Maybe (more like probably) I'm just a little slow, but yesterday was the first time I really thought of this tougher schedule as a blessing in disguise. That is, until Darrell Stuckey addressed the question. I had always thought that the only way we fans could hope for a similar season was for the players to develop that same "chip on their shoulder" attitude they played with last year. However, I had always thought of it from the perspective of media, etc. not giving them respect and writing off last year as a fluke or a product of a weak schedule. But instead of just playing the cliché cards and saying how they have a lot to prove, he came out and said something to the tune of
I think the schedule helps us because we have to take these teams seriously. If we had the same schedule, even if we didn't think we were taking a team lightly, there is always that human element that creeps into your head to the tune of, "Remember how we handled this team last year, etc."(And yes that was probably the worst job of quoting a player that has ever been attempted, but what do you expect from me? What can I say, I'm no Dugan Arnett! But you get the idea, so let's just call it a bad paraphrase and move on.)
As I mentioned earlier, this thought had not occurred to me but as soon as I head it I was invigorated with some new hope. Now don't get me wrong, I don't take this to mean that since KU has tougher opponents and won't overlook any of them that they are sure to run through the conference. Obviously that is not the case. But I do take it to mean that despite all of their relative accomplishments last year, the team should still have an edge. And instead of that edge being created by the lackadaisical and often misinformed national media, it will be based on the need to strive for perfection, because that's how a team like Kansas beats a team like Texas (which will happen on November 15 in the confines of Memorial Stadium.)
Back to the Big Man. He may be boring as hell when he talks to the media, but you just have to love his message. From the day he arrived and up to this point he has always, always, always preached consistency. Trust me, I've had my moments where I questioned him (the middle of 2006 rings a pretty heavy bell), but there is no way to argue with what he's done and how he's done it. When asked about the schedule here was his response,
"Well, we've always said that we want our program to be able to compete with the best teams in the league. And the fact that we are picking up Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech is something that we look forward to. We want to be able to play against all the best teams in our league. And be able to beat them. That's the test for our program. We will never truly get over the hump, in my eyes -- I don't know how anybody else sees it -- but in my eyes until we're able to defeat those teams as well. We talk about the schedule. Yes, it is tougher. But let's back up a minute here and think everybody talked about last year's schedule. And just stop and think for a minute that Kansas's football coach has been asked about his 2000 schedule not being tough in a year where they defeated Nebraska, Texas A&M, Colorado and Virginia Tech. All that tells me is that we're making progress, if you're asking me those questions."Call me a homer (I am), but I love that response.He doesn't hide from the question or keep his answer short-sighted. He doesn't come out defensive, but he doesn't just roll over, either. He answers it head on with a near term goal and a long term goal in mind. And at the same time, he doesn't move on before paying credence to the accomplishments that have been made. Truth be told, this didn't surprise me in the least bit and although I've had some worries about this season, I have always felt great about the direction of the program. But it still goes to show you exactly how he views his team and its current state.
More to the point of the immediate near future was how he responded to questions about positions in question. And he answered that simply with by stating,
"Our situation today as I sit here is no different than it was a year ago."Prior to last year, the team was looking at replacing a Big 12 leading 1400 yard rusher and all three interior linemen. And all they did was come out and produce a 1200+ yard rusher to go along with Jake Sharp's 800+. In all, the team ran for 2454 yards on 512 carries for 4.8 ypc (McAnderson was 5.9 and Sharp was 5.6) and 30 touchdowns. Suffice it to say, they answered those questions.
As a devil's advocate, the big argument you can make to that is:
1) It's easier to replace the interior of the line than the exterior; or
2) Whereas last year the biggest name they were replacing was Jon Cornish, this year they're needing to replace to First Team All Americans in Talib and AC, as well as unquestioned senior leaders in McClinton and Fine.
Unfortunately at this point, I really can't refute either argument. So fuck you! However, you can't say with any certainty that either point has any lasting legitimacy. The first one may be true, but it may not. I would certainly agree that tackle is a tougher, more important position to play than guard, but the true test of a line is how it works together and as of now, we have no reason to believe that seniority in the middle of the line will not ultimately lead to an effective line as a whole.
The bigger worry is how to replace the diversity of a Derek Fine who basically gave you a third tackle that could also catch the ball. On the offensive side of the ball, he may end up being the biggest loss. As for Talib, McClinton I still can’t refute the notion that they will be tough to replace. In fact, I would almost guarantee that their absence will be noticed. However, last year at this time the most important position on the field didn’t have a listed starter and was a complete unknown whereas this year the Jayhawks bring back a guy who not only has a confidence that unquestionably permeates through to the other players, but one who threw for nearly 3500 yards, 33 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions.
So to me the physical pieces are in place. As I mentioned, I would all but guarantee we’ll miss the presence of Talib, McClinton, AC and Fine. However, given the known players already in place and the track record of the coaching staff, I don’t think there is any reason to suspect that the team can’t handle these losses in stride. So the question becomes; will the same mental aspect be there? And until yesterday I didn’t think that it would. But the Big Man, Hot Toddy, Darrell Stuckey and Mike Rivera changed me mind…for the time being. Let’s hope I’m not just gullible.
P.S. It's completely and utterly impossible for me to think of Mangino and not think about his weight, but did anyone find these shirts funny? Seems like teenie-bopper material to me?