On November 19, 2016, something remarkable happened.
Surely you remember where you were when Kansas beat Texas in football. For Kansas fans, it’s just one of those things.
It was a big deal! We here at RCT were excited! I mean, we were REALLY excited! This was TEXAS. Mighty Texas. After all the “Dollar Signs,” after all of the bullying, lowly Kansas had knocked off mighty Texas. Just a week after falling a touchdown shy of David Beaty’s first Big 12 win against Iowa State, Kansas had finally done it.
The Jayhawks would go out the following week and “only” lose to K-State by 15 points.
Extend the coach! Give him a raise! Same for the AD!
Except now we are three games into the 2017 season and it’s clear, progress is not being made. The Jayhawks have had back-to-back outings against MAC teams that honestly weren’t very competitive. Neither of those MAC teams will be playing in BCS Bowl Games anytime soon, either, and one may even struggle to just make any bowl game (Central Michigan).
It is my contention that the result against Texas was no more than a fluke. So let’s examine that Texas game and see if it was, indeed, the monumental upset that the administration, coaches, and most Kansas fans want to believe it was.
How big of an upset was it, really?
Kansas hadn’t beat Texas since 1938, they say. That’s fairly misleading, since the two schools have only met 16 times in their history, and 14 of those meetings occurred after Texas joined the Big 12 in 1996.
Texas was a 24 point favorite over Kansas with the Jayhawks at +1175 on the Moneyline. Crunching some numbers gives us a 92.16% chance of a Texas victory just based on the betting odds. Kansas trailed by 11 points with 13:34 left in the game. And with just 2:36 remaining in the game, ESPN’s win probably chart showed Texas at 96% after KU failed to convert a fourth-and-six from its own 38-yard line.
These numbers are already screaming “Fluke” at me, but let’s continue to investigate.
Turnovers, especially fumble recoveries, are completely random and mostly luck. In 2016, Kansas recovered 44.4% of available fumbles. Against Texas they recovered 4/5 (three by Texas, two by Kansas), which is 80% - nearly double their season average and 30% higher than what should be expected.
According to the numbers, a good amount of interception percentage is luck as well, although coaching and other factors can increase interception rates. KU picked off Texas three times, meaning the Jayhawks turned Texas over six times. The game ended with KU at +4 in the turnover department. Additionally, Texas turned it over on downs once and converted just 3/17 third downs. That’s a recipe for an upset.
Texas rushed for over 250 yards and finished with over 400 yards of total offense. Meanwhile, Carter Stanley struggled most of the game, leading the Jayhawks to just 332 yards of total offense, 2.9 yards per carry, and 5.2 yards per pass attempt.
So far, all signs point to a fluke game and the all of the stats bear that out.
Let’s go farther down the rabbit hole.
Do you remember what happened on the play immediately before Matthew Wyman’s game-tying field goal? Texas picked off Carter Stanley for what looked like a game-ending interception. But somehow, amazingly, luckily (for Kansas), it was called incomplete on the field, and after review the play was not overturned. I’m still not sure how that happened.
And speaking of Matthew Wyman, a 60.4% career field goal kicker went 3-for-3 on some of the most pressure packed kicks of his entire career. (I’ll also note he was just a career 91.9% kicker on PATs, which is not so great.)
Seems pretty fluky, doesn’t it?
College football and upsets just go hand-in-hand. Sometimes a team scores 35 points in the fourth quarter to complete an improbable comeback. Sometimes, Stanford beats USC. Appalachian State beats Michigan. Marshall beats Kansas State. Hell, Kansas even beat Troy Aikman back in the day.
In 2016, South Alabama beat Mississippi State as a 28-point underdog. Likewise, Kentucky beat Louisville despite a similar point spread.
Even bigger upsets have happened recently. It’s not infrequent. James Madison (+33.5) beat Virginia Tech in 2010. Georgia Southern (+28.5) beat Florida in 2013. Texas Tech (+29) beat Oklahoma in 2011. UL-Monroe (+30) beat Arkansas in 2012. And those are just some of the more recent bigger upsets that I could think of. Stanford-USC, a 40-point spread, was just 10 years ago. I’m sure you could find even more examples with a Google search.
Were all of these upsets hailed as turning points in their respective programs? Is South Alabama joining the SEC anytime soon?
But back to the task at hand.
In 2016, Kansas beating Texas would have been akin to Kansas beating Air Force, TCU, Baylor, Troy, Northwestern, or Colorado State, all of whom had similar statistical profiles to the Longhorns when all was said and done. (The Jayhawks lost to TCU by a single point, but lost to Baylor by 42.) If KU had beaten Troy instead of Texas in November of last year, is Beaty getting an extension? Is the administration touting progress on the field?
I think not.
In fact, out of all of the major upsets of which Kansas has taken part, the Texas game isn’t even in the top five. If we go by the numbers I looked at a couple of years ago, it would slot in at #8.
And if we look back at those biggest upsets in Kansas football history, did any of them lead to a turnaround for the football program? I suppose you could make a case for the 2003 win over Missouri, but that game ranks #10 on that list (or #11 if you add in Texas).
There’s only one conclusion.
The win over Texas, as awesome and as fun as that was (and still is), was a fluke - an outlier.
Texas entered the game at 5-5. Coach Charlie Strong was already a dead man walking. He had already lost a team that had nothing to play for. It was obvious nobody on that sideline wanted to be in Lawrence, KS, on that chilly November evening.
As one of our astute commenters noted, did Kansas beat Texas? They sure did. But in so doing, it appears the Jayhawks may have also beat themselves. If KU doesn’t beat Texas, Zenger has no grounds to extend Beaty, and it would be much easier to cut them both loose this year.
As it is, we are likely stuck with both of them throughout the rest of this year, a year that looks like another 1-11 or 2-10 campaign at best. And yes, Kansas might win another game this year. The numbers tell us that even as a 20+ point underdog, there’s still a 5-10% chance that could happen. So even a second win in 2017 doesn’t prove progress.
David Beaty is just 3-24 (11.11%) three weeks into his third year at Kansas. As Wikipedia notes, he is 0-3 vs the MAC (thanks, Missouri and/or K-State fans). He has just one win against an FBS team (1-22, 4.34%). So what’s the fluke, one win against Texas, or not being competitive against teams from the MAC?
Oh, and regarding this year’s MAC opponents - according to their statistical profiles through three games this year, they aren’t very good. In fact, they have a similar statistical profile as, you guessed it, the 2016 Kansas Jayhawks.
So the 2017 Jayhawks are losing by double figures to teams that are statistically similar to the 2016 Jayhawks.
That’s what we call “regression.”
It’s the opposite of progress.
We’re almost halfway through Beaty’s original five-year contract (which, of course, was extended following the 2016 season). By this point, there should be more evidence of progress on the field other than three close games to close the 2016 season, one of which turned into a fluke victory. But Kansas has struggled in every game so far this year (yes, even vs SEMO), and by every measure has suffered two rather embarrassing defeats in the last two weeks.
Progress would be not having MAC offenses dominate your defense, a defense that has four players that would start on most Big 12 teams (Lee, Armstrong, Wise, Dineen). Progress would be winning home games against teams of that stature. Progress would be beating SEMO in the first half instead of the third quarter. Progress would be not being double-digit underdogs on the road to MAC teams. Progress would be having a realistic shot at being consistently competitive in Big 12 play, not just a close game here and a close game there.
But there has been progress on the recruiting front, right? Yeah, about that. Beaty was brought in because of his Texas ties and ability to recruit Texas. So far for the class of 2018, KU has one recruit out of Texas.
Having a handful of good players is not new to Kansas. But of the Louisiana recruits who made a splash by committing to KU back in February, many have decommitted and his biggest gets are still just hopes for the future. There's just no solid evidence that recruiting has picked up.
If a coach has “it,” you should be able to see progress by year two and for sure by year three. Where is the progress?
The current state of the program is obviously not entirely Beaty’s fault. Kansas has lost 42 consecutive road games, a streak that goes back to 2009, and will soon set a new college football record for consecutive road losses. Football coaches hired by athletic director Sheahon Zenger have a record of 10-53, the worst record of any FBS program over that time period. Somehow, the guy who brought you, “I set out to find the best, and I found Charlie Weis,” still has a job.
And Kansas football fans deserve better than that.