Jayhawks football lacking local media respect

Media attention isn't coming easily for undefeated Kansas -- even back home.

The surging Jayhawks are one of the nation's biggest surprises with a 7-0 record heading into Saturday's game at Texas A&M (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET). But they haven't commanded universal attention despite soaring in the national polls.

Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib said he's surprised about his team's coverage in the local media, despite Kansas ranking among the elite national teams as one of the five remaining unblemished teams.

In a way, it's understandable. The Jayhawks have one of the nation's top men's basketball programs in the country for a number of years. And that squad started commanding attention two weeks ago once Midnight Madness rolled around -- despite the Jayhawks riding the crest of their best football start since 1995.

Even after a 19-14 victory at Colorado last week, the prime topics of conversation around Lawrence have been coach Bill Self's backcourt rotation and Brandon Rush's recovery from offseason knee surgery than anything on the gridiron.

"They're talking about football, but just not as much as you might expect," Talib said. "I won't say we're on the top of the world, but we're getting there. The front page here is still all basketball. We just won a big game on the road last week, but I don't know if they are believing in us yet."

That lack of local respect doesn't bother Talib, who has grown accustomed to such slights during his time at Kansas.

"My friends back home ask how things are going here," he said. "I tell them it's the same as it always is. It's kept us down to earth."

Even if some pundits haven't gravitated to the Kansas football team, it's getting harder to ignore them. They are ninth in the most recent Bowl Championship Series standings and can make their first 8-0 start since 1909 by beating the Aggies.

The Jayhawks are on top of the Big 12 North for the first time in school history this late in the season with a 3-0 start heading into Saturday's game. They already have matched their previous high for Big 12 conference victories in a single season and rank in the top 10 nationally in 10 of the 17 team statistical categories tracked by the NCAA.

"We're a firm believer that you have to earn your way," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "And we're willing to do that. I know what's best for the program and know what we've accomplished."

Some of the lack of respect might come from their soft opposing schedule, outscoring a pastry wagon of teams like Central Michigan, Southwestern Louisiana, Toledo and Florida International by a combined 214-23 margin. The Jayhawks' opponents so far this season have a collective 20-33 record, giving them a schedule strength of 117th in the most recent Sagarin ratings.

Yes, that's the same Sagarin ratings that have Kansas ranked second in the country behind LSU.

Considering the Jayhawks have made only two bowl trips in the school's Big 12 history and risen no higher than the Tangerine Bowl during that time, such an association is pretty heady company indeed.

The Jayhawks haven't played in a New Year's Day bowl since earning a share of the 1968 Big Eight title and losing to Penn State in the Orange Bowl after that season. That 9-2 team, led by Bobby Douglass, John Riggins and John Zook, remains the last Kansas squad that has won a share of any conference title.

"I guess I would have thought something like this was possible, maybe in my wildest dreams," Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing said. "But to be at the point where we're at now is kind of unbelievable. I didn't expect getting things to happen so fast."

Mangino has done a good job of cobbling together a strong program using second-tier recruits who weren't in demand as much as other players.

Talib received scholarship offers from Arizona, Tulsa, Wyoming, Kansas and Baylor when he was in high school at Berkner High School in the Dallas suburb of Richardson, Texas. His decision to attend Kansas was done for pragmatic reasons.

"Lot of big schools weren't recruiting me, so I checked out the depth chart where I could play the fastest," Talib said. "I saw what they had in Kansas and realized that after I redshirted, it would be my job."

Recruiters similarly whiffed on Reesing, who is generously listed at 5-foot-11. That lack of height made most major powers steer away from him for bigger, taller prospects.

"I remember when I was back in high school and wondering who would be recruiting me if I was 6-3," said Reesing, who was offered by a handful of schools like Purdue, Northwestern and Kansas State along with the Jayhawks. "But I'm glad things worked out for me the way they did. It couldn't have been better."

Texas coach Mack Brown, who saw Reesing playing high school at Lake Travis High School in Austin, has been impressed with his development. Reesing set a Kansas record in the Jayhawks' 19-14 victory over Colorado last week by throwing a touchdown in his seventh straight game and needs two touchdown passes to break the school's single-season record.

"Anybody who didn't recruit him, including us, made a mistake," Brown said.

The lack of respect has infused through this team. They received a rude reminder last season when they failed to make a bowl trip despite a 6-6 record. That season was marked by four losses by seven points or less, including two in overtime.

That disappointment led to a new attitude that was noticeable to Mangino during spring practice.

"There was a mental toughness developing that I thought would give them a chance to be successful," Mangino said. "Once we got into two-a-days, we didn't hold anything back. You could see them becoming confident. There's a little bit of a swagger about this program that's really developing."

And even if they aren't receiving universal respect, Reesing said such slights inspire his team.

"There are some people who might doubt us because of our schedule," Reesing said. "It gives us extra motivation that people think we're a fraud. It gives us a chip on our shoulder and we'll play hard every week. And hopefully, the wins will keep coming from that attitude."

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.