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October 24, 2007
Kansas continues surprising season
Kansas football coach Mark Mangino continues to preach and lecture just as he has done almost every day for 5½ years. But his message – like the Jayhawks' results – has changed dramatically.
Stuart Smalley-type affirmations ("You're good enough and, doggone it, people like you") have given way to Donald Trump-like instructions on how to handle success. That's what happens when a perennially mediocre program suddenly soars to No. 12 in the national rankings and No. 9 in the BCS standings.
"I always communicate with my team on a daily basis, whether in meetings or in practice, to deal with the issues at hand," Mangino said. "Some years it's been about tough losses and how to handle that. Now, it's about how to handle success.
"You have to be able to handle success and adversity because both could create serious problems. You have to stay focused on the task at hand. You need to be able to handle success just as you handle adversity."
Looks like the Jayhawks are getting the message. Kansas is 7-0 for the first time since 1995 and alone in first place in the Big 12 North.
That's a dramatic reversal of fortune for a program that had managed as many as seven victories in a season just three times in the previous 25 years.
Skeptics might dismiss the success as the byproduct of an advantageous schedule that included non-conference opponents that are a combined 9-21 and doesn't include Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech from the Big 12 South.
But Kansas has two validation victories. Three weeks ago, the Jayhawks defeated Kansas State. Last week, they prevailed 19-14 at Colorado, where Oklahoma lost on Sept. 29.
Colorado, which rallied in the fourth quarter in its victory over OU, had a chance to post another come-from-behind victory after taking possession on its 42 with just over two minutes remaining. But Kansas sophomore defensive end Jeff Wheeler sacked Colorado's Cody Hawkins for an 8-yard loss on first down and the Buffaloes eventually turned the ball over on downs.
That victory ensured Kansas would remain the only unbeaten team in the Big 12. But staying unbeaten should be much more difficult with a remaining schedule that includes roads trips to Texas A&M (6-2) and Oklahoma State (5-3) and the regular-season finale in Kansas City against Missouri (6-1) that might decide the Big 12 North title.
Just putting Kansas, which hasn't won a conference championship since 1968, in the discussion for the Big 12 North crown is a surprise in itself. The Jayhawks were picked fourth in the division in the preseason.
But Aqib Talib, already one of the nation's best cornerbacks, has also emerged as an offensive threat with four touchdown catches. Tailbacks Jake Sharp and Brandon McAnderson have rushed for more than 500 yards each. And quarterback Todd Reesing, a 5-foot-10 sophomore whom Mangino calls "Sparky," is having a tremendous season with 1,805 yards passing and 17 touchdowns.
"We have a group of kids here that are pretty confident," Mangino said. "They have a good mental edge to the game. I've told our kids all the time we have to be in great physical condition and be strong and fast, but that every Division I team in America has a weight room. What separates you is mental preparation and mental edge."
Obviously, the Jayhawks are listening to the message their coach is delivering.
The last time Kansas started 7-0 was 1995. What team beat the Jayhawks in the eighth game of the season? (Answer at the end of the column.)
Big season, big helmet
The oversized helmet is just one reason Arizona State senior linebacker Robert James stands out this season. He's distinguished himself by performance, too.
James had managed just 40 career tackles in three previous seasons, but this year he leads the undefeated Sun Devils with 66 tackles, including eight for losses. He also has three interceptions.
"I feel like I'm having my best year," James said. "I'm being disciplined with my reads. I'm not trying to do more than I can. If I'm supposed to be in the "B" gap, that's where I'm going to be."
Mainly, James is just glad to be back on the field. And free of pain.
Last season was cut short when he began suffering from excruciating migraine headaches. Migraines are caused by changes in the brain and surrounding blood vessels. They typically last from four to 72 hours and can lead to trips to the hospital.
James believed the contact in football caused a mild concussion last year, and when he tried to play through that pain, it led to the migraines.
"My head was hurting during drills," James said. "Then we played Washington and I banged heads with a fullback. Then I got to the point where the pain was almost unbearable, and I was out for the rest of the season."
James compared the pain to hitting a finger with a hammer. Pain killers provided little, if any, relief. A ray of light hurt like a punch, and noise was like kick in the head.
"Once I got the point where I couldn't take it anymore, I would stay home, lay down and stay still," James said. "I had pillows over my head and had the lights out, but nothing seemed to work."
Eventually, the pain subsided and this year he returned to football with a bigger helmet, which has more protective padding. He hasn't experienced any migraines this year. Instead, he's just experiencing the best year of his career.
Three in a row
Temple is only 3-5, but the Owls are riding a rare three-game winning streak.
Before posting consecutive wins over Northern Illinois, Akron and Miami University, the Owls had not managed a three-game winning streak since prevailing in the final three games of 1990.
In fact, Temple - in its second year under coach Al Golden - has won at least three games just four times in the past 15 years and never won more than four games in that span.
The Owls next play Ohio U. on Nov. 2, when they will be seeking their first four-game winning streak since 1985. They will have to do it without starting quarterback Adam DiMichele, who suffered a broken leg against Miami.
Kansas State defeated Kansas 41-7. Kansas later lost to Nebraska 41-3 and finished 10-2 that season.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.