Kansas coach Terry Allen, like SMU coach Mike Cavan, is in his fourth year in charge of the program. Like Cavan, Allen doesn't have much to show for it, record-wise. Neither coach has taken his team to a bowl, but Cavan at least has a winning season: 6-5 in 1997.
|Keith Whitmire's rankings|
Allen's predecessor at Kansas, Glen Mason, had a winning season in his fourth year (6-5 in 1991) and took the Jayhawks to bowls in 1992 and 1995.
"Any time you get into the fourth year for a program, it's important," said Allen, who signed a six-year contract. "You'd like to see some strides being made."
It's imperative the Jayhawks begin making those strides, starting Saturday. Kansas is favored, but SMU will be pumped.
"It's really important for us," Allen said. "There's a lot of similarity [with SMU], because I think both of us are trying to build on what we accomplished in the second half of last season."
Kansas finished last season winning three of its last five. The two losses were by seven points to powerhouse Nebraska and an inexplicable 45-13 loss at Oklahoma State.
The SMU game represents a chance for Kansas to start on a roll and keep rolling. The next two opponents are Alabama-Birmingham and Southern Illinois. Then the Jayhawks open up a Big 12 schedule loaded with Oklahoma, Kansas State, Colorado, Nebraska and Texas.
"One of the things we really strive for is consistency," said Allen. "Anyone who's been around here would say, top-to-bottom, we have better athletes than when we got here. I think we've gotten better every year."
But those better athletes have not gotten Kansas better results. A conference title is a bit much to ask this season in a league packed with Top 25 programs. A bowl is the goal.
With the Big 12 having tie-ins to seven bowls, Kansas just needs six Division I-A wins to get to postseason. Southern Illinois is a I-AA opponent, but you can bet Kansas would ask for an exemption if the Jayhawks need a sixth win to get to a bowl.
"That's our goal," Allen said. "You have to make the small steps before you make the big steps. With the nature of this league, a bowl is the realistic goal at this time."
The first step, SMU, is a big one for Kansas because the Jayhawks did not win a road game last season. Kansas has won just one road game under Allen, a 1998 win over Alabama-Birmingham that took four overtimes.
SMU may not represent the toughest of road tests on paper, but the hoopla surrounding the stadium opening should make it a more hostile environment.
And although Kansas has been through the wars of the Big 12, playing in places such as Lincoln and Boulder and College Station, Allen says there's no chance of the Jayhawks being overconfident when they walk into Ford Stadium. Not when you've taken the lumps Kansas has in recent years.
"This provides us a setting similar to a Big 12 opponent, although the stadium size won't be the same, but the excitement and atmosphere will be the same," Allen said. "I'm sure they're going to try to make a great impression on their fan base."
Kansas can impress a few of its own fans as well. Mixed in with the red-and-blue SMU crowd will be a few red-and-blue Jayhawks supporters, many of them rooting for loved ones. There are 32 players from Texas on the Kansas roster. There are only 38 from the state of Kansas.
"It's a good fan base for us," Allen said. "I'm sure there will be several Jayhawks in the stands."
Texas is a fertile recruiting ground for Kansas, which hopes to sow the seeds of a bowl-bound season in the newly planted Ford Stadium grass.
|KEITH WHITMIRE'S BIG 12 RANKINGS|
|1.||Nebraska||0-0||San Jose State will test unproven secondary|
|2.||Texas||0-0||Since no Aloha this week, it's U-La. La. next week|
|3.||Kansas State||1-0||Looked ragged in opener; La. Tech didn't|
|4.||Oklahoma||0-0||Underrated UTEP presents Miner challenge|
|5.||Texas A&M||0-0||12th man visits Touchdown Jesus|
|6.||Colorado||0-0||No tear gas needed for Colorado State|
|7.||Texas Tech||1-0||New offense needs more work|
|8.||Iowa State||0-0||The Sage Rosenfels Heisman Watch begins|
|9.||Kansas||0-0||Jayhawks open SMU's new palace|
|10.||Oklahoma St.||0-0||at Tulsa next week|
|11.||Missouri||0-0||Has lost six of last seven|
|12.||Baylor||0-0||Beware of UNT ambush|