Archive for Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Wild Card

December 11, 2008

For the first time in school history, the Kansas University football team has made it to a bowl game two years in a row. The Jayhawks will play Minnesota on New Year’s Eve in Tempe, Ariz.

It could be a nice way to welcome in the New Year for Kansas fans because the Jayhawks could very well run up the score on the Gophers. Minnesota is 7-5 overall and went 3-5 in Big Ten play this year. Kansas, meanwhile, is 7-5 and went 4-4 in the Big 12. But other than having the same overall record, these two teams are polar opposites.

Minnesota isn’t great on offense or defense, whereas Kansas excels in the passing game. The Big Ten had some good teams this season, most notably Penn State and Ohio State. But the conference from top to bottom wasn’t as strong as what the Big 12 was, which gives Kansas an edge. Kansas also has an edge on the field at key positions.

Minnesota’s quarterback Adam Weber threw for 2,585 yards this season with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His counterpart, KU’s Todd Reesing, threw for 3,567 yards and 28 touchdowns and 12 picks. But stats aside, it’s Reesing’s ability to scramble in the pocket and buy himself time to make plays, and his leadership, toughness and football smarts give KU a decisive edge at quarterback.

On the ground Minnesota is led by DeLeon Eskridge. He ran for 652 yards and seven touchdowns this year. Junior Jake Sharp leads Kansas. Sharp ran for 796 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The Gophers ran for a little more than 1,200 yards this year, and Kansas ran for just more than 1,500 yards and scored 22 rushing touchdowns.

At wide receiver Minnesota is led by Eric Decker who caught 76 passes for 925 yards and scored six touchdowns. Kansas is led by its dynamic duo of Dezmon Briscoe and quarterback turned wide receiver Kerry Meier. Meier led the team with 87 catches and totaled 932 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first full season lining up on the outside. And Briscoe hauled in 78 passes for a team-high 1,201 yards. He, like Meier, scored 12 touchdowns via Todd Reesing’s right arm.

Kansas ranked fourth in Big 12 passing offense at 302 yards a game and ninth on the ground, totaling 1,547 rushing yards. Conversely, Minnesota was in the middle of the pack in passing yards at 2,597, and the Gophers totaled just more than 1,200 yards on the ground.

In short, Kansas put up better offense numbers than Minnesota while Kansas played in a tougher conference. Kansas is also better on defense. Minnesota was sixth in its conference against the pass and sixth against the run. Kansas was fifth in the Big 12 against the run and 10th against the pass.

Kansas struggled defending against the pass for most of the year in the pass-happy Big 12, but the Jayhawks aren’t going up against an offensive juggernaut like they faced while going through the Big 12. The Jayhawks are playing a team that isn’t as good as they are and Kansas is already an eight-point favorite in the game.

Minnesota shouldn’t be taken lightly, either. The Gophers were 7-1 and ranked 20th before hitting the skids late in the year. Minnesota won just one game a season ago, and to improve by six wins this year is quite an accomplishment.

But Kansas has accomplished more in its second year of building a football program that can make annual trips to bowl games and compete for conference and national championships. Kansas has more to play for than Minnesota, too. And Jayhawk fans will likely ring in the New Year with a big win on the last day of 2008.

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