First off, for those of you that haven't heard, the kick time for Colorado was announced as 11:30 with ESPN2 picking up the broadcast. I'm not one to complain (and I won't), but consider me disappointed that we'll be opposite OU/UT as I was looking forward to that one even more than most years (not to mention what it will do to the ratings). Moving on…
Damn it feels good to be back in game week. Don't get me wrong, last week's bye probably couldn't have come at a better time, what with all the upsets and the personnel issues that need addressing. But as much as I accept them, it stills leaves Saturday a little less fulfilling. Ideally, we'd all be coming back to Memorial this Saturday to kick off the conference season with an always joyous tailgate, but instead the team heads to Ames. And given the early kick time and the televised status, they will travel without me this time, so the barbecuing will have to wait. The drinking is another story, but I digress.
As you know, the Hawks will travel to Ames this weekend to take on one of the worst teams in the league. But as we saw last week with USC (in Corvallis) and Florida (in the Swamp), that shit doesn't always matter come conference time. So as will become our Monday feature, we'd like to take a look at five reasons Kansas could lose this game.
1. Complacency: It's hard to imagine a team being complacent for a conference opener, especially after not exactly tearing it up during the non-conference. But as well know, human nature can set in and it would be very easy to overlook this one with the gauntlet of games approaching over the next couple months.
Will it happen? Consider me shocked if it does. If there's one thing Mangino has been known for, it's his innate ability to make sure his team is up for every game. And bearing in mind his overall road success at KU, I can't envision him letting the Hawks come into this one with anything other than their best effort.
2. Transparency: As it stands now, Kansas is without a running game. If they're unable to run early against ISU and abandon as they've been prone to do, how will the line (and Todd) hold up against an all out pass rush. This is what happened during the third quarter in Tampa and it wasn't pretty.
Will it happen? Not this week. For starters, against less than stellar competition, ISU is allowing 188 (95th) per game on the ground (for the record, FIU is at 162 (80th), La Tech 93 (20th) & USF 59 (4th)), so it's reasonable to assume we can expect at least some success there. And for another, they sure as hell don't have the same pass rush as USF. Combine the two and this isn't the week that this issue catches up to the Hawks.
3. Getting the defense off the field: We all know everyone (Tech excluded) wants balance, but typically there is a preference. ISU would like to run the ball (153 per game – 59th). This bodes well for the Hawks as they've stopped the run fairly well outside of the 3rd quarter in Tampa. That said, Bates, Robinson and even Arnaud are all pretty solid runners and it will be critical to keep them in 3rd and long situations with Arnaud's scrambling ability.
Will it happen? I'm not sure. By no means do I expect the Cyclones to have a field day with the Jayhawks. In fact, I don't expect them to be able to run very well at all. But with the lack of pressure KU generates, mobile quarterbacks always worry me, a category Arnaud fits right into.
4. Turnovers: It sounds like a cop out reason and in a sense it is. But the numbers don't lie. And though I don't have any for you, I can only imagine that in league games (even more so for the road team), there is a huge correlation between taking care of the ball and coming out victorious.
Will it happen? I'm a little wary. Obviously a big part of last year's success came from taking care of the ball. And mostly, the hawks have done a good job of that this year, with only a couple fumbles and a couple picks. However, they also haven't taken it away very often with only 7 caused, good for 31st nationally in TO margin. ISU is currently 9th with 13 caused and 7 given. 10 of those they took were in their 2 home games (San Jose and Kent St.), so obviously the competition played a part, but the home field likely did as well. I certainly don't expect Todd to give it away very often, but it will be important to limit the fumbles as well.
5. Composure: This is pretty much the same as #1, but given the road environment I think it merits its own consideration. Call me over-confident, but Iowa State won't beat Kansas this weekend. Only Kansas will beat Kansas and when you're on the road, that becomes a concern.
Will it happen? Obviously USF was a much better team than gene Chizik's crew, but that third quarter was abysmal. And as much as it was due to the changes made by USF (and not by KU), the crowd and energy also played a factor. One would like to think KU will come out and dominate like they did the last time in Ames, but if that doesn't happen and the Cyclone faithful start getting a little chipper, KU (and their young line) will need to handle the noise and pressure. So far they're 0-1 in this situation, so we'll see.
In closing, it may sound like I'm not giving ISU much credit here and am pretty much counting this as a win. This is not the case. But as pretty much anyone knows, Kansas is just a better team than the Cyclones. Ames is not an easy place to win and I always think an early start favors the home team, but ultimately, I just don't think the pieces are in place for ISU to be able to exploit enough of Kansas' weaknesses.
Random note: How weird is it that all six games feature one ranked team and one unranked team to start league play? That can't have happened too often, right?