If this game had ended exactly like the TCU and Iowa State games, I wouldn’t have been that disappointed. I wouldn’t have been surprised, at least. My brain moved quickly to “KU is never going to score another point again” mode after the last two weeks. I’m surprised by that adaptability, I suppose, but another shutout was kind of in the cards, wasn’t it?
The stage was set for this to be a repeat of 2002. This may be (and I mean may be, because I don’t fully expect this) Bill Snyder’s last appearance as a head coach in Memorial Stadium. I fully expected Bill Synder to get one last blowout in Lawrence for an easy moral victory during what’s kind of a down year for the ol’ ‘Cats.
But they couldn’t pull that off. Somehow, the game that we got was somewhere between 2009 and 2005. This game was a slog between two bad offenses and two mediocre defenses, and the better team won out in the end because, unfortunately, in American Football, one team always has to come out victorious at the end of the day. (and, by the way, if anyone has footage of the 2005 Sunflower Showdown, I would do unspeakable things to watch it again. That and the Border War of the same season lay claim to the worst possible games ever played in football history. The 2007 season did a lot to undo the memory of the early Mangino era’s ugly but fun brand of football)
And this was what this game was. This was not a good game of football, but it was a fun game. And, for the second time this season, the Jayhawks were actually competitive. This was a seven-point game in the fourth quarter! and KU had a shot at tying it up multiple times! Even if they didn’t pull it off, the Kansas Jayhawks actually had a shot in a meaningful moment during a game in the 2017 season. After the past two games, I didn’t think that I would be saying that! I’m not happy to be surprised, but I’m still surprised!
This is evident of the change in mindset from the end of 2016 to the middle of 2017. Last year, after TCU and Iowa State, I said “I’m sick of moral victories!” Today, it is October 30th of 2017. Moral victory or not, I was happy to have at least watched a competitive game of football on Saturday. I expected not to see that at all this season.
It’s still a loss, and it’s not the sort of close game that actually instills confidence in anyone (20 points against this K-State defense is not nearly good enough).
This could be a good in-state rivalry when both teams are competitive. I don’t know firsthand what, like, Colorado and Colorado State, or Oregon and Oregon State, or Georgia and Georgia Tech have going on, but at least there’s a give and take between the two programs in those rivalries. Since my birth, Kansas and Kansas State have played only five games where the margin was 10 points or fewer. Since my birth, Kansas and Kansas State have met as ranked teams once. Since my birth, the record is 18-4 in favor of the Wildcats. There is no give and take in the Sunflower Showdown.
But on Saturday, something clicked. Neither program is in a good position – both are underperforming, neither should make a bowl game, both are probably about to hit major transitions in two or three years – and that actually put them both on pseudo-equal footing on Saturday. This was the first time in thirteen years that I got to watch an actually competitive KU/K-State matchup.
And it was fun! The two fanbases were both represented about equally, which is commendable considering the distance traveled for K-State fans and the fact that KU fans have to will themselves to watch a team that may not score at all. Outside of, like, the state fair, this is one of the only things that the state of Kansas gets to itself. Lawrence and Manhattan are far different atmospheres and certainly different fanbases, and their interaction is somewhere between subdued and hostile. On big plays, it got loud, and both bands played, and the game was close, and for a second there, Memorial Stadium felt like an actual football stadium.
I’m still pessimistic, and I’m still convinced that the Jayhawks lose out for this season. I don’t think this means anything in the grand scheme of things, either, and I expect Baylor to win by 20+. But at least there was something here on Saturday.