After the "glory years" of the mid-to-late 2000s, KU football has now suffered through five consecutive losing seasons. For the last four, KU has been one of the worst power conference schools in the nation. And yet, every summer, I find myself getting my hopes up that this will be the year the Jayhawks turn it around.
Each year, there always seems to be at least one big reason to get excited. In 2010, it was Turner Gill! After that dreadful season, in 2011, it was Turner Gill with a year under his belt! In 2012, we got Charlie Weis! And Dayne Crist! Last year, now Charlie has some of his own recruits in there! And yeah, Crist ended up being terrible, but Jake Heaps will be great!
Coming off a 3-9 season in which KU gave up over 31 points per game, and with potential savior Heaps having transferred to Miami after losing his starting job to Montell Cozart, this year is the first I can remember that there isn't a whole lot to point to in the way of cautious optimism. (Although I'm starting to get pumped about Cozart. I'm not on the bandwagon yet, but I'm definitely watching the line for bandwagon tickets, telling my friends, "I dunno, it seems to be moving pretty quick, maybe we should jump in there?")
The news that both Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox will miss the entire season with injuries is certainly less than promising, to say the least. And the Big 12 will be tough again, as always. But there's always room for hope. As the great Andy Dufresne taught us, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." Here are three examples of teams from the last 20 years who were faced with similar scenarios, but ended up having dream seasons:
2006 Wake Forest
The 2005 Demon Deacon squad went 4-7, surrendered almost 29 ppg, and were picked to finish last in the ACC going into the '06 campaign. Coach Jim Grobe was entering his 5th year in the program, and had failed to win more than three conference games in any of his first four years. Due to injury, the Deacs had to turn to an untested freshman quarterback, Riley Skinner, in week 2, but promptly won 8 of their next 9 contests, en route to a 10-2 season and a berth in the Orange Bowl.
2000 South Carolina
Former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz took over in 1999 to a lot of fanfare, and promptly led the Gamecocks to a winless season. (Sound kinda familiar?) Quarterback Phil Petty, having shown flashes of brilliance amongst mostly subpar play his first two seasons, put it together his junior season, and South Carolina went from 0-11 to 8-4 and a berth in the Outback Bowl.
Maybe the granddaddy of all Cinderella seasons. As head coach Gary Barnett entered his fifth season, absolutely nobody was paying attention to the Wildcats, and with good reason. They hadn't won a bowl game since 1949, won a grand total of nine conference games in the previous five years, and were nearly 30 point underdogs in their season opener against Notre Dame. They won that game, and behind running back Darnell Autry and stud middle linebacker Pat Fitzgerald (Ben Heeney alert?) successfully navigated a loaded Big 10 on their way to a 10-1 regular season before losing in the Rose Bowl.
I'll admit, this column could be classified much like a thirsty toddler who recently graduated from sippy cups; we're grasping for straws here. I'm talking about three of the biggest out-of-nowhere seasons of the last 20 years. But the overarching point remains: you just never know when a memorable season will pop up out of nowhere. The 2006 Jayhawks were not as bleak as these teams I've listed were, but did anyone see 2007 coming? You just never know. Steve Perry would be proud of me, because I'll never stop believing.
As opening day approaches, if you're having trouble drinking the late summer Kool-Aid, there are three little words to cling to, if you're so inclined: Why not us?