In an era where powerhouse programs dominate college football more and more, the Kansas Jayhawks have become the best story in the sport this season. After years of misery, the Jayhawks have come out of nowhere to start the season 5-0 after winning five games in the previous three seasons combined. After a 14-11 win against Iowa State on Saturday, Kansas football now shockingly sits atop the Big 12 standings.
With Kansas’ strong start, fans and media across the country are taking notice. the Jayhawks narrowly missed out on the AP poll last week, and with several ranked teams losing on Saturday, the Jayhawks will be ranked for the first time since 2009 when the new poll comes out on Sunday. College Gameday will also be making it’s first ever trip to Lawrence next Saturday when Kansas hosts TCU in a clash of Big 12 unbeatens.
👀 👀 👀 GET READY, LAWRENCE!!
We're coming to KU for the first time EVER 😤
A battle of the unbeatens: @TCUFootball vs. @KU_Football pic.twitter.com/62koUvUnO3
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) October 2, 2022
Their remarkable turnaround has captured the hearts of college football fans, but Kansas football is more than just a feel-good story. In fact, the Jayhawks have a legitimate case to be the best team in the Big 12. Here are just a few reasons why.
3. Jalon Daniels
Through the first month of the season, Daniels has been among the most exciting players in the country. Kansas’ quarterback has emerged as a true star and has smashed his career highs in yards and touchdowns. Through five games, Daniels has 983 yards and 11 touchdowns passing, along with 329 yards and five scores rushing.
Daniels has even emerged as a potential Heisman Trophy contender to some. Granted, those talks cooled off a bit after a subpar performance against Iowa State, in which he had just 102 total yards. Still though, his play has been extremely impressive and he’s the clear face of the Jayhawks right now.
Kansas should clearly ranked and their QB, Jalon Daniels, a Heisman favorite. https://t.co/tKFnn5l5LB
— Emmanuel Acho (@EmmanuelAcho) October 2, 2022
As long as Daniels keeps playing at an elite level, Kansas football will be a tough team to stop. He might just be the best quarterback in the Big 12 right now.
2. Lance Leipold
In just his second year, Leipold is working wonders at Kansas. The Jayhawks look completely revitalized in 2022 after more than a decade of losing seasons. The team is playing with a fire not seen in years past, and Leipold is the biggest reason why.
“It says a lot about what we are,” Leipold said in a press conference after Saturday’s win over Iowa State. “Last year, I don’t know if we could’ve kept having that many things not go right, with a penalty or reversal on a call or a flag being picked up. I don’t know if we could’ve rebounded from that and respond the way we did.”
"It was a program that didn't have an identity and that's what Lance and his staff has provided from the second they showed up."
Tom Rinaldi breaks down how @KU_Football's Lance Leipold transformed the Jayhawks' into a winning program ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Q9PJIR0c4N
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 1, 2022
The fanbase has responded to the turnaround as well. After having just one sellout between 2010 and 2021, the Jayhawks have two in three home games this season.
Leipold is a very accomplished coach, but most college football fans may not know that. At Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold won the Division III national championship in six of his eight seasons, and he finished his tenure with a record of 109-6. He then spent six seasons at Buffalo, guiding the Bulls to three bowl games when they played in just two prior to his arrival.
Kansas football fans hoped Leipold could turn the program around, but no one expected such a dramatic turn so quickly. For his first Power 5 coaching gig, Leipold has crushed it so far. If he keeps growing as a coach, the sky is the limit for the Jayhawks.
1. The Jayhawks have heart
Every team needs to have the ability to win close games in all kinds of situations. Powering through adversity to win close, hard-fought games is the hallmark of a good squad, and Kansas has shown just that this season.
Look no further than Kansas’ conference opener against West Virginia on Sept. 10. As 14-point underdogs, The Jayhawks trailed the Mountaineers 28-14 in the second quarter. Rather than accepting their fate, the Jayhawks fought back for a statement win in overtime.
Alternatively, look at Saturday’s win over Iowa State. The Jayhawks struggled to move the ball all day, with just 213 yards of total offense, and the Cyclones had numerous chances to take the lead. However, thanks to some missed field goals by Iowa State, Kansas football held on for a hard-fought win.
“We found a way today,” Leipold said. “It wasn’t stellar or glitzy or glamorous, but you can have games like this. We get caught up sometimes in those things because you really start looking at the defensive performance, and we should be really excited.”
Kansas may not be the flashiest team in the world, but they know how to win when the going gets tough. The Jayhawks are one of three unbeatens left in the Big 12, and if they keep this up, they may be the conference champions once December rolls around.