During a timeout with 3:58 remaining in the second half of Kansas University's 92-60 basketball victory against Division II Washburn University on Thursday night, a second-quarter college football score flashed on the scoreboard: Arizona 17, Oregon 11. What was left of the crowd inside Allen Fieldhouse, which never looked close to full, erupted.
Shortly thereafter, word began to spread that Dennis Dixon, Oregon's quarterback and the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, was out because of a knee injury.
It was impossible for anyone not to think at that moment that maybe, just maybe, everything really is falling into place for Mark Mangino's football team and maybe, just maybe, a 14-0 national-title season actually could happen. Secondarily, depending on Dixon's future availability, the Heisman Trophy could look like less of a longshot for quarterback Todd Reesing.
Rodrick Stewart, a senior on the basketball team making his first start Thursday since he was a freshman at USC, heard the crowd but had no idea what had sparked the reaction.
"I was just trying to listen to coach (Bill) Self," Stewart said. "What was it?"
Told about the score, Stewart broke into a huge grin and said, "Oh, really? That's definitely great for us."
Scoreboards keep spreading good news in the two sports in which Kansas is ranked in the top four in the nation. A Saturday victory against Iowa State in Memorial Stadium coupled with a Thursday night loss by Oregon would mean that Kansas surely would emerge from the weekend ranked second in the BCS standings, which means defeating Missouri and then Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game would vault the Jayhawks into the national-title game.
As long as we're getting way ahead of ourselves, it's worth mentioning that the basketball team's national-title hopes look a great deal stronger as well with the return of Brandon Rush from knee surgery. Rush looked terrific, and so did Stewart, the slimmed-down leaper now filling in for Sherron Collins.
Stewart made two of the night's three spectacular plays, and Russell Robinson made the other.
Robinson soared to block a 3-point shot by Prince look-alike Angel Santiago, a former Chicago high school superstar who would be in his third year of Division I ball if he had a better transcript. Robinson ran the ball down and fired it ahead to Stewart, who got way up and threw down a tomahawk jam. Stewart also responded to a turnover of his by hustling from behind to block a shot off the backboard.
"That was an unbelievable block he had in transition," Self said. "That was a very, very athletic play. He's great at getting in the gaps and making plays for other people. He's going to be a good player for us this year."
Stewart said, "I definitely was nervous before the game. It was the first game in a long time I started."
The minutes Stewart plays while Rush builds his way back to full strength and Collins (foot surgery) is sidelined for an estimated six weeks will make him a more valuable reserve when the roster is back at full strength.
By then, the football season will be reaching a conclusion. Maybe, just maybe, it will be remembered as the most improbable season in the history of sports.