KU football team astonishing itself

Monday, November 5, 2007 | 12:14 a.m. CST; updated 8:58 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Skeptical hardly describes how Mark Mangino would have felt if somebody had told him his Kansas Jayhawks would start this season 9-0 and plant themselves squarely in the hunt for a national football championship.

“I’d ask them what they’re drinking.” Mangino said with a big grin. “And see if I could get some of it.”

As he entered his sixth season in charge of a program that hasn’t even shared a conference title since 1968, the speculation was that Mangino’s job could be on the line — not that the Jayhawks (9-0, 5-0 Big 12) would get off to their best start since 1908. He was 10 games under .500 in five seasons, and the athletic director who hired him had been fired after basketball coach Roy Williams quit to go to North Carolina.

Now he’s being mentioned as a candidate to be national coach of the year. His team, led by a brainy little sophomore quarterback with quick hands and quick feet, is setting records.

Kansas, ranked No. 5 this week, could be on the brink of its grandest season ever.

“I thought we had a chance to have a really good football team,” Mangino said. “Those kids have stepped up and developed and here we are.”

Nevertheless, as victory No. 9 unfolded Saturday with a record-smashing 76-39 trouncing of hapless Nebraska, even some players felt like rubbing their eyes in disbelief.

“I looked up at the scoreboard and it was hard to believe,” linebacker Mike Rivera said.

TROUBLED TEAMS: The Baylor Bears players have tuned out the rumors surrounding the job status of coach Guy Morriss.

“We don’t mess with that,” quarterback Blake Szymanski said. “He’s our coach right now.”

Yeah, but for how long?

It’s a similar question hanging over embattled Nebraska coach Bill Callahan as well. Already on the hot seat, Callahan faces even more scrutiny after an embarrassing 76-39 loss to fifth-ranked Kansas on Saturday. It was the most points ever scored on Nebraska (4-6, 1-5) in its 117-year football history.

Callahan’s squad has now lost five in a row for the first time since 1958. To make matters worse, interim athletic director Tom Osborne was on hand and watched the drubbing from a suite in the press box. Osborne spoke briefly to Callahan after the game, but declined to talk to reporters.

“There’s really no words to explain this loss,” Callahan said. “We need to help the players get through this because this is a tough time for us.”

The Bears know the feeling. Baylor lost its sixth straight game when Graham Harrell threw for 433 yards and three touchdowns as the Red Raiders cruised to an easy 38-7 win.

Baylor (3-7, 0-6) is now guaranteed the team’s 12th consecutive losing season. And while Morriss’ job may be in jeopardy — despite having a year remaining on his contract — he’s not thinking about it.

“I’m focused on trying to get these guys ready to play,” said Morriss, who is 18-38 in five seasons at Baylor. “All of that other stuff is out of my control.”

Yet the persistent rumors are hard to ignore.

“You don’t want to get caught up in what everybody else is saying, the rumors and this and that,” linebacker Joe Pawelek said. “You also have to understand that college football is a business. It’s just the way things go.”

Things aren’t exactly going according to plan for Texas A&M this season. They were routed 42-14 by fourth-ranked Oklahoma (8-1, 4-1) on Saturday.

It’s been a tumultuous season for the Aggies (6-4, 3-3). Earlier in the season, coach Dennis Franchione was caught giving out inside information about his team to boosters in a secretive for-pay newsletter.

Now, the Aggies are in the midst of a brutal stretch. They’ve dropped the first two games of four straight contests against ranked teams. They play No. 7 Missouri next week and at home against No. 15 Texas on Nov. 23.

“I know that will motivate them,” Franchione said.

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