STILLWATER, Okla. — After his team’s 10th consecutive victory, Kansas coach Mark Mangino assessed his opponent as one of the three top teams in the Big 12 in terms of “pure talent.”
Then he made it clear he didn’t count his own fourth-ranked Jayhawks (10-0, 6-0 Big 12) in that same category.
The Jayhawks have a quarterback who was too short, a receiver who was too skinny and a bunch of other no-name guys who are seldom spectacular. All they do is win. The latest was a 43-28 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
With the season winding down, Kansas is within striking distance of the Big 12 championship game and even the national championship. Along with Hawaii, the Jayhawks are one of the last two undefeated teams in major college football, and the only one from a conference with an automatic Bowl Championship Series bid.
“We’ve got to play as well as we can every week to win. That’s been our hallmark,” Mangino said. “There’s no games on our schedule here in the Big 12 Conference that we say we can show up and win. We earn our way.
“We know we’ve got to play hard, play well, play smart to win every week. There’s no gimmes in the Big 12.”
Like any team, Kansas had its shining moments against the Cowboys. Oklahoma State lined up a former quarterback at receiver, then botched the lateral to set up a trick play. So Kansas, which pounced on the fumble, came right back on the next snap and ex-quarterback Kerry Meier showed how the play looks when it’s executed right.
Todd Reesing, the Jayhawks’ 5-foot-10 quarterback, evaded pressure to his right, then back to his left, reminiscent of Matt Ryan’s heroics for Boston College in its comeback against Virginia Tech, before finding Dexton Fields for a 34-yard pickup.
Marcus Henry, an Oklahoma kid who was allowed to leave the state, then burned the Cowboys’ defense on an 82-yard touchdown catch when he caught a slant pass and made a move past cornerback Jacob Lacey to speed downfield for the score. Henry finished with three touchdowns and 199 yards receiving.
Those plays aren’t what has made Kansas so successful, though. More typical are Brandon McAnderson’s three straight runs for 32 yards that silenced the fans after back-to-back Oklahoma State touchdowns and got Kansas back on track toward a two-possession, fourth-quarter lead.
All during their ascent from being picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 North to being ranked fourth in the nation, the Jayhawks have plodded along on the field and in their minds.
“It goes to the maturity of your football team. We think we’ve got a mature football team,” Mangino said. “We also think we have a very intelligent football team. We have kids that understand. They have so much invested in hard work in this program that they really don’t want to look ahead.”
After hosting Iowa State this week, the Jayhawks prepare for a showdown against No. 6 Missouri on Nov. 24 in Kansas City, Mo., that’s shaping up as a North Division championship game. No. 3 Oklahoma would await in the Big 12 title game for the winner.
“It’s a whole lot better than I could imagine, especially the season being as good as it is right now,” Henry said. “I think everybody’s happy with it.”
For now, Mangino is focused on the task at hand — beating Iowa State for the first 11-0 record since Kansas started playing football more than a century ago.
“Whatever this team accomplishes, I’ll look back on that in the offseason,” Mangino said. “But right now there’s really not much time for that.”