It may be 14 years since the Kansas Football Program sent teams to bowl games, but this isn’t exactly new territory for KU coach Lance Leipold.
During his six seasons at Buffalo, Leipold led the Bulls in the last three seasons, winning in 2019 and 2020 and losing in 2018.
He also has postseason experience in Wisconsin Whitewater, where he led the team to seven Division III National Championship Games, winning six of them.
Yeah, yeah, the program-, campus-, and community-wide excitement about the Jayhawks heading into this week’s Liberty Bowl — kicking off Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. in Memphis on ESPN — is something new. A good portion of the staff was ready to guide this group through the four weeks of preparatory work, which has now been reduced to less than 72 hours.
Photo credit: AutoZone Liberty Bowl
After two weeks of recruiting coaches and development exercises for many of KU’s youngest players who didn’t get many rep’s this season, the Jayhawks (6-6) have played almost completely Arkansas this past week. concentrated in the states.
At his signing day press conference last Wednesday, Leipold said that KU split the late stages of bowl preparation “into two four-practice segments, just like they did during the season.”
“Now we’re really polishing it,” Leipold said. “We introduced Arkansas and planned a game through it.”
One of the two segments ended last Wednesday and the second started last Thursday, with travel time and the Christmas break interrupting the second session.
The Jayhawks arrived in Memphis on Sunday night, about 72 hours before kickoff Wednesday.
It wasn’t a completely new experience for everyone on the team. KU’s current roster, which was updated online to reflect the recent transfer portal departures, included 17 players who had already experienced a bowl game in one way or another in his career.
That number, which makes up 15% of the Jayhawks’ roster, doesn’t include junior college postseason experience or the experience of players like offensive lineman Dominic Puni, who has less playoff experience.
However, it included quite a few players who played a big role in bringing Kansas back to the bowl game with strong play this season. That list includes running back Kai Thomas, defensive lineman Eddie Wilson, offensive linemen Mike Nowitzki and Michael Ford Jr., linebackers Rich Miller, Craig Young and Lorenzo McCaskill, Cornerback Caron Garvin, quarterback Jason Bean and edge rusher Ronnie Phelps Jr.
In an interview with reporters shortly after the Jayhawks arrived at the team hotel on Sunday night, linebacker Rich Miller described his bowl game experience.
“When we’re on the plane, I tell everyone, ‘All practice is over. Now the fun begins,'” Miller said. “This is something we’ve been working on all season and now is the time to pay off.”
Wednesday’s game will be the first in the history of the KU program to take place on December 28th.
For a show that has only appeared in 12 bowls so far, that makes a lot of sense. But it’s still notable because in late December he stressed that KU wasn’t used to playing games.
The Jayhawks were in their first postseason game in over a decade, posting an all-time record of 594-675-58. This includes his 8-16 record under Leipoldo, who has a 154-55 record as head coach.
KU is looking to win its seventh game in a single season for the first time since 2008, when the program finished 8-5. KU is consistently 6-6 in a dozen bowl appearances, including a 0-1 record at the Liberty Bowl. The Jayhawks are 2-0 against the Arkansas Razorbacks, but the two schools haven’t met on the ballpark since 1907.
KU vs. SEC
The Jayhawks enter this game with a 63-71-10 career record against teams in the Southeastern Conference.
It’s been a while since the Jayhawks matched a strong conference program, with the exception of Missouri and Texas A&M, where the Jayhawks were in the Big 12.
The last time KU met an SEC team was in Week 2 of the 1988 season, when they traveled to Auburn and lost 56-7.
Kansas has played multiple games with four other Power 5 conference teams since meeting with Auburn.
KU also played for Auburn in the 1987 season, losing 49–0 to Auburn in the season opener that year.
Prior to that, Kansas played for the SEC School Vanderbilt in the 1984 and 1985 seasons and for the SEC Program Kentucky in the 1981 and 1982 seasons. The Jayhawks have been 2-1-1 in his four games, with him winning one in each program, and in Kentucky in 1982 he was in a 13-1 draw.
Jayhawks on exclusive list
Returning as the team’s starter after recovering from a shoulder injury that kept him out for weeks during the regular season, KU quarterback Jaron Daniels may have generated the most personal buzz of any Jayhawks this season. I can’t.
However, some of his teammates achieved what only a few have achieved throughout college football during the 2022 season.
Interestingly, Daniels’ backup Beane was one of only five QBs overall in the Power 5 to have consecutive games of 250+ passing yards and four touchdown passes this season. He joined Heisman Trophy finalist Caleb Williams while CJ Stroud won alongside Mississippi’s Will Rogers and North Carolina’s Drake May.
Junior tight end Mason Fairchild, one of Bean and Daniels’ favorite targets, has also landed in exclusive company.
Fairchild was one of five tight ends this season to have 100+ yards and 2+ touchdowns in the same game. It was the Kansas loss in Oklahoma on October 15th.