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October 24, 2007

Kansas continues surprising season

Kansas football coach Mark Mangino continues to preach and lecture just as he has done almost every day for 5 years. But his message like the Jayhawks' results has changed dramatically.

Stuart Smalley-type affirmations ("You're good enough and, doggone it, people like you") have given way to Donald Trump-like instructions on how to handle success. That's what happens when a perennially mediocre program suddenly soars to No. 12 in the national rankings and No. 9 in the BCS standings.

"I always communicate with my team on a daily basis, whether in meetings or in practice, to deal with the issues at hand," Mangino said. "Some years it's been about tough losses and how to handle that. Now, it's about how to handle success.

"You have to be able to handle success and adversity because both could create serious problems. You have to stay focused on the task at hand. You need to be able to handle success just as you handle adversity."

Looks like the Jayhawks are getting the message. Kansas is 7-0 for the first time since 1995 and alone in first place in the Big 12 North.

That's a dramatic reversal of fortune for a program that had managed as many as seven victories in a season just three times in the previous 25 years.

Skeptics might dismiss the success as the byproduct of an advantageous schedule that included non-conference opponents that are a combined 9-21 and doesn't include Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech from the Big 12 South.

But Kansas has two validation victories. Three weeks ago, the Jayhawks defeated Kansas State. Last week, they prevailed 19-14 at Colorado, where Oklahoma lost on Sept. 29.

Colorado, which rallied in the fourth quarter in its victory over OU, had a chance to post another come-from-behind victory after taking possession on its 42 with just over two minutes remaining. But Kansas sophomore defensive end Jeff Wheeler sacked Colorado's Cody Hawkins for an 8-yard loss on first down and the Buffaloes eventually turned the ball over on downs.

That victory ensured Kansas would remain the only unbeaten team in the Big 12. But staying unbeaten should be much more difficult with a remaining schedule that includes roads trips to Texas A&M (6-2) and Oklahoma State (5-3) and the regular-season finale in Kansas City against Missouri (6-1) that might decide the Big 12 North title.

Just putting Kansas, which hasn't won a conference championship since 1968, in the discussion for the Big 12 North crown is a surprise in itself. The Jayhawks were picked fourth in the division in the preseason.

But Aqib Talib, already one of the nation's best cornerbacks, has also emerged as an offensive threat with four touchdown catches. Tailbacks Jake Sharp and Brandon McAnderson have rushed for more than 500 yards each. And quarterback Todd Reesing, a 5-foot-10 sophomore whom Mangino calls "Sparky," is having a tremendous season with 1,805 yards passing and 17 touchdowns.

"We have a group of kids here that are pretty confident," Mangino said. "They have a good mental edge to the game. I've told our kids all the time we have to be in great physical condition and be strong and fast, but that every Division I team in America has a weight room. What separates you is mental preparation and mental edge."

Obviously, the Jayhawks are listening to the message their coach is delivering.

Trivia question

The last time Kansas started 7-0 was 1995. What team beat the Jayhawks in the eighth game of the season? (Answer at the end of the column.)

Big season, big helmet

The oversized helmet is just one reason Arizona State senior linebacker Robert James stands out this season. He's distinguished himself by performance, too.

James had managed just 40 career tackles in three previous seasons, but this year he leads the undefeated Sun Devils with 66 tackles, including eight for losses. He also has three interceptions.

"I feel like I'm having my best year," James said. "I'm being disciplined with my reads. I'm not trying to do more than I can. If I'm supposed to be in the "B" gap, that's where I'm going to be."

Mainly, James is just glad to be back on the field. And free of pain.

Last season was cut short when he began suffering from excruciating migraine headaches. Migraines are caused by changes in the brain and surrounding blood vessels. They typically last from four to 72 hours and can lead to trips to the hospital.

James believed the contact in football caused a mild concussion last year, and when he tried to play through that pain, it led to the migraines.

"My head was hurting during drills," James said. "Then we played Washington and I banged heads with a fullback. Then I got to the point where the pain was almost unbearable, and I was out for the rest of the season."

James compared the pain to hitting a finger with a hammer. Pain killers provided little, if any, relief. A ray of light hurt like a punch, and noise was like kick in the head.

"Once I got the point where I couldn't take it anymore, I would stay home, lay down and stay still," James said. "I had pillows over my head and had the lights out, but nothing seemed to work."

Eventually, the pain subsided and this year he returned to football with a bigger helmet, which has more protective padding. He hasn't experienced any migraines this year. Instead, he's just experiencing the best year of his career.

Three in a row

Temple is only 3-5, but the Owls are riding a rare three-game winning streak.

Before posting consecutive wins over Northern Illinois, Akron and Miami University, the Owls had not managed a three-game winning streak since prevailing in the final three games of 1990.

In fact, Temple - in its second year under coach Al Golden - has won at least three games just four times in the past 15 years and never won more than four games in that span.

The Owls next play Ohio U. on Nov. 2, when they will be seeking their first four-game winning streak since 1985. They will have to do it without starting quarterback Adam DiMichele, who suffered a broken leg against Miami.

Quick hitters

  • Wisconsin will retire the No. 33 worn by 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne in a ceremony on Nov. 10. Dayne is the career leading rusher in Division I-A.

  • The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is donating $10 million to help finance building of Minnesota's $228 million football stadium. It's the largest single gift to Minnesota athletics.

  • Northwestern, which has won its past three games, is hoping for a perfect record in October when the Wildcats face Purdue this weekend. The last time Northwestern was perfect in October was in 1996, when they won a share of the Big Ten title.

  • The latest in a trend of guarantees comes from Clemson, where tailback James Davis promised the Tigers would beat Maryland this week. Davis said: "I don't see us losing this game. We're going to win this game." Pressed further, he used the G-word. Earlier this year, Michigan's Mike Hart successfully guaranteed a victory over Notre Dame, while Texas A&M's Jorvorskie Lane was wrong on his guarantee of a win over Texas Tech.

  • Upset over a lack of production in the running game, Texas coach Mack Brown indicated the Longhorns would divide carries more evenly among tailbacks Jamaal Charles, Vondrell McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya. Charles is Texas' leading rusher with 772 yards, but Charles had eight carries of 1 yard or less in last week's win over Baylor.

  • North Carolina reportedly has suspended tackle Andre Barbour and cornerback Jermaine Strong for violating team rules.

  • USC coach Pete Carroll hasn't decided whether sophomore Mark Sanchez or senior John David Booty will start at quarterback against Oregon this weekend. Sanchez threw four touchdown passes in last week's win over Notre Dame, but Booty, previously the starter, said his broken middle finger is no longer numb. Also, Carroll said he's uncertain if All-American tackle Sam Baker is able to play because of an injured hamstring.

  • Five suspended Alabama players have been allowed to practice with the team. Antoine Caldwell, Marlon Davis, Glen Coffee, Marquis Johnson and Chris Rogers were suspended because of improprieties with their textbook accounts.

  • Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves, who returned to action last week after sitting out two games with dislocated toes, tied an Auburn career record by posting his 26th sack. He'll be looking to set the record Saturday against Ole Miss.

  • LSU All-American defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, who sprained his right knee when chop-blocked in last week's win over Auburn, is expected to be ready to play when the Tigers play at Alabama on Nov. 3.

  • Michigan could be without quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart in Saturday's game against Minnesota. Henne has an undisclosed injury to his right arm, and Hart has a high ankle sprain. Coach Lloyd Carr said both players were day-to-day.

    Trivia answer

    Kansas State defeated Kansas 41-7. Kansas later lost to Nebraska 41-3 and finished 10-2 that season.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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