The Wild Card
The Kansas Jayhawks ended their football season with a 42-21 whipping of Minnesota in the Insight.com Bowl on the last day of 2008.
At 8-5, the Jayhawks season-ending record by itself isn’t all that impressive. But couple those eight wins with last year’s 12 wins, and Kansas won 20 games in two seasons, which was something that hadn’t been done before in school history.
Coming off an Orange Bowl win last year, Kansas took the next step it needed to as a football program and made a bowl game for the second straight year. No, Kansas was never in the hunt for the national championship this year like it was for a time last year, but three of its four losses came to teams that were in the hunt this year. And one of them (Oklahoma) is playing for the championship against Florida Thursday night.
But Kansas’ victory showed it could be a justifiable top-25 team every year. The first play of the game resulted in a Todd Reesing 60-yard touchdown pass to Dezmon Briscoe. Minnesota countered with two touchdowns but Kansas was quite obviously the better football team and would prove it over the next three quarters.
Sure, Reesing threw four touchdown passes in the game — all coming in the first half — and Briscoe racked up 14 catches for 201 yards, scored three times and took home the game’s MVP award. But it was one-time starting quarterback turned wide receiver Kerry Meier who once again gave Kansas another great game playing at a position he’d really rather not be playing.
Meier caught 10 passes for 113 yards and hauled in a TD pass and even threw for another (to Briscoe) in the third quarter. Meier, who has said that he would still rather play quarterback than wide receiver, is really the good attitude and team-first player the game of football thrives on.
Meier, if he wanted to, could have took his football and transferred to another school and played quarterback. But he didn’t. He chose to stay at Kansas and help the team. He chose to help continue building a team that hopes to someday play for a national title. Sure, Kansas was whipped by Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Kansas also lost to South Florida back in September. But Kansas competed with Oklahoma and Nebraska on the road, utterly destroyed Kansas State at home and beat Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas’ win over Minnesota wasn’t really a “we’ve arrived” type of win. It was a statement, or a stand that Kansas is a good team that plays in the country’s toughest conference. It also was a statement that Kansas was better than its 8-5 record indicates.
The year started with an Orange Bowl win and ended with a victory in the Insight.com Bowl and 2009 could be better yet. Reesing, Briscoe and Meier are all set to return. So is leading rusher Jake Sharp, who quietly ran for 64 yards and scored a touchdown against Minnesota.
Offensively, Kansas should be as good if not better in 2009. On defense, Kansas will lose its three linebackers and that will hurt. But Kansas has already shown it can overcome adversity. And replacing three linebackers seems trivial compared to where the football program was when Mark Mangino took over to where it is now.