Kansas season review

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

On the heels of last season's Orange Bowl appearance, there was curiosity how much a tougher schedule of South Division opponents would affect Kansas.

After losses to Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech by a combined 143-59 margin, it would appear that the tougher schedule had an effect on the 7-5 Jayhawks' season.

That tougher schedule killed their hopes of winning the North Division after a 5-1 start. The Jayhawks fell out of title contention after losing to Nebraska.

The loss of veteran defensive coordinator Bill Young proved critical. New coordinator Clint Bowen's group struggled against better opponents, ranking 87th in scoring defense, 94th in total defense and 113th in pass defense.

Todd Reesing led a potent offense that kept the Jayhawks competitive in most games and sparked a wild comeback victory over Missouri to finish the regular season.

It enabled the Jayhawks to earn a berth in the Insight Bowl against Minnesota. That might not seem like much in the grand scheme of football, but it did enable the Jayhawks to make history.

Coach Mark Mangino's team became the first in Kansas' 119-season football history to make back-to-back bowl appearances. And considering the tougher schedule, that achievement assuredly is an accomplishment.

Offensive player of the year: QB Todd Reesing. Sometimes overshadowed by the other quarterbacks in the league, Reesing broke his own school records for completions (302), attempts (406) and passing yards (3,575) as he threw 28 touchdown passes. He capped his season with a gutsy four-TD effort against Missouri which should resonate through the offseason.

Defensive player of the year: LB James Holt. The most consistent player on an inconsistent defense, Holt was involved in every facet of Kansas' defense. Holt shared the Big 12 lead with 15.5 tackles for loss and six fumbles forced. He was the Jayhawks' best blitzer with seven sacks and led the team with 97 tackles.

Turning point: The Jayhawks rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit to beat Iowa State after Mangino inserted Jake Sharp in the lineup after he had seldom played in the season's first four games. Sharp emerged as a consistent rusher, finishing as the Big 12's third-leading rusher in conference games with 710 yards over the final eight games.

What's next: A victory over slumping Minnesota in the bowl game would help build confidence heading into the offseason. And with the return of key players like Reesing, Sharp, Dexton Fields and Kerry Meier, a run at the Big 12 North title wouldn't be out of the question next season -- even with a tough slate of Big 12 South opponents again next season.