Commentary

It took till last game, but Kansas proved it belonged

Updated: January 4, 2008, 3:45 PM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- They heard they weren't supposed to be here, that their schedule was Cottonelle soft, and Missouri deserved it more.

For almost a month they listened to it, and on Thursday night, the Kansas Jayhawks threw it back.

With nothing more to prove on the field following his team's 24-21 win over No. 3 Virginia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl, Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing answered one question about the naysayers before he pushed past reporters to join his teammates as they hurled oranges at the lingering Kansas fans in Dolphin Stadium -- fans hungry for the national spotlight in the school's "other" revenue sport.

"They could say what they want," Reesing said, out of breath. "We just won 12 games. We're the Orange Bowl champs."

Despite a school-record 11 wins heading into the game, the Jayhawks (12-1) still had something left to prove. After all, they lost to Missouri in the regular-season finale -- a team that had an identical record before it lost to Oklahoma a second time. And who did Kansas beat to deserve a BCS bid? Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M -- not Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech.

Didn't matter.

[+] EnlargeKansas Celebration
AP Photo/J. Pat CarterKansas gets the last laugh when it comes to all the doubters.
Coach Mark Mangino, now in his sixth season, inherited a program that suffered through six straight losing seasons before he arrived. Mangino said this week that he wanted to put the program in the national spotlight. Regardless of who he beat along the way, that's where the Jayhawks ended the season last night.

"I never set these ridiculously long-term goals," said Mangino, who was 2-10 his first season and coaching in the program's first BCS bowl last night. "I hear coaches talk a lot at clinics about when they take over a program, they have a two-year plan, a five-year plan, a seven-year plan. And I listened carefully. I said, 'Boy, those guys are a little bit smarter than me because I didn't do that.'

"I took a very simple, basic approach: Let's take care of the present. Let's work hard every day. We'll be mindful of the future. Let's take each task as they come and get better all the time. If we do that, the by-product will be bowl games and championships and things of that sort."

They're places you don't get to, though, without the recruits.

Mangino has gone into Texas and Oklahoma, and into the homes of players like corner/receiver/punt returner Aqib Talib, who earned the MVP award for his contributions in all three phases of the game.

It was Kansas' effort on special teams, though, that might have been the most surprising.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who had put so much emphasis on special teams during his tenure there that it has long been deemed Beamer Ball, got beat at his own game. There was the blocked field goal. A fake punt. A missed field goal that was returned for 39 yards.

They could say what they want. We just won 12 games. We're the Orange Bowl champs.

--Kansas QB Todd Reesing

"Our special teams were overlooked," Mangino said. "From the outside, the media just didn't pick up on the type of success that we've had on special teams."

The Jayhawks were also a bit surprising on defense.

In a game that was billed as the Kansas offense, which was ranked second in the nation in scoring at 44.33 points per game, against the nation's No. 2 scoring defense at 15.5 points per game, the Jayhawks won by playing a complete game. They sacked Virginia Tech's quarterback duo of Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor five times and snagged three interceptions -- including one for a touchdown. Reesing, an undersized quarterback who would probably be a walk-on at most other high major programs, outthrew both of the Hokies' quarterbacks, as he accounted for 227 yards and one touchdown, despite being tossed around on four sacks.

"This team has fought so hard all season long," Reesing said. "And people continually told us we didn't have a chance to win, we weren't good enough for this reason or that. And we kept coming out each week and finding a way to win."

Kansas wasn't the only team with something to prove last night.

[+] EnlargeMark Mangino
AP Photo/Steve HelberMark Mangino had his fastball all season in guiding the Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl win.
For Virginia Tech, it was a chance to show that they were better than their regular-season blowout against LSU, a loss that hung with them as they jockeyed for position in the BCS standings. It was a chance to represent the Atlantic Coast Conference, which has now had its past eight champions lose their bowl game.

And while it has been well-publicized and followed them throughout the entire season, it can't go without saying that Virginia Tech was playing for an entire community shocked by the tragic deaths of 32 in their community on April 16.

Beamer apologized for not representing his league better and for not finishing what he started this season.

"The intentions were there, we just didn't get it done," he said. "... But I think there's a togetherness at Virginia Tech more so than ever. ... And I really feel like the Hokie Nation is closer together and more caring about each other than they've ever been.

"We've had some good moments this year," he said. "I'm sorry we couldn't finish it off."

For Kansas, those within the program say things have just begun.

"Nobody's going to ever doubt us again," Anthony Collins said. "12-1, the best in Kansas history, and we're going to do it again next year."

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.

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