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The Moral Universe's Theoretically Just Construction of the Kansas Jayhawks

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Or, where KU fits into this mess, and where it doesn’t.

Once the calendar turns to November, the ‘undefeated’ label is like a VIP tag, and the Jayhawks are enjoying flashing their credentials at incredulous bouncers at the door to the top of the polls, guys used to waving the likes of Ohio State on past under the same circumstances. But Kansas? Kansas doesn’t belong here. It’s just hanging around, hanging around, being a pest, pushing for that triumphant moment it can be resisted no longer.


Listen to ‘em...you’re a star, kid! What’s the name again?
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If the pollsters at large haven’t yet reached that point, leaving KU fourth across the board, at least a few of their individual members have fully succumbed to the flop sweats of Mangino Fever. Native Kansan Dennis Dodd, for one, instructs readers everywhere to stop resisting the inevitable. Just stop it – it’s so...so...clear!:
Before the moment passes, let's get one thing straight. Kansas is No. 1.

Sure, the BCS and polls say something different, but take it from someone who has seen all the contenders. Oregon might be playing the best. LSU probably has the best athletes. Kansas deserves to be at the top.

n the craziest fall since the 2000 election season, being undefeated should speak loudest. Ask W. All these wacky upsets and KU -- that's what we call it here in Kansas -- is the only BCS conference team sporting a bagel, a doughnut.

Zero, as in number of losses.

That counts most in this season when top five mob hits have abounded. As someone who has lived 30 miles from the campus for the past 26 years, I can't believe I'm writing this, but it's true:

The stadium that once was the venue for a Huey Lewis and the News concert (what, you missed Hawkstock '83?) is the home of the No. 1 team in the country....
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Dodd’s article is actually titled "Doubting it is dumb: Kansas is clear No. 1," confidence so bold and staggeringly unironic it oozes, single-sentence paragraphs intact, into the next cubicle, taking over the keyboard of Sportsline basketball columnist Gary Parrish, who is so stoked by the Jayhawks’ improbable run he leaves his own area of expertise, bites on "Mangino for President" and lays down the challenge – who dares arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Jayhawks with their philistinism?:
There are only two undefeated teams left in Division I-A. That's not surprising, really.

But the fact that one of them is Kansas is downright shocking, and it has developed into one of college football's major storylines. Sure, the Jayhawks haven't beaten a lot of great opponents, or even one great opponent, to tell the truth. But they haven't lost to anybody either, and that's something worth celebrating, particularly in this wacky season full of upsets.

See, you can question KU's wins.

But you can't highlight any losses.
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Parrish is right on: you certainly can question Kansas’ wins. Put them next to the BCS frontrunners LSU and Oregon, for example, using Jeff Sagarin’s top 30 and strength of schedule ratings as a shorthand. See:
LSU Oregon Kansas
Oppt. Win % (SOS Rank) .588 (19) .638 (12) .449 (97)
Avg. Margin of Victory 22.6 20.8 31
vs. BCS Opponents 6-1 6-1 6-0
Avg. MOV vs. BCS 15.6 19.3 19.8
vs. Top 30 4-1 3-1 -
Avg. MOV vs. Top 25 10.4 11 -
vs. Top 10 - 1-0 -
Avg. MOV vs. Top 10 - 7 -
Loss -6 vs. JS#17 -7 vs. JS#25 -

The dilligent voter is forced to seriously challenge his assumptions here. How many quality wins does it take to offset a close loss to a decent team? How many wins over mediocrities and empty-calorie cupcakes does it take to overcome the lack of a single opponent of consequence? How much does the simple fact of being undefeated really matter in and of itself? Ask the same question with the Jayhawks’ resumé next to their nearest competiton for number three behind the Tigers and Ducks:

Kansas Oklahoma Missouri
Oppt. Win % (SOS Rank) .449 (97) .489 (82) .531 (52)
Avg. Margin of Victory 31.0 28.2 19.7
vs. BCS Opponents 6-0 6-1 7-1
Avg. MOV vs. BCS 19.8 17.3 21.1
vs. Top 30 - 2-0 1-1
Avg. MOV vs. Top 25 - 8.5 -2
vs. Top 10 - 1-0 0-1
Avg. MOV vs. Top 10 - 10 -4
Loss - -3 vs. JS#56 -10 vs. JS#4
West Virginia Ohio State Arizona State
Oppt. Win % (SOS Rank) .467 (50) .524 (55) .512 (27)
Avg. Margin of Victory 23.7 22.3 16.2
vs. BCS Opponents 5-1 7-1 7-1
Avg. MOV vs. BCS 18.3 21.4 14.1
vs. Top 30 0-1 2-1 1-1
Avg. MOV vs. Top 25 -8 11.3 -0.5
vs. Top 10 - - 0-1
Avg. MOV vs. Top 10 - - -12
Loss -8 vs. JS#15 -7 vs. JS#20 -12 vs. JS#3

How far can a team’s claim as "the best" go when said team hasn’t played anything approximating the best opponents? It should be pointed out that Kansas’ schedule is not Hawaii’s, which is unambiguously the weakest in Division I-A – unlike the Warriors, Kansas has won its way into the discussion with respectable wins over Big 12 middle-dwellers Colorado, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, all of them (with the exception of A&M) winners of at least one game of consequence their own selves. And the Jayhawks will have their day, against Missouri in two weeks, and if they pass that test, the Big 12 Championship the week after that. Once it gets that kind of value on its wall, KU has itself an argument.

But, certainty of a few proud neighbors notwithstanding, not yet. I don’t know where Kansas will fall on my BlogPoll ballot Wednesday – part of this exercise is to parse the merits of all of these teams – but it will not be one or two.