What’s Going on with College Football? Look to Lawrence

Lyn Scarbrough

September 29, 2022 at 1:00 pm.

A week or so ago, I received a simple text question from longtime friend David Scott.

“What’s going on with college football?”

David is a pretty astute college analyst himself, a long-suffering University of Georgia fan, 100 percent Bulldog loyalist, still basking in the glory of his team’s first national football title in over four decades. For sure, David had some answers of his own when he sent the question.

It seems like a simple question, but not sure that it has a simple answer.

“What’s going on with college football?”

It could be a lot of things.

Fallout from Name/Image/Likeness? Impact of the Transfer Portal? Evolution of scholarship limitations creating a more level playing field? Uncertainty regarding coaching and teams due to runaway salaries and conference realignments?

Whatever the reasons, there have been few, if any, seasons that have started like this one.

David’s question arrived in the wake of games like these that have already happened before the last Saturday of September is even here.

** Marshall of the Sun Belt went to No. 7 Notre Dame, beat the Fighting Irish, pulled away at the end, then two weeks later lost 16-7 to Troy.

** Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt won at Nebraska, put 45 on the Cornhuskers in Lincoln before losing by two touchdowns to UAB.

** Appalachian State of the Sun Belt demolished Texas A&M in College Station, kept the ball over 42 minutes, held the Aggies to 182 total yards, but lost at home to James Madison.

** Middle Tennessee State, already a 44-7 loser to that same James Madison team, demolished the Miami Hurricanes on the road in a game when the ‘Canes never had the lead.

** Syracuse, picked by Lindy’s in the preseason near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference, sits at 4-0 with a win over Purdue and a 31-7 bulldozing of Louisville.

** Kansas State … a 26-point underdog, already a loser to Tulane, which lost to Southern Miss, which already had two losses … beat No. 6 Oklahoma in Norman, scoring 41 on the Sooners in a game where they took a 14-0 lead and Oklahoma could never pull even.

It’s already been that kind of season.

But if you want to see probably the most startling, out-of-the-blue example of what the 2022 college football season has been, look no further than Lawrence, Kansas.

Jayhawk fans are no strangers to championships. After all, they are the defending national champions … in basketball!!

But in college football, specifically in Power 5 college football, the Jayhawks have been the poster boys for modern era futility – until this season.

Heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against Iowa State at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan., the Jayhawks are 4-0 … that’s four wins and NO losses. At first glance, you may not realize the significance. After all, with two-thirds of the season still to play, there are 21 undefeated teams, including among others Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Southern Cal – and Kansas!

To understand just how exhilarating this is for Kansas fans, you need to understand where Jayhawk football has been.

The last time Kansas won a conference championship was 1968. The head coach was Pepper Rogers. The last time a Jayhawk player placed in the Top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting was 1973. That was quarterback David Jaynes. The winningest head coach in Kansas history is A.R. Kennedy. He won 52 games; his last season was 1910.

There have been big names and successful seasons in Lawrence. The late U.S. Senator and Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole was a Jayhawk end (1941-1944). The late Gale Sayers, considered by many to be the greatest running back in football history, was a two-time All-American (1963, 1964). Head coach Mark Mangino was National Coach of the Year (2007) and led Kansas to three consecutive bowl wins (2005-2007).

But, there haven’t been many seasons like 2022.

After the season opening 56-10 win over Tennessee Tech, the Jayhawks traveled to West Virginia and defeated the Mountaineers, 55-42, in overtime. Quarterback Jalen Daniels threw three touchdown passes in the win.

Nationally ranked Houston was the next victim, falling 48-30. Daniels threw for three scores and ran for two more. Then last week, the Jayhawks beat undefeated Duke, 35-27, as Daniels passed for 324 yards and four touchdowns, rushing for 83 yards and another score.

The Jayhawks are college football’s seventh highest scoring team and Daniels is in the top 20 nationally in total offense. Only four quarterbacks have been responsible for more points.

But for Kansas, there’s still not much respect.

Associated Press doesn’t have the ‘Hawks in this week’s Top 25, but it does include in-state archrival Kansas State (3-1) despite their loss to Tulane. Even the Pittsburg State (Kan.) Gorillas are in the AFCA Division II poll Top 10 this week with the same 4-0 record. And in perhaps the most irritating slap, Las Vegas sportsbooks have Kansas as a 3.5-underdog to the Cyclones.

But nothing has dampened the enthusiasm of Jayhawk fans who packed the home stadium with a sellout crowd last Saturday for just the second time in the past 13 seasons.

Another longtime friend, Ty Williams, helped put this in perspective for me. Ty is Associate Director of Restoration Academy, a private Christian school in the Birmingham suburb of Fairfield which provides a solid academic foundation for underserved families. Over the years, Ty and I have talked many times about education, missions, family and sports. But until this past week, we had never talked about Kansas football.

When I saw Ty’s photo posted on Facebook, proudly wearing his blue and red shirt with the Jayhawk logo, I made the call.

I found out that Ty was a KU student in the early 1990s at a time when football was on the upswing.

“During my last football season at Kansas in 1992, they finished the season ranked No. 22 with an 8-4 record,” he explained. “(Head coach) Glen Mason had heavyweights like future NFL stars Dana Stubberfield and Gilbert Brown. It was a time when KU basketball and football were making a run, playing competitively. Those were fun times.”

But times in Lawrence changed, and Ty and his family moved to Alabama.

“When I moved, I had to hide away my KU gear until the hoops season every year,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine my Jayhawks having a better record than SEC powers like Auburn and Arkansas. But, this season could still turn out like 2009 when they started hot (winning five to start the campaign) and ended on a 7-game losing streak.”

He said that if the Jayhawks can continue winning and play in a postseason bowl game while the hoops seasons starts with a top-ranked basketball team, it would be “the perfect Christmas gift.”

“We can dream, can’t we?”

Of course, they can. Ty Williams and the Jayhawk fans. Syracuse and James Madison. And those teams that have only dreamed of going into South Bend, Lincoln or College Station and coming out with a win.

Not sure what’s happening, David. And, not sure how all these changes are going to play out.

But, it’s been that kind of season.

So, let’s just enjoy college football while we’ve got it.

Rock Chalk, Ty! Rock Chalk!