You’re following college football, which long has reserved the knack for displaying the hallucinogenic, but which has spent this September going especially, giddily misshapen. You might even reckon the transfer portal has made cohesion less attainable and outcomes more unpredictable, and not just in gorgeous Boone, NC, where Appalachian State spent Sept. 10 getting a whoa of a win at Texas A&M and Sept. 17 getting a whoa of a win over Troy on a 53-yard Hail Daniel Boone on the last play, a hail even nuttier than most hails.
No, at the top of the surrealism heap, there’s a thrilling Kansas going 3-0 with road wins at — what? — West Virginia and Houston, with the nation’s ninth-best offense in yards per play (7.55), and a charismatic quarterback with light in his eyes and 11 receivers in his latest box score.
Kansas stands 3-0. Yeah, there’s din up in Seattle — thank goodness, for the football country needs din up in Seattle — with transfer quarterback Michael Penix Jr. looking like some gobsmacking force in a 39-28 wrecking of No. 11 Michigan State, and with people barking in the stands, but Kansas stands 3-0 with wins at West Virginia and Houston.
Yeah, Notre Dame faced 0-3 but then beat California, 24-17, when a bonkers last Cal pass caromed off a falling receiver in the end zone as he tried like an REM dream to grasp it, but did you notice Kansas stands 3 -0 with wins at West Virginia and Houston?
Yeah, Missouri State went to No. 10 Arkansas, and former Fayetteville resident and scandal-maker Bobby Petrino coaches Missouri State nowadays, and Missouri State led 17-0 in the second quarter and 27-17 in the fourth, and the treasurable coach Sam Pittman of Arkansas said, “He had his kids better-prepared than I did,” and Arkansas won, 38-27, partly because Bryce Stephens wreaked a gasp of an 82-yard punt return and said, “It was a blackout moment” — but how about that Kansas?
Yeah, Southern California sits 3-0 under Lincoln Riley and looks like Southern California ought to … and Penn State sits 3-0 under James Franklin and looks like Penn State ought to after ransacking Auburn at Auburn … and Southern Illinois lost to Incarnate Word ( 64-29) and Southeast Missouri State (34-31) but then won at Northwestern … and Bowling Green lost 59-57 in seven overtimes to Eastern Kentucky but then won 34-31 in overtime over Marshall which had just beaten Notre Dame … and Kansas State had it going until 14-point underdog Tulane came to town (a 17-10 brain-teaser) … and Syracuse and Purdue played something incomprehensible to the human mind … and there’s just too much of all this … but goodness, Kansas.
Syracuse, Appalachian State get wild wins (college football winners and losers)
Since 2010, when Mark Mangino had finished a tenure at lowly Kansas that stretched reality to boast a 2008 Orange Bowl win that still might get scrubbed from records as apparent farce, Kansas had gone 23-118, five losses from being subterranean by 100. It had not won more than thrice in any season. It had labored somewhere beneath obscurity through four more coaches up to Les Miles, who left in late winter 2021 amid a scandal, and if you’re going to have a scandal, couldn’t you at least have some wins to justify it? Otherwise, Kansas had gained note only for lovely eccentricities like a student crocheting friend vacant stands during a game. Its six home attendances last season ranged from 23,117 and 30,611 (for Kansas State).
In has come to second-year head coach Lance Leipold, a name well-known to people who pay too much attention to all this lunacy. From 2007 to 2014 at Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold had gone 109-6 with six national titles, so you know fans grumbled about the two nontitle years. Leipold then went 37-33 with two bowl wins in six seasons at Buffalo, and now he’s doing things like sitting around postgame in Morgantown and saying, “I think our depth is starting to show.”
“Kansas” and “depth” in the same sentences can make the eyelids wiggle.
He said in Morgantown, “This is a group that’s been mentally bruised a lot, and they’re starting to gain some confidence and believe in one another.”
Is there any better reason to follow sports?
He said in Houston, “You can see how proud they are, saw how happy they are. We’re talking about having a chance going into these games, like saying, ‘Stop hoping to win and find a way to win.’”
In turn, West Virginia and Houston fans had a chance going into these games, like saying, “But we already had chalked up a win here before opening kickoff.”
Kansas has this offense, a football offense, which Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal World calls “imaginative, electric and a whole lot of fun.” It has trailed West Virginia and Houston both 14-0, a clever strategy to instill complacency. He has as coordinator Andy Kotelnicki, who has joined Leipold in Wisconsin, New York and Kansas by now, and whose surname has four syllables to Mike Krzyzewski’s three, all the more reason for the lingual convenience “Coach K.”
“’Coach K’ puts a big emphasis on trying to distort the defense,” quarterback Jalon Daniels said, “and I feel like those running backs that we have out there allow us to be able to distort defenses because they don’t know who’s going to have the ball at the end of the play.”
Hailing from the oft-overlooked hamlet of Lawndale, tucked in the Greater Los Angeles sprawl, and quarterbacking the oft-overlooked hamlet of Kansas football amid the national college football sprawl, Daniels now tells of “the amount of smiling and excitement that my teammates have .” He says, “I felt like we did a good job of distorting today,” and he meant the Houston defense goal could have meant the American football brains.
He even said of one play that seemed to mirror another, “It was technically the same play, but it wasn’t the same play,” and those minds added with American football could nod in understanding as he laughed at that and said, “ Like I said, Coach (K) does a lot of distortion with his offense.”
Maybe that distortion can help Memorial Stadium approach its capacity of 47,000 come Saturday. Maybe the fans will feel like it’s a heyday given they’re also reveling in the men’s basketball program as reigning national champions. Maybe they’ll even revel in how madcap a sport can be when the ball doesn’t bounce the same way every time you drop it.