb out of?
Answer: Realistically speaking, this number can’t be any higher than the number from question three, right? So it won’t be. If the Jayhawks can hold the Huskers to 30 points or fewer — forcing a few drives to end with field goals instead of touchdowns — they may have a chance to win this game.
Question 5: What do the guys in Las Vegas think about this week’s KU-NU matchup?
Answer: Oddsmakers set the opening line for this weekend’s game at Nebraska by 32. It hasn’t stayed there. As of Thursday night, the line had been bet up to NU -35 in most spots, with the over/under set at 61. When Nebraska played K-State earlier this year, the line was NU -11 and the over/under was set at 47. The Cornhuskers covered that number by themselves, winning 48-7. If NU’s favored by 35 and the over/under is set at 61, doesn’t that mean that Vegas believes KU might be able to score some points, too?
OK, so what have we learned?
Plug those hypotheticals into the computer and here’s one scenario that might come out. It’s based on nothing more than a simple analysis of few facts and figures that pertain to both teams: If KU can force (or at least get) four Nebraska turnovers, give up none of its own, score at least 32 points and hold the Huskers to 31 or less, KU will have a chance to win this game.
Of course, that’s much easier said than done. But I think this exercise shows that, despite the fact that most people think this is a guaranteed laugher for Nebraska, circumstances do exist that say Kansas could compete.
I think they will, but I don’t think they’ll win. Nebraska 45, Kansas 21.