When the leaves start to change in Kansas, fans usually start to talk about 3-pointers and blocked shots. But this season, touchdowns and interceptions are part of the conversation.
The Jayhawks (7-0, 3-0) are on the verge of a historic season because of an experienced coach and a quarterback nicknamed Sparky.
While their success might surprise fans, it doesn’t shock coaches. Kansas coach Mark Mangino was the offensive coordinator under Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops from 1999 to 2001 before taking over in Lawrence.
“Mark understands what it takes to win,” Stoops said.
Quarterback Todd Reesing does as well.
“He’s one of the main reasons Kansas is doing so well right now,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.
The sophomore known as Sparky got his nickname last year when he started improvising on the practice field as if he was starring on Saturday Night Live, creating offbeat plays with his mobility and confidence.
“I just kind of said, ‘Hey, that guy’s kind of a spark plug, and the next thing you know we’re calling him Sparky,’” Mangino said.
Last year, Reesing lived up to his name in his debut. He got a chance to play against Colorado after sitting on the bench for eight games, entering after halftime with the Jayhawks trailing 9-0.
He failed at first. His first pass was incomplete, and the next one was intercepted. But Mangino kept him in.
“I just had to reset his plug a little bit, and he was hitting on all cylinders again after that,” said Mangino, sounding more like a NASCAR crew chief than a football coach.
Reesing led the Jayhawks to a 20-15 comeback victory with 106 passing yards, 93 rushing yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one passing).
His breakout debut mirrored quarterback Chase Daniel’s first extensive action against Iowa State in 2005. Daniel brought the Tigers back with two fourth-quarter scoring drives, and the Tigers won 27-24 in overtime.
The two share other similarities. Although they were high-school stars in Texas, many colleges ignored them because of their height. Reesing ( listed at 5 feet, 10 inches) is shorter than Daniel (listed at 6 feet).
Like Daniel, Reesing gets attention from opposing coaches. Kansas State coach Ron Prince said he talked about Reesing to his coaches, team, the media and “anybody who would listen to me” before their Oct. 6 game. He knew Reesing had guts and leadership after he “sparked” the comeback victory against Colorado. Then, Prince watched him lead a winning fourth-quarter drive in the Jayhawks’ 30-24 victory in Manhattan.
“Our concerns were validated,” Prince said.
After beating Kansas State and Colorado on the road, Kansas looks like Missouri’s chief rival in the Big 12 Conference North Division. The division title could be on the line when the teams play Nov. 24 in Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium. The Tigers (6-1, 2-1) still have to travel to Colorado and Kansas State and play Iowa State and Texas A&M at Faurot Field, while the Jayhawks go to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State and get Iowa State and Nebraska at home.
Success has eluded the two programs for decades, but Kansas has been more futile than MU. Since Big 12 play began in 1996, the Jayhawks have never finished better than 3-5 or higher than fourth in the North. Their last conference title was in 1968.
But here’s something truly historic: If the Jayhawks beat the Aggies on Saturday, they will be 8-0 for the first time since before World War I. It was 1909 and for whatever it’s worth, they didn’t end the season undefeated. They finished 8-1 after the Tigers beat them 12-6 in Kansas City.
MU injury update: Coach Gary Pinkel said that tailback Tony Temple is probable for Saturday’s game against Iowa State. Temple bruised his sprained right ankle during Wednesday’s practice.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is also probable after bruising his shoulder against Texas Tech, but backup safety Justin Garrett is doubtful with a hyperextended elbow.
BROWN WINS AWARD AGAIN: For the second time this season, safety Pig Brown was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after his performance against Texas Tech. Brown had 14 tackles, including 4.5 for losses, had one interception, broke up two passes and deflected a pass that defensive end Stryker Sulak intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
TIME SET FOR COLORADO GAME: The Tigers will play at Colorado at 5:30 p.m. Central time on Nov. 3. The game will be televised on Fox Sports Net.