We've taken a look at the best KU football teams in history. We've taken a look at the worst KU football teams in history. We've also taken a look at the worst non-conference opponents the Jayhawks have ever faced. But Kansas doesn't always schedule the patsies (even though, let's be honest, at this point they probably should be - but that's a different topic).
As discussed previously in this series, this coming fall will not be an easy one for David Beaty and the 'Hawks. Both FBS opponents (Memphis, Rutgers) won bowl games last year, and FCS South Dakota State advanced to the playoffs. There's no cupcakes upcoming on which to feast.
The Jayhawks have played some really good teams in the past (some in their own conference, but we'll examine best and worst conference teams in the near future as a part of this series). The Jayhawks have been up and down - mostly down - in the past. The real question is - did KU manage to win any those games against their "best" opponents? Let's examine. We'll stick to scheduled non-conference games and not consider bowl opponents for this exercise.
5. 1901 Wisconsin (9-0, 19.83 SRS)
Ok, so this is going back pretty far, but what can you do? Not much information is available from this time period. I can tell you that the Jayhawks travelled to Madison, Wisconsin, on Oct 26, 1901, and just got absolutely creamed by the Badgers, 50-0. The 1901 Jayhawks weren't very good but they weren't awful either, and obviously they could not handle Wisconsin. Yes, it was a different era of football, but the 1901 Badgers only allowed five points total across their nine-game schedule.
4. 1954 UCLA (9-0, 19.95 SRS)
1954 was a really bad year for the Jayhawks and a really good year for UCLA. The 1954 Kansas team ranked #3 on our worst seasons list, the only winless KU team in history. At the time, UCLA was a perennial power in college football; the mid-1950s saw many of UCLA's best squads according to the SRS. And as one might expect in a matchup of one of KU's worst teams against one of UCLA's best teams, the Jayhawks did not fare well in this matchup. #8 UCLA came into Lawrence and easily got past the Jayhawks, 32-7. The Bruins finished first in points scored and in points allowed during this season, allowing only 40 points during the entire season. Three teams would finish unbeaten that year: UCLA, Ohio State, and Oklahoma, with UCLA and OSU "sharing" the national title.
3. 1959 Syracuse (11-0, 23.36 SRS)
Syracuse hosted the Jayhawks early in the 1959 season. Kansas had John Hadl and Curtis McClinton in the backfield and would finish 5-5 (3-3 Big 7) as the Jayhawks were beginning their build up for their run of successes in the 1960s under Jack Mitchell. The Orange were led by sophomore Ernie Davis, who would go on to become the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy a few years later (1961). The Jayhawks would end up giving 'Cuse one of their closer games of the 1959 season before falling 35-21. Syracuse would be the highest scoring team in the country that year and would go on to win a consensus national championship.
2. 1990 Miami-FL (10-2, 23.90 SRS)
Fresh off a win over #2 Florida State, the Miami Hurricanes, led by Dennis Erickson, hosted the Jayhawks in a mid-October nonconference matchup. The '90 Jayhawks had Tony Sands and Chip Hilleary but weren't a very good club, winning only three games and tying another that season. Miami, however, started out the season as the country's preseason #1 team. The 'Canes would finish #3 in the AP Poll after blasting then-#3 Texas in the Cotton Bowl by a 46-3 count. 1990 is rated as the third-best Miami team of all team by the SRS, and the matchup with the Jayhawks went about the way you might expect: Miami 34, Kansas 0.
1. 1980 Pittsburgh (11-1, 24.46 SRS)
1980 marks not only KU's toughest-ever nonconference opponent, but also the best Pitt team of all time per the SRS. Sophomore QB Dan Marino led the Panthers into Lawrence, KS, to face an average KU team led by Frank Seurer and Kerwin Bell. (That's right, Dan Marino played right here in Lawrence, KS. Next time you're out with your kid on the football field at Memorial Stadium, be sure to say, "You know Dan Marino played here? Yup.") Anyway, it was the second game of the season for both squads, and the score of the game wasn't quite as lopsided as you might have thought. Pitt took an 18-3 victory that day on their way to finishing #2 in the AP Poll, barely missing out on a national championship.
So Kansas wasn't able to knock off any of the top-tier teams that they've played in their history, although at least they didn't get embarrassed every time (thank you, 1959 and 1980 Jayhawks, for keeping it respectable). KU also played a strong 1979 Pitt squad as well as Notre Dame four times in the 1930s when Notre Dame was, well, The Notre Dame. The closest KU got to a victory in any of these affairs was a 0-0 tie with the Fighting Irish in 1933, which was by far the weakest UND team of that decade.
Coming up, we'll take a look at the best and worst conference teams, and we'll also see if we can figure out the top upsets in KU football history. I have a guess that we'll be the ones doing most of the upsetting.