Column: Kansas football losing games, fans

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Just as the 2007 Kansas University football season that ended 12-1 with an Orange Bowl victory wasn’t built in months, the decay didn’t happen all at once.

It has been gradual, relentless, complete. The bottoming-out leaves Kansas with a maximum of 62 players who originally came to school as scholarship athletes healthy enough to play in 2015, well below the scholarship limit of 85.

Recruiting too many prospects bad at life, bad at football, or both, in addition to career-ending injuries, have left Kansas heading into a season with a roster woefully lacking in quantity and quality.

Just five players on the roster started as many as half of the games last season: defensive lineman Ben Goodman (12), offensive tackle Larry Mazyck (nine), defensive back Tevin Shaw (eight) and a pair of driven walk-ons since rewarded with scholarships, center Joe Gibson (seven) and defensive lineman T.J. Semke (6).

Goodman, as the team’s lone player with two years of experience as a full-time starter, has developed into a leader.

Mazyck, his first season at Kansas marred by an unusually high number of false-start penalties, didn’t show the passion for football the coaching staff had hoped to see during the spring. It’s getting late for that.

Big things are expected of Shaw, a strong and intense force at nickel back.

Gibson is coming off an injury that prevented him from showing what he could do during spring practices.

Semke doesn’t stand out physically, but brings an edge to his job on every snap.

The five returning starters don’t have careers around which to market, and the fan base understandably has grown suspicious of newcomers, having seen so many over-hyped ones under-deliver.

There is no reasonable way to view the 2015 season as anything but the low point of the 21st century. It’s reasonable to expect a subtle upturn as soon as 2016, but not this coming fall.

That translates to the likely extension of a pair of embarrassing streaks for the program.

More than the standings reveal the decline of KU football. The turnstiles tell the story as well.

Unless Kansas can draw an average crowd of greater than 34,077, this will mark the seventh consecutive season with a decline in attendance.

Every season except Mark Mangino’s last of eight had bigger crowds than the previous season. And in his final season, Mangino’s team was watched at Memorial Stadium by the second-largest average attendance in school history.

Average attendance figures, starting with Mangino’s first year: 2002: 34,333; 2003: 38,750; 2004: 41,066; 2005: 43,675; 2006: 44,137; 2007: 46,785; 2008: 50,907; 2009: 50,581; 2010: 44,851; 2011: 42,283; 2012: 41,329; 2013: 37,884; 2014: 34,077.

The fact that this year’s homecoming is on Halloween won’t help at the turnstiles.

And then there is the matter of not winning a game played outside of Memorial Stadium this decade. The Jayhawks have lost 33 in a row since defeating UTEP, Sept. 9, 2009.

The most realistic shots at ending that streak come Sept. 26 at Rutgers and Oct. 3 at Iowa State, a pair of games in which KU likely will be a double-digit underdog. The streak could grow to 38 by season’s end.