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Orange Redux: Welcome to the Party

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Two teams:

Team A Team B
Record 11-2 12-1
vs. >.500 4-1 4-1
Opps. Win % .479 .488
Best Win +20 vs. JS#11 +3 vs. JS#5
Worst Loss -1 vs. JS#76 -8 vs. JS#9
Avg. MOV + 15.4 + 28.3
Avg. MOV vs. BCS + 14.2 + 16.9

Thursday’s win is the biggest in Kansas football history and immediately changes the equation of the Jayhawks’ season from one of a schedule-fueled feel-good story to one of undeniable, deserved respect. In November, when some pundits were pushing undefeated KU to the top of the polls solely on the merits of its being undefeated, I pushed back in a couple posts because Kansas then was clearly only the king of the mediocre:

Kansas has conclusively demonstrated, at best, it’s capable of beating a 5-5 team with a 3-3 record in the Big 12, which also lost to Troy, and that it can beat similarly bleh outfits on a consistent basis. We know nothing at all about the Jayhawks against actually good teams.
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...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.

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Kansas did not get that value on its wall against the Tigers, and was unimpressive enough in that failure to be completely shut out of the mythical championship campaigning on behalf of a half dozen teams with more losses, one of them ("Team A" above) having suffered one of said losses to Stanford. Kansas was just sufficiently good enough to get its shot in the Orange Bowl, but not once – unlike Ohio State, LSU, USC or Oklahoma – demonstrably great against anyone that counted much.

Say this for Sean Glennon: he’s not afraid of facing long odds.
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Not that KU was especially great Thursday, at least on offense, where it had been more impressive in its biggest games in the regular season (such as they were). The ‘Hawk offense only generated one score of its own. Virginia Tech made a mistake to let a true freshman scrambler test Kansas’ one truly outstanding, next-level athlete, who easily jumped the quick out route without so much as a single step of a backpedal in respect for the Hokies’ ability to throw deep. Generally more composed Sean Glennon, in an evening of stupefying regression after so much improvement at the end of the regular season, lobbed up two bad interceptions into double coverage, which along with Talib’s early touchdown return accounted for 17 of Kansas’ 24 points. After Tech lined up and ran straight at the Jayhawks on each of the last 12 plays of a 13-play, 67-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter – it had been operating without starting tailback Branden Ore in the first – the Hokies continued to try to establish balance despite the ongoing success of the running game (6.5 per carry by Ore and Tyrod Taylor prior to VT’s final desperation drive) and the clear, consistent failure when it tried to pass (Glennon completed just three passes in a dozen dropbacks between the Hokies’ first touchdown and their late drive for a second against a soft Kansas zone, the only first down throw in that span coming when two KU defenders somehow let their simultaneous zeal for an easy pick popped up into double coverage guide the ball into Greg Boone’s hands, and Glennon was later intercepted and sacked on consecutive attempts in the fourth quarter). Kansas never stopped the Hokies’ power running game, but because Tech was trying to pass itself out of the hole it had passed itself into, the KU defense was never forced to stop it.

But Kansas was ready with the pressure on Glennon and Taylor that it had not demonstrated against Missouri and opportunistically indulged in its fruits, and so, as Talib helpfully noted after the game, no, they (we) can’t say Kansas hasn’t beaten anyone anymore. Not when it finally has.

I’ll be running the numbers more thoroughly, but I can say pretty confidently I will not be backing Kansas for the super mythical BlogPoll championship on my ballot next week, precisely because it didn’t pass enough top tests over the entire season compared to the LSU-Ohio State winner or Georgia or, after the Cotton Bowl and the head-to-head result in November, Missouri. The theme of KU’s BCS run, though, was one of belonging, and – as hopefully demonstrated above, by putting its resumé ("Team B") against that of USC, the beneficiary of a quiet but mainstream campaign to hijack the final AP poll – the Jayhawks belong in the discussion. That wasn’t the case before, and may not be again. But we can’t deny them that inclusion now.