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Tale of the Tait

Kansas basketball boot camp officially under way for the 2022-23 Jayhawks

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks with his players at half court on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kansas head coach Bill Self talks with his players at half court on Wednesday, March 16, 2022 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. by Nick Krug

Monday brought the start of another year of boot camp for the Kansas basketball program and KU coach Bill Self’s favorite part about Day 1 was simple.

“We got through it,” Self told the Journal-World.

Typically known as one of the toughest training sessions of the season, the two-week boot camp stretch features KU’s coaches pushing the Jayhawks through dozens of mentally and physically exhausting drills.

Nearly all of them take place without a ball and each is designed to improve the team’s overall conditioning through skills that will translate to the court when practice and the season begins. As you might expect, there’s a particular commitment to drills that fine-tune KU’s defense.

Self said the start of this year’s boot camp session was “just OK, not the best,” but, to some degree that was expected.

The 2022-23 Kansas team features a handful of new faces and first-timers, and the adjustment to boot camp, no matter how prepared a player thinks he is, is always difficult.

It starts bright and early, usually around or before 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., and the anticipation and is among the biggest challenges.

Kansas Athletics recently posted a short video of KU assistant Jeremy Case grilling freshman Gradey Dick about whether or not he was ready for boot camp. The video featured Case laughing and smiling throughout the exchange.

“Back in the day it was hard,” Case said. “When we used to really get after it.”

Don’t let Case fool you. These young guys do, too. And the duration of boot camp is often tied to how hard they work, with Self showing a willingness to cut it a day or two short if they put in the kind of work that leads to his generosity.

Each year, boot camp marks the unofficial beginning of another college hoops season at Kansas. The next key date is about a month away, with the defending national champions hosting their first official practice in early October, followed by the annual Late Night in The Phog on Oct. 14.

Here’s a quick look at some of the sights and sounds from Day 1 of boot camp 2022.

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Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

The 2-0 Jayhawks racked up all kinds of honors & attention on a busy Monday

Kansas players celebrate during overtime of an NCAA college football game against West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

Kansas players celebrate during overtime of an NCAA college football game against West Virginia in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

It’s amazing what winning can do in sports.

Laughed at and mocked for the better part of the last decade, the Kansas football program is getting some serious love after its 2-0 start to the 2022 season.

I supposed that’s what happens when the bar is so low and people have grown accustomed to writing you off before the season even begins.

No one’s writing off this Kansas team, however. At least not yet.

In fact, the Jayhawks are receiving a fair amount of attention from some places you just don’t expect them to receive it.

The biggest? CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd put KU QB Jalon Daniels third on his list of Heisman Hype, which tracks the best players in college football throughout the season.

It’s a little tongue and cheek right now. And everyone knows that the Heisman is not handed out after two games. Or even six or 10. But Daniels’ numbers have been really good and the wins allowed Dodd to put him on his list without it being a total joke.

Daniels will have to do a lot to stay on the list, but he’s currently right in the thick of it, one spot ahead of 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, of Alabama, by the way.

Asked Tuesday about the recognition and early for his players and team, KU coach Lance Leipold said he appreciated the love but was not putting too much stock in it.

“Some of those numbers, yeah, they’re exciting," he said. "If we’re talking like that in Week 10, 11 and 12 then I might have better answers (about the honors)."

That’s not where the fun stopped, though. Far from it.

Daniels also was named to the Davey O’Brien Award’s Great 8 List for Week 2, as one of the top eight QBs in college football, and was one of eight players named to the Manning Award’s Stars of the Week list.

The O'Brien Award even went as far as to add Daniels to their Midseason Watch List. Quick reminder: It's still just Week 3.

In addition to that recognition, college football broadcaster Kirk Herbstreit listed Kansas as one of his seven top performing teams in the country for Week 2 and there was all kinds of the love for the monster numbers this Kansas offense has put up so far.

The 55.5 points per game is the best in the FBS, as is the team's 73.9% conversion rating on third down. The zero sacks allowed through two games is tied for tops nationally and the Jayhawks' 10 rushing touchdowns thus far puts them in a tie for third.

Leipold said Tuesday that the sudden offensive explosion enjoyed by the Jayhawks had not changed his team's overall philosophy on how to approach a game.

“If they score 55, we’ve got to find a way to score 56," he said. "If we score 3, we better hold them to 2.”

Then there’s the other side of the ball, where KU cornerback Cobee Bryant became the second Jayhawk in a row to receive the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honor.

In Week 1, it was Lonnie Phelps Jr., who had a monster game against Tennessee Tech in his KU debut. In Week 2, it was Bryant, whose pick-six in overtime sealed the road win for Kansas at West Virginia.

It marks the first time in Big 12 history that KU had a player win DPOW honors in back-to-back weeks and it’s worth noting that the Jayhawks’ defense has not even been their strongest unit to date.

Adding to these honors will get harder as the season rolls along — starting this weekend with the 3 p.m. kickoff at Houston on Saturday.

But this is a confident team right now and the Jayhawks already have seen validation of the work they’ve put in in the form of two victories in two tries.

Whether the awards keep coming or not, this group likely won’t care as long as it continues to compete and possibly piles up a couple of more wins along the way.

Houston (1-1) opened as an 8-point favorite over the Jayhawks this week, and the line quickly moved to Houston -10 or 10.5 in most places.

For the second week in a row, the Jayhawks (2-0) appear to be headed into battle as a double-digit underdog.

Reply 8 comments from Rodney Crain Dirk Medema Brian Skelly Karen Mansfield-Stewart Brad  Watson

What to make of Kansas football coach Lance Leipold’s name surfacing in connection with the now-open Nebraska job

Kansas head coach Lance Leipold paces up the sideline during the fourth quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach Lance Leipold paces up the sideline during the fourth quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Long before Nebraska fired head coach and former favorite son Scott Frost as its football coach on Sunday, there were whispers about Kansas coach Lance Leipold potentially becoming a candidate there if the Huskers’ job came open.

Now that Frost is out, those whispers have reached a fully audible level.

Mere minutes after the news broke that Frost was out, multiple national college football writers included Leipold’s name on their initial lists of Frost replacements.

There’s a long way to go before this is all settled, and Nebraska will play out the rest of the season with an interim head coach leading the way.

But their search will begin immediately, and it’s not crazy to think that Leipold will be involved at some point.

Here’s a quick look at three reasons why Kansas fans should be worried about that and three more reasons why they shouldn’t.

Reasons to worry

• Money, money, money

Nebraska is tired of losing and tired of being a laughing stock. Those folks still believe that a return to the glory days is possible. Whether it is or not is a whole other matter, but it sounds like they’re prepared to pay whatever it takes to try to make that happen. Beyond that, Nebraska is already in the Big Ten, where ridiculous TV money awaits. Forget about his salary for a minute. It’s that other part of the equation that opens the door to all kinds of things that have proven to be tough at KU — facilities upgrades, NIL opportunities and more. A significant raise and the keys to the kingdom would be tough to pass up.

• Leipold’s ties to the program and state

As you probably know, Leipold has been at Nebraska before. He was an assistant there from 2001 to 2003 and the Cornhuskers went 28-12 during those three seasons, so he knows what it looks like to win there. He also coached at Nebraska-Omaha from 1994-2000 and again from 2004-06 and his wife, Kelly, is from Omaha.

• His program builder reputation

There will be bigger names on the Cornhuskers’ potential list of candidates, but few of them will have the proven track record of building programs like Leipold. And let’s face it; regardless of what Nebraska fans want to believe, that program is in desperate need of a complete rebuild right now. Whether you’re talking about what he did at Wisconsin-Whitewater or Buffalo before now or the fact that he has injected life into the left-for-dead Kansas program, Leipold’s process and the results it has produced have to be awfully attractive to anyone watching.

Reasons to relax

• Nebraska might not even want him

First things first here. In order for Leipold to even entertain the idea of leaving Kansas for Nebraska, the powers that be to the north have to make the decision that he’s the guy they want. While I do believe he’ll be looked at seriously, I’m not sure that he’ll wind up being their first choice. Leipold’s already 58 and, while that’s not exactly old, the Nebraska folks may desire a younger coach to attack the massive task of trying to restore the once-proud NU program. Beyond that, there almost certainly will be several sexier names in the pool of candidates who show interest in the job, and the Nebraska donors, which have already proven willing to help the Huskers get out from the mess that was Scott Frost, may want to see NU make a much flashier hire. Selling that fan base on hiring the Kansas coach would not be an easy task, no matter how well the Jayhawks do this season or how promising the future looks.

• Leipold is under contract and Kansas wants him here

KU AD Travis Goff already has shown his desire to keep Leipold in Lawrence long term. The first gesture to that end came with the initial contract, a 6-year, $16.5 million deal that showed a strong commitment right out of the gate. The second came recently, when it was announced that Kansas added a year to Leipold’s contract, keeping him tied to KU through the 2027 season. While contracts include buyouts and people can always find a way to make something work, the fact that Leipold currently has a job to do and has his focused tied almost entirely to that could help Kansas out here. Some of the coaches on the early Nebraska lists that have surfaced are unemployed or in smaller roles as assistants and they may have more time and motivation to go after the job than Leipold does or can at the moment.

• The buyout language

We’ve seen plenty of times in the past that there’s always a way out of contract clauses concerning buyouts when coaches want to leave. But if it gets to that point with Leipold, it certainly won’t be cheap. Per the terms of his original contract, if Leipold were to leave KU for Nebraska (or any other college football program) he would owe the university $5 million. If, somehow, he were to delay his departure until Jan. 1, 2023, that number would drop to $4 million. But I can’t imagine Nebraska waiting that long to make a hire for anyone. And while buyout money might not be a total obstacle, it probably stacks the deck against Leipold a little. After all, he’d either be forfeiting roughly every penny he made in his 2 years at Kansas or he’d be asking NU to pay 25% of the $16 million buyout they already paid to get rid of Frost just to get Leipold.

If you asked me to make the call today whether I think Leipold will be the coach at Kansas or the coach at Nebraska for the 2023 season, I’d pick Kansas.

But those KU fans who don’t think him leaving is even a possibility probably need to take a deep breath and prepare themselves for the fact that things could play out differently than they think, hope or want.

Time will tell.

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Reply 39 comments from Rodney Schulz Brjam Ryan Mullen Plasticjhawk Rockchalkjd Rodney Crain Inteldesign Cshjhawk Dirk Medema Gdkadjayhawk and 17 others

Can Kansas football cover at West Virginia in Saturday’s Big 12 opener?

Kansas wide receiver Lawrence Arnold (2) is shoved out of bounds by Tennessee Tech defensive back Jyron Gilmore (6) during the second quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Lawrence Arnold (2) is shoved out of bounds by Tennessee Tech defensive back Jyron Gilmore (6) during the second quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

Entering the week, and after seeing the initial betting line (WVU -13) I figured I would take West Virginia to cover against Kansas this weekend in Morgantown.

And I still definitely think that’s possible, perhaps even likely.

The Mountaineers are reeling a little after their tough loss at Pitt last week, during which they made a bunch of mistakes and contributed to their own demise.

But there was enough there to see that the Mountaineers have plenty of talent when they put it all together. That’s particularly true up front and with their running game, and JT Daniels is a more-than-capable quarterback.

Kansas will be tested big time on both sides of the ball this week, but, for me, the Jayhawks’ ability to stay in the game — or not — will be largely dependent on their offense.

It’s no secret that the Jayhawks love their running game. And even though the opponent was inferior last week, there were signs of that running game being legit.

The chemistry between the backs and the O-Line and the offensive linemen themselves looked good. KU’s depth in the backfield showed up. And their ability to rotate those backs in allowed for fresh legs on most snaps.

If they can use those things to their advantage this week, therein keeping control of the clock and keeping the Mountaineers’ offense off the field, this one could be interesting.

Jalon Daniels is going to have to be dialed in and he likely won’t have as much breathing or time to operate as he did last week. That makes quick decisions, smart play and leaning on those running backs all a critical part of his performance, as well.

The challenge for KU’s defense will also be much tougher than it was a week ago, but I loved the way the front seven played in the opener and I think we saw a lot of things with that group that can and should translate to the step up in competition.

The KU secondary will have a much tougher challenge this week, and that could be where the Mountaineers look to attack the Jayhawks.

I won’t lie; it’s tempting to pick KU. And I think they can win this game. But they’re going to have to play nearly perfect football to get it done, and, with this group, I still want and need to see that against legit competition before I start picking Lance Leipold’s team in a Big 12 game on the road.

That could be coming in the not-too-distant future. And KU’s performance in this game could give us a better indication of when that might be.

West Virginia 38, Kansas 28.

Reply 3 comments from Micky Baker Dirk Medema Andy Godwin

Kansas OC Andy Kotelnicki finds unique way to emphasize learning how to play without the ball

KU offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki calls out directions to the offense during practice on Aug. 4, 2022.

KU offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki calls out directions to the offense during practice on Aug. 4, 2022. by Chance Parker/Journal-World photo

The goal for many of the players who come through the Kansas football program, and others throughout the country, is to one day wind up playing snaps in the NFL.

Getting there is no easy task, though, and can require as much good luck and timing as talent.

There are ways for players to help position themselves in the best possible situation, of course, and KU offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki has made sure to emphasize that with every group he’s coached in the past 10-15 years.

“I show all the offensive skill players a graph, a chart, every year to start camp,” Kotelnicki said. “And it’s the highest played players in the NFL.”

The non-quarterbacks on the list include players like Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Las Vegas Raiders wideout Davante Adams, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara and dozens more. But it’s not their names or even the stats they produce that landed them on the list. Each year, Kotelnicki explains why and shows his players how those superstars got there.

The chart, which features some serious dollar values, also includes the number of times each player was targeted and the number of times each player touched the football during the most recent season.

“It’s usually between 80 to 90% (of the time) that those guys aren’t getting targeted or touching the ball,” Kotelnicki said. “So I explain to them (that) there's some individuals that are making 30-some-million dollars a year to play this game and they were only getting the ball 10 to 15% of the time.”

While that sounds like a pretty good way to make a living, the reality behind it also carries a message that Kotelnicki believes is critical to both building a program and sustaining success.

“Everyone has to learn how to play football when they don’t have the ball,” he said.

And while he stopped short of calling this collection of skill players the best he’s been around, Kotelnicki did say that KU’s crew has a chance to be “a special group.”

“I think we have a lot of unselfish guys,” he said. “You’ll see downfield blocking from the receivers, you see the running backs block or pass protecting. You’ll see them block for each other. You see the tight ends doing both.

“For them to understand that football’s as much about what happens when you don’t have the ball is a big deal.”

This concept is another one of those culture-defining moments. It’s not highly publicized, there’s not a lot of glory or glamour in it. But without players who are willing to buy into it, programs generally don’t get very far.

The 1-0 Jayhawks will travel to West Virginia this weekend to take on the 0-1 Mountaineers at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN+ in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

Reply 1 comment from Dirk Medema

Can Kansas’ running game keep the Jayhawks competitive as the opponents get tougher?

Kansas running back Sevion Morrison (28) takes off up the field past the Tennessee Tech defense during the second quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas running back Sevion Morrison (28) takes off up the field past the Tennessee Tech defense during the second quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

With Big 12 Conference play starting this weekend and the Kansas football team likely to be an underdog in nearly all of its remaining games, it’s time to shift the focus to what the Jayhawks can do to stay in games and compete into the fourth quarter.

The easiest way to do that is by controlling the clock through running the football and KU Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki said this week that he viewed that to be a “critically important” part of any game plan, underdog or not.

But while the old concept of Kansas keeping its offense on the field to keep the high-powered opponent off it still holds water, Kotelnicki said the Jayhawks have bigger goals this season.

“Our evolution needs to be to make sure we’re finishing those drives however they look,” he said Wednesday. “The most important metric in football is your points per possession. When you’re on the field, you need to finish with points. If it takes 20 plays to go do that, fantastic. If it takes one, great. But we want to be able to end those things with touchdowns.”

KU did just that last Friday night in its 56-10 win in the season opener. The Jayhawks had the ball 11 times against Tennessee Tech and converted that into seven touchdowns. Kansas actually scored eight TDs in the win but one came via a blocked field goal on special teams.

Still, a 64% success rate with the football is pretty darn good. It also came against an FCS opponent that was overmatched physically. West Virginia will not be. But that doesn’t concern Kotelnicki all that much.

“I’m excited about the test that we’re about to take,” he said of Saturday's 5 p.m. showdown in Morgantown on ESPN+.

The biggest reason is it gives KU another opportunity to establish the type of offensive identity it wants to have both this season and well into the future.

“There’s still a really physical element to football and we want to embrace that,” Kotelnicki said. “We want to thrive in that environment. That’s who we want to be.”

Having five running backs capable of carrying out that mission certainly does not hurt. The Jayhawks’ deep and talented stable of running backs made its presence felt in limited opportunities last week. The lopsided nature of the game kept KU from running up the rushing totals for Devin Neal, Daniel Hishaw and Ky Thomas. Sevion Morrison and Tory Locklin also played meaningful snaps in the opener, and Morrison and Kotelnicki both said they would like to see that continue, as well.

“I think our coordinator loves that because if we need to we can get a running back in the game that fits that situation and does what needs to be done,” Morrison said on Wednesday. “And we can stay pretty fresh with all those backs.”

Kotelnicki made Morrison’s words sound awfully smart a little later in the day Wednesday.

“Fantastic,” he said of the idea of using multiple backs on a regular basis. “Because, in theory, everyone should be still pretty fresh. If you can go on one of these long drives and, all of a sudden, fresh legs come in every three carries, that’s good. That can be tough on a defense. Real tough.”

Regardless of whether you view it as KU trying to shorten the game to stay in it as long as possible or as a staple of the Jayhawks’ offensive philosophy, Kotelnicki emphasized this week that the running game was going to remain a key part of KU’s attack week in and week out.

“I don’t know that I’d ever say you move past that,” he said. “Because (when you look at) how an offense controls a game, time management is one metric that someone would use to do that — staying on the field, keeping your defense off the field.

“For anyone’s success, I think you have to establish a run game. For us to do that, (would be) a good first step in our journey.”

Reply 7 comments from Rodney Crain Jim Stauffer Inteldesign West_virginia_hawk Brad  Watson Brett McCabe

What Week 1 taught us about the Kansas football program’s early-season schedule

Kansas defensive end Zion DeBose (35), Kansas cornerback Shaad Dabney (16) celebrate with Kansas linebacker Eriq Gilyard (13) after Gilyard's interception against Tennessee Tech during the third quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas defensive end Zion DeBose (35), Kansas cornerback Shaad Dabney (16) celebrate with Kansas linebacker Eriq Gilyard (13) after Gilyard's interception against Tennessee Tech during the third quarter on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

It’s been years since Kansas football fans looked ahead at the Jayhawks’ schedule with any kind of optimism and anticipation, so let’s take advantage of it while it’s here.

Who knows how long it will last?

Week 1 was kind to the Jayhawks, who blasted visiting Tennessee Tech the way they should have and looked good doing it.

But there was more to the Week 1 schedule than just that 56-10 final score in Lawrence that caught the attention of KU fans. Kansas’ next two opponents also put up noteworthy efforts in the 2022 season’s opening week, one of them a loss and the other a triple-overtime squeaker.

The loss belonged to West Virginia, which traveled to Pitt to renew The Backyard Brawl rivalry and wound up losing in the final minutes.

WVU played well at times and looked particularly good running the ball, but the Mountaineers also showed they were capable of beating themselves. Mistakes and missed opportunities were a big part of the game, which WVU lost by a touchdown.

There are two ways to look at the outcome if you’re a Kansas fan. The first is that West Virginia is vulnerable and they’ve proven they can be beaten and may be dealing with a lack of confidence entering Week 2. The second is that the Mountaineers are pissed. And who better to take out all of that opening-week anger and frustration on than the Kansas Jayhawks in your home opener.

Either is entirely possible, but neither makes this game an easy challenge for Kansas. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas put the point spread at West Virginia -13 when the Week 2 lines came out, and the line moved up from there.

It seems fair to say this is a game in which Kansas can compete but we don’t know yet if it’s fair to call it a game Kansas can win. If the Jayhawks do pull off the upset, that in itself will change a ton about the way we look at the rest of the season.

For now, though, even with the loss at Pitt in WVU’s rearview mirror, it seems like a situation where we have to see KU pull off a win like this to believe it’s possible.

The other Week 1 result that was interesting to say the least came in Houston and with the 24th-ranked Cougars, who needed three overtimes to hold off UT-San Antonio, 37-35, in their season opener at the Alamodome.

KU travels to Houston in Week 3 and many have pegged that one as a potential blowout win for Houston. It still might be. But there’s no doubt that UH’s Week 1 struggle at least raised some eyebrows.

Before you get too excited about UTSA’s near upset, let’s take a closer look at the Roadrunners.

They were coming off of a 12-2 season in 2021 during which they won a Conference-USA title. In addition to that, they received one vote in the 2022 preseason coaches poll, making them “ranked” higher than either KU or West Virginia.

There’s more. UTSA was the preseason favorite to win Conference-USA and seniors Frank Harris and Rashad Wisdom were voted as the C-USA Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.

So, it’s not as if Houston was playing some chump last week. The Roadrunners, which have Jalen Wilson’s younger brother Jace, a freshman, on the 2022 roster this season have talent and are a pretty veteran team with a culture of winning.

Judge Houston by its Week 1 barnburner at your own risk.

KU will play at West Virginia at 5 p.m. Saturday and will travel to Houston on Sept. 17 to face the Cougars at 3 p.m.

Just for fun, here’s a quick look at how KU’s nine other 2022 opponents fared in Week 1:

Duke – Blanked Temple 30-0 at home, cruising to a 24-0 halftime leading and coasting from there.

Iowa State – Rolled to an efficient and methodical 42-10 win over Southeast Missouri at home.

TCU – Traveled to Colorado and used a big second half to hammer the Buffs, 38-13. TCU led just 7-6 at halftime but outscored CU 31-7 in the final two quarters.

Oklahoma – Rocked UTEP 45-13 at home, winning the first and third quarters by the combined score of 35-0.

Baylor – Pounded Albany 69-10 in Waco, Texas.

Oklahoma State – Topped Central Michigan 58-44 at home after building a 44-15 halftime lead and getting outscored 29-14 in the second half.

Texas Tech – Rolled past Murray State at home, 63-10, behind the firepower of first-year coach Joey McGuire’s high-octane offense.

Texas – Cruised to an easy home win over Louisiana Monroe, 52-10.

Kansas State – Blanked South Dakota 34-0, scoring 20 points in the first quarter to set the tone for the easy victory.

Reply 6 comments from Clarence Glasse West_virginia_hawk Chicagohawkmatt David Robinett Njjayhawk

Kansas football program and its fans have golden opportunity to make a key statement Friday night

Kansas coach Lance Leipold addresses his team at the end of practice at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 20, 2022.

Kansas coach Lance Leipold addresses his team at the end of practice at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Aug. 20, 2022. by Chance Parker/Journal-World

There have been 12 season opening home football games at the University of Kansas since Mark Mangino left town and the attendance at each one told some kind of story.

That includes the 2020 opener, which hosted no fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday night, as the Jayhawks take the field for season opener No. 13 of the post-Mangino era — lucky 13? — Kansas fans will have the opportunity to make the biggest statement yet about the state of this football program and the direction they want it to go.

All they have to do to make it is show up to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for the 2022 opener against Tennessee Tech.

And don’t think for a second that people won’t be watching. Whether you’re talking future conference affiliation or the hopes and dreams of a stadium project that’s woefully overdue, the stakes are as high for those in the stands and in the suites as they are for the players and coaches on the field.

In case you’ve forgotten, this place does know how to show up for football games. But it’s more important now than it’s ever been.

The first four season openers that came after Mangino’s departure attracted attendance numbers north of 40,000, including a high of 48,417 fans for Turner Gill’s first game in 2010 and the 46,601 fans who came out to see Charlie Weis take the field for the first time as a Jayhawk in 2012.

Sure, those seasons were still close enough to the program’s glory days under Mangino for apathy, aggravation and downright anger to not have entered the picture yet.

But neither of those crowds had the backing of the vibe that currently surrounds the program to entice them to come out.

In 2010, no one knew what was coming and going to football games at Memorial Stadium was still considered cool and something KU fans did without giving it a second thought.

In 2012, the pain of the failed Gill experiment was gone and the big-name coach with his Super Bowl rings and Tom Brady ties was enough to get that crowd excited. Even then, no one quite knew what was coming.

That led to the stretch between 2015 (David Beaty’s first year) and 2021 (Lance Leipold’s first year) where the average attendance for the home opener dropped to 29,026, including a crowd of 26,103 last season.

It’s hard to blame anyone for contributing to the number being nearly cut in half since the final three years under Mangino, who inspired an average 50,486 to come out for the three season openers from 2007 to 2009.

But for the first time since then, there is a sincere feeling of optimism around the program again, and it’s not one that is rooted in hope. It’s based on tangible evidence of something solid and sustainable being built and backed by a strong finish to 2021 that was unlike any KU fans had seen in years.

KU running back Devin Neal, a Lawrence native, mentioned it to me the other day in the simplest terms. Neal said he feels like people are “curious” again. And he added that it was a great feeling to be in control of providing the answer to that curiosity.

“There’s a different aura surrounding the building, surrounding the city almost,” Neal said. “I think people want to support us so bad and they’re so curious to see what we can do this year. I think all of the work that we’ve done so far is leading up to this moment.”

The players have done their part to get to this point. But they can’t go it alone. The only way Kansas football becomes relevant again is if everyone joins together, from the stands to the sideline, to push this thing forward.

It won’t happen quickly. It won’t come easy. And it will be uncomfortable at times.

But others are watching. And if they don’t see something worth remembering, that could be bad news for the program in ways far worse than what shows up on the scoreboard.

I get it; Kansas football fans need something worth cheering for and should not be held responsible for the hard times of the past decade.

But the past is irrelevant now. College football is entering a completely new era and KU needs both its football program and its fan base buzzing to remain relevant in the sport.

So, forget the program’s 23-118 record since 2010. The record is 0-0 right now and Kansas sits on the brink of moving to 1-0.

That part we’ve seen before, but maybe not quite like this.

Kansas 49, Tennessee Tech 14.

15 years of season-opener attendance totals

Mangino:

2007 – 46,815

2008 – 52,112

2009 – 52,530


Gill:

2010 – 48,417

2011 – 41,068


Weis:

2012 – 46,601

2013 – 41,920

2014 – 36,574


Beaty:

2015 – 30,144

2016 – 28,864

2017 – 32,134

2018 – 24,305


Miles:

2019 – 32,611

2020 – N/A, COVID-19


Leipold:

2021 – 26,103

2022 – ?????

Reply 10 comments from Bryce Landon Dirk Medema Rodney Crain Brett McCabe Koolkeithfreeze Matt Tait Njjayhawk Dr_mister

Big 12 to enter into early negotiations with TV partners FOX, ESPN

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The Big 12 Conference has agreed to engage in discussions with its primary television partners, ESPN and FOX, more than 18 months earlier than expected, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Pete Thamel.

Shortly after Thamel's report surfaced Wednesday morning, the Big 12 Conference confirmed its position through a statement from first-year commissioner Brett Yormark.

“It is an exciting time for college athletics and given the changing landscape we welcome the opportunity to engage with our partners to determine if an early extension is in the best interest of all parties,” Yormark said in the statement. “The Big 12 has enjoyed a fantastic relationship with its multi-media rights holders, and I look forward to having these conversations.”

Officially, the conference said the Big 12 "will be entering into discussions with its multi-media partners to explore an accelerated extension of its current agreements."

Later in the day, Jon Wilner, who covers the Pac-12, reported that ESPN provided a statement telling him, “We regularly engage in conversation around the future with all of our partners, but to be clear, we have not opened the contractual negotiation window with the Big 12 at this time.”

The confusion there is likely a matter of semantics, with the Big 12 saying it "will be" entering into discussions with its television partners and ESPN saying the contractual negotiation window had not opened.

Both statements can be true and the two parties can still be moving forward into a period of discussion about the contracts.

The news is significant because it puts the Big 12 on equal ground with the Pac-12, which also is negotiating a new deal with the two television networks.

That, it would seem, negates whatever perceived advantage the Pac-12 had in terms of conference realignment and potential expansion. And it could open the door to the Big 12 being in a stronger position to entice potential additions should the league look to expand beyond the 12 members that will be in the Big 12 after the departure of Oklahoma and Texas and the arrival of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.

Both conferences have been active in projecting future revenue from their TV deals. But until this news, only the Pac-12 was in a position to present real data to its current members and potential new members.

Now, with the Big 12 opening that door, both conferences may be able to show actual numbers to their own members and any other schools that may be interested in joining.

While survival is an important objective of both conferences, the race really appears to be about positioning for the third slot among college football’s power conferences. The Big Ten and SEC have the top two spots locked up — and neither can be touched — and the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC are battling to be No. 3.

Landing in the bronze medal position will not only be financially beneficial, but it also will present a significant amount of stability.

Yormark said during his introduction in July that the conference would be proactive and aggressive in its approach to all things, including potential expansion, and this news is certainly an indication of Yormark’s ability to put action behind those words.

None of this means the Big 12 is definitely expanding, of course. But many who cover and follow realignment have speculated that the Big 12 may be in a better position than the Pac-12 when it comes to projecting long-range television dollars for its new media rights deals. We may soon see if that was accurate.

The Big 12’s current TV deals expire after the 2024 football season and the negotiations were expected to begin in February of 2024.

Now, with the negotiation window open early, the conference essentially has two chances to strike the best deal possible, both for current members and potentially to entice new schools to join. The first could happen any time and could be a long-term deal or a short-term extension to buy some more time. The second opportunity would come in 2024 if the upcoming talks do not lead to anything that both sides like.

The most popular expansion chatter tied to the Big 12 has included Pac-12 schools Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. Reports about the interest, or lack thereof, regarding all four schools have been all over the map, but there are obvious reasons that all four would make sense for the Big 12. Most notable is the addition of BYU and how adding those four along with BYU would give the Big 12 a stronger footprint out west.

If that foursome, or even just one or two of them, were to be invited to the Big 12 and elect to join, it could be a significant blow to the Pac-12’s future as a power conference.

The race has been under way for a while now, but it appears as if the two conferences have passed the settling in point and are actually starting to run.

Stay tuned…

Reply 22 comments from Rodney Crain Dirk Medema Pamela Shanks Brad  Watson Brett McCabe Njjayhawk Bville Hawk Brian Skelly

Latest Memorial Stadium facelift features giant images of Kansas greats from the past next to current Jayhawks

New images of current and former Kansas football players were being put up on the outside of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Tuesday morning.

New images of current and former Kansas football players were being put up on the outside of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Tuesday morning. by Matt Tait

As Kansas football fans wait for the start of a new stadium project of some kind in the future, they’ll have to settle for a new look to the current stadium for now.

The outside walls of the north bowl at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium received a new look on Tuesday, when 21 new photos of current or former Kansas players and coaches were plastered to the outside in the arches on the concrete above the gates.

The list of current players to have their photo go up on the outside of Memorial Stadium this season included: Caleb Sampson, Mike Novitzki, Devin Neal, Rich Miller, Kenny Logan, Mason Fairchild, Earl Bostick Jr. and Jalon Daniels.

The list of old-timers honored on the outside of the stadium included: Daniel Wise, Tony Sands, Nick Reid, David Jaynes, Gale Sayers, John Hadl, Ray Evans, Homer Floyd, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Hakeem Adeniji and former coaches Mark Mangino and Glen Mason.

Each photo went up in four sections and measured roughly 15-16 feet tall by 7-8 feet wide. Some of the former players added this week were already up there in past versions of the display. But all of the current players were new to the wall.

When asked about the honor during Tuesday’s media availability, some of the current Jayhawks had only heard about the pictures and were on their way to see them.

Senior safety Kenny Logan Jr. was one of them and he said he had been told his photo was going up.

“It’s definitely exciting and cool to see,” Logan said. “Hopefully I can get it where it’s permanent one day.”

Novitzki, a senior center who is now in his second season with the program, said he was appreciative of the gesture and that it was by far the biggest photo he had ever seen of himself. Until this one, the biggest in the past was a 6-foot by 3-foot banner they stuck to the stadium during his senior season of high school.

“It’s a great honor,” Novitzki said. “I’m so thankful for it and it’s just really cool that they decided to do that. With all the history with this program throughout the years, to be associated with that is just a great honor.”

Neal shared that sentiment and said it was even more special because he had grown up in Lawrence and passed by the stadium so many times in his life.

“That’s kind of one of those blessed feelings,” he said. “You can’t make stuff up like that. Being able to drive around and see that and have my family and friends see that, it’s a pretty cool feeling.”

Miller, another Buffalo transplant like Novitzki who is in Year 2 with the program, said he hoped he one day would be able to keep the giant image.

“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “That was the first time I’ve ever really felt myself getting excited. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a surprise.’ They didn’t tell me nothing. I’m like, “What did I do to get on this building?’”

While some notable names from past KU teams appear to be missing, don’t freak out just yet. There’s been chatter of another collage of former players that may go above the entrance to the stadium on the west side, below the press box, where a dozen or more other former KU greats may soon appear.

Don’t be surprised if that’s up in time for Friday’s season opener.

While I haven’t heard yet who will be included there, I think it may be tied to KU’s ring of honor, which would mean players like Todd Reesing, Darrell Stuckey, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, Bobby Douglass, Anthony Collins, Curtis McClinton, Willie Pless, John Riggins and more could also so be going up.

It may not be a shiny new stadium, but it does provide the old stadium with a fresh look while paying homage to some of the great names from KU’s past.

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