Turnaround has Jayhawks enthused about future

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- When Todd Reesing returned home to Austin, Texas, this summer he saw a lot more fans wearing his school's jerseys and colors than ever before.

Winning a national championship in men's basketball and the Orange Bowl will do that, putting a capper on one of the finest seasons in Kansas' sports history.

"It wasn't a bad year," Reesing said. "We had one of the better years in school history with what we all did. To be a part of that is always special. People are always going to remember the year we won the Orange Bowl and the national championship in the same year."

In fact, the football success was much more unexpected than Kansas' hoop title -- even considering some of Bill Self's previous early tournament woes. The Jayhawks finished with a school-record 12-1 record and claimed a victory in a bowl after Jan. 1 for the first time in school history.

Not too shabby for a team that was expected to struggle to make the middle of the Big 12 North before last season.

"It was a lot of fun to be a part of that because it doesn't happen very often," Reesing said.

But that success has boosted anticipation for the upcoming season. The Jayhawks are expected to debut in the preseason top 25 for the first time since Coach Mark Mangino arrived in 2002.

"We embrace those expectations, because when I first arrived here, there were no anticipations for Kansas football," Mangino said. "But now, people are taking a look at our program and seeing a program that can be competitive in the Big 12."

To come close to duplicating that success, the Jayhawks will have to play through a much tougher schedule than last season. Kansas beat only three Division I-A teams in the regular season last year with winning overall records -- 8-6 Central Michigan, 7-6 Oklahoma State and 7-6 Texas A&M -- before the bowl triumph.

Kansas will tackle a significantly more difficult cross-divisional schedule when Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech return to their schedule for the first time in two seasons. A tough Friday night game at expected Big East bruiser South Florida on Sept. 12 will be another challenge.

"We've always wanted to compete with the best teams in the league. And the fact that we are picking up Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech is something that we look forward to," Mangino said. "That's the test for this program. We will never truly get over the hump until we are able to defeat those teams."

Past history isn't good for the Jayhawks, who have gone 1-13 against those South powers since 2000 and never made bowl trips in consecutive seasons in school history.

"We all talk about the schedule, and yes it's tougher," Mangino said. "But let's just think if that question had been asked in 2000 and Kansas had beaten Nebraska, Texas A&M, Colorado and Virginia Tech. That tells me we're making progress if you're asking me those questions. Times have changed, haven't they?"

The Jayhawks will enter the season with their share of questions. Reesing may struggle to duplicate last season's school-record numbers of 3,486 passing yards and 33 touchdown passes playing with two new offensive tackles and a new rushing threat to replace Brandon McAnderson.

"I don't see Todd pressing," Mangino said. "For me it's an opportunity for him to stand up and display leadership. The offense will count on him. I don't see him trying too hard because of that."

And the Kansas defense, which ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense and 12th overall, will be playing under new coordinator Clint Bowen after veteran Bill Young left for Miami.

His program's recent success has helped Mangino, who picked up a contract extension last week worth $2.3 million per year through 2012. It makes him the league's highest-paid coach other than Texas' Mack Brown and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops.

Such security was only a pipe dream before last season when Mangino was thought to be on the hot seat by many observers. The Jayhawks had posted a 25-35 record with one winning season in his first six seasons guiding the program.

The magical 2007 season changed all that. Kansas set an attendance record for the third-straight season and should be headed that way again. The program has moved into a palatial new 80,000-square foot $31 million football complex where players joke about the size of Mangino's new plasma-screen television set in his office.

"We're a better program than we were six or seven or eight years ago, there's no question about that." Mangino said. "If you aim low, you usually make it. But if you aim high you've got a chance. That's what we're trying to reach for."