Kevin Haskin: Upset win over Texas gives Jayhawks emotional lift for 2017

Monumental climb remains for KU to fulfill commissioner’s belief in Big 12 balance

Kansas coach David Beaty, middle, and the Jayhawks picked up their first Big 12 win in 19 tries with a 24-21 overtime victory over Texas last season. (2016 file photograph/The Capital-Journal)

FRISCO, Texas — Bob Bowlsby is obligated to promoting the Big 12, and especially its football.

 

So to kick off media days on Monday, the conference commissioner spoke in the most glowing terms possible. At one point, however, he seemed to trip on a hashmark in Ford Center at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility.

“I know that top to bottom we’re the best in the country in terms of balance,’’ Bowlsby said.

With that, eyes rolled.

In part, because the team at the bottom, Kansas, has averaged two wins the past seven years.

The Jayhawks have been generally regarded as the worst Power Five team in America, which presumably does not contribute to great balance unless the teams at the top do not compare favorably with the country’s other football elites.

That could be the case considering the Big 12 has missed out on the College Football Playoff two of the first three years since the inception of football’s Final Four.

As to the bottom of the Big 12, the level to which KU can compete in the Big 12 remains a question.

The good thing, at least within the Jayhawks locker room, is they managed a league win last season.

As much as anything, Texas may have invented ways to lose in the 24-21 upset Kansas sprung to end a 19-game Big 12 losing streak a year ago. The Longhorns committed six turnovers, including a poorly thrown interception in overtime that enabled the Jayhawks to win with a field goal.

“It’s yet to be seen whether that can be a cornerstone in our program as we work to turn this thing around,’’ KU coach David Beaty said. “It would be a shame for us to waste that opportunity.’’

Beaty downplayed the identity of the opponent, though the victory was the Jayhawks’ first over the Longhorns since the inception of the Big 12. For that matter, their first since 1938.

“That was a great win, a lot of fun,’’ Beaty said. “But it was really only because it was the first one we had in the conference.’’

Good for Beaty. Another reason to dismiss the reference Bowlsby made to Big 12 balance is the recent plunge by Texas, which sits four games above .500 this decade. No doubt, the Longhorns looked disinterested, and dysfunctional, last year in Lawrence.

Still, the upset should establish a baseline for KU, which went 2-10 overall.

The Jayhawks at least know they can compete against Big 12 rivals. They even came out the following week in the last game of the season and scored the final 10 points to cover the spread at Kansas State, 34-19.

Hey, little things. They turn into big things — something Beaty was mindful of Monday when he called the rebuilding task he was assigned at KU “a process, not an event.’’

A momentous event can prompt fans to tear down goal posts. A committed process can influence an athletic department to thrust $300 million into a stadium makeover. Together, such elements can revive a moribund program.

“Our championship hopes and dreams,’’ said Beaty, “are going to hinge on us continuing to understand that it will be a by-product of the work.’’

A whole lot of work, mind you, to get into championship contention.

Beaty, however, does demand that everyone be responsible for their own energy, while consistently bringing as much wattage as anyone.

While recruiting, he does not call his tactics a pitch, but rather a relationship, he said, that explores what it is to be a Jayhawk.

“That bird goes straight through your shirt and right through your heart,’’ Beaty said.

The talent level is improving at KU. So too is the attitude — something the Jayhawks could not have manufactured had they gone winless again in Big 12 play last season.

“The Texas win was motivation, proving to ourselves that we can do it,’’ linebacker Joe Dineen said.

“It was a hunch on our back the whole time. ‘You got to get a Big 12 win, get a Big 12 win,’ and it finally happened. It was great for us and there’s a buzz around KU football that I haven’t seen since I’ve been here.’’

If that translates into more victories this season, then there’s a toast to be made for Big 12 balance:

Bottom’s up!

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

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