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A look at what's at stake as Kansas prepares to host No. 6 Oklahoma

Saturday's homecoming showdown with OU is much more than just the next game on the Jayhawks' schedule

4 min read
The Kansas Jayhawks and head coach Lance Leipold take the field before the 2023 season opener against Missouri State at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium on Sept. 1, 2023. [Chance Parker photo]

College football can be a funny thing, with teams showing serious mood swings, improvements and steps back from week to week year after year.

Look no further than UCF as this year’s prime example of that.

After coming to Lawrence and getting thoroughly dominated by the Jayhawks a couple of weeks ago, UCF was left for dead and appeared to be more than a little overmatched as a newbie in the Big 12 Conference.

But just two weeks later, following their bye week after that beatdown at the hands of Kansas and a 1-point, fall-from-way-in-front loss to Baylor in the two previous weeks, the Knights found themselves competing with the Big 12’s lone remaining unbeaten in a dog fight in Norman, Oklahoma.

After being tied with the Sooners at halftime and fighting to stay in it in the fourth quarter, with a late touchdown that pulled UCF within two points, the Knights needed just one more play to potentially force overtime with the nation’s No. 6-ranked team.

The 2-point try fell short and OU went on to win, but the final score of that one, not to mention how competitive it was throughout, no doubt raised some eyebrows in Lawrence, Kansas, as the Jayhawks prepare to welcome OU to town this weekend for a homecoming clash with the Sooners.

There were plenty of people who believed that Kansas, at home, could compete with the Sooners before that UCF game last weekend. Now, many of those people and even some who questioned it before that, are starting to wonder if this is a game Kansas can win.

The Jayhawks have been great at home during the past couple of seasons, winning four of six games at home in 2022 and all four it has played at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium so far this season, making Leipold’s program 8-2 at the Booth during the past two seasons.

Moving that mark to 9-2 with a win over Sooners would be major news and go down as, arguably, the best win of Leipold’s coaching career to date.

That, and more — much, much more — will be on the line this weekend when the Jayhawks and Sooners square off after the KU bye week.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest things at stake:

• A win by Kansas would be huge in the Big 12 title race. And not just for the Jayhawks. Not only would a victory this weekend keep alive KU’s hopes of earning one of the two spots at the Big 12 title game in Arlington, Texas later this season, it also would open things up for at least six teams to continue fighting for both spots. Depending on what happens in the rest of the conference this weekend, a KU win would mean that as many as five teams would move forward to one loss. In addition, four others — including Kansas — could be sitting on just two conference losses. That would set up a pretty stellar final four or five games on the conference slate involving more than half of the conference.

• See ya, Sooners. For two programs that have been conference foes dating all the way back to the Big Six Conference days of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, a KU win in its last meeting with OU for the foreseeable future — if not forever — would be a pretty wild sendoff for the SEC-bound Sooners. OU opened as a 10-point favorite over the Jayhawks, so it would be a pretty significant upset if it goes down. But when you add a few key factors to the fact that this is the final meeting between KU and OU, it’s not hard to see the Jayhawks being as up for this game as any game they’ve had in a while. It’s homecoming. They had the bye week to get right and get healthy and put that loss at Oklahoma State behind them. FOX’s pregame showcase, Big Noon Kickoff, will be in town and they’ll be playing in front of a potentially packed house in their old favorite kickoff slot of 11 a.m. that has been known to lull KU opponents to sleep in the past.

• In addition to those two elements being on the line, the Jayhawks also will be looking for their sixth win, which will ensure bowl eligibility for a second consecutive season. That’s a big deal in the history of KU football and it hasn’t happened since the Jayhawks went to bowl games at the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons. These Jayhawks missed out on their first shot at picking up win No. 6, when they lost 39-32 at Oklahoma State on Oct. 14. And it took them four tries to get their sixth win a season ago. I doubt anyone’s interested in waiting that long this year.

• Finally, this week figures to deliver another chapter — good or bad is yet to be determined — in the story that is the status of starting quarterback Jalon Daniels. After missing the season opener and then starting the next three KU victories, Daniels now has missed the last three KU games with what Leipold has continued to call back tightness. As was the case when his streak of missed games started, the morning of KU’s loss at Texas, it’s hard to imagine the KU junior missing out on an opportunity to face a top-10 program in terms of what that can do both for the KU team and his own individual legacy. But until we hear more about his health and get an update on his status, we have to wonder if this will be the week that Daniels gets back out there or if the wait will continue.

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