Much of the hype for Friday night's Kansas-South Florida game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa centers on a matchup that pits proven performance against potential. South Florida's George Selvie, second in the nation in sacks with 20 and an All-American as a sophomore last season, faces redshirt freshman Jeff Spikes, making his third career start.
The mismatch of experience plays a part in South Florida being favored by a field goal. It's a legitimate concern. It also is overplayed because it doesn't take into account the equalizer. That would be quarterback Todd Reesing's pocket presence.
Some athletes are blessed with the ability to go places and fit into spaces that circumstances suggest they shouldn't be able to go. How did Larry Bird get so many rebounds against seemingly quicker, springier players? What enabled Wayne Gretzky to get into position to score so many goals when faster skaters didn't get there? Why didn't Brandon McAnderson's lack of speed prevent him from rushing for 1,125 yards last season?
Instincts, vision, and a general presence enabled all those athletes to perform at levels greater than the sum of their physical parts.
Reesing's similar magic enables him to avoid sacks with a step or two in whatever direction he needs to go. He can't always see the opposing rusher, but it seems as if he does by knowing just how to avoid him. He can't possibly hear, feel, touch or taste the rush, so it can only be a sixth sense. Whatever it is, he has it.
Sometimes, such as in the Orange Bowl, it's not enough. He was sacked five times. In that game, he needed another intangible: toughness. He took some vicious hits and one body slam. And he kept getting back up, pulling the sod out of his helmet, and holding his head up high.
Reesing never has been better than he was Saturday in a 29-0 victory against Louisiana Tech, when he completed 32 of 38 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns.
"He worked at his game hard in the offseason, in the summer," KU coach Mark Mangino said of Reesing. "I think he is getting rid of the ball quicker than he was a year ago. He is doing a better job of keeping his eyes down field when he leaves the pocket. He is even more confident than he was a year ago because he experienced an entire season and he knows what to expect."
Reesing makes blockers look better by side-stepping the rush. He makes receivers push themselves to improve by forever scanning the field for open receivers while scrambling. He never gives up on a play. Quarterbacks who tend to tuck and run can sometimes leave receivers uncommitted, asking themselves: "Should I go block somebody or should I keep trying to get open?"
Rewarded so many times late in plays by Reesing's relentless creativity, KU's receivers know what to do. They keep hustling, keep trying to get open. Like their quarterback and leader, they never quit on plays.
If Reesing can limit turnovers and the defense comes up solid again, Friday could be a good night for the Jayhawks, even if they continue to stall in the red zone.
Reesing's been an underdog before and come out on top. Kansas 20, South Florida 17.