In the midst of explaining how no one in the Kansas football facility had talked about the Jayhawks’ shiny new national ranking this week, veteran linebacker Rich Miller stopped himself.
“No one has even talked about… OK. That’s a lie,” Miller began. “I talked about being ranked today. I talked about wanting to be top 10 in the country. So, that’s the only thing someone has said about it. No one has talked about us being ranked this week at all. We don’t take that into consideration when we go about our day.”
So, why, then, did Miller decide to bring it up on Wednesday?
Simple. For motivational purposes.
“I wanted to give my team a little more perspective, that we can actually be a top-10 team in the country,” he told R1S1 Sports. “I told the linebackers today and some of the other defensive players, ‘Let’s have a top-10-type practice.’”
With a Saturday showdown at No. 3 Texas looming, the 24th-ranked Jayhawks have suddenly caught the attention of the college football world.
After receiving votes in each of the two previous weeks, the Jayhawks jumped into the national polls this week at No. 24 in both the AP Top 25 and the coaches poll. Sports networks are talking about them. People in Big 12 country are calling KU-Texas the conference’s game of the week. And the battle will play out on a national stage with a 2:30 p.m. kickoff on ABC from Austin, Texas.
Bringing that kind of cachet into a matchup with a perennial power like the Longhorns definitely impacts the way the outside world views Kansas. But it hasn’t altered the Jayhawks’ approach much at all.
“I guess it’s kind of cool seeing yourself in the Top 25, especially where this program used to be,” KU tight end Jared Casey told R1S1. “But, does it change much? No. Not really. We talk about expectations. That’s a big deal for us. We expect to win games now. In the past, we were just like, ‘Can we compete?’ We know we can compete now and we know we can beat anybody.”
Added defensive lineman Austin Booker: “It means a lot; it adds to our confidence. But we can’t let that take away from our game, and we can’t let good take away from great. So, we’re just trying to keep our head down and keep pushing, keep working.”
The unbeaten Jayhawks (4-0 overall, 1-0 Big 12) enter their Week 5 clash with Texas (4-0, 1-0) as three-score underdogs, but many of them were there, two years ago in Austin, when Kansas stunned Texas on a two-point conversion from Jalon Daniels to Casey in overtime. And they’ve only become more experienced and more talented since then, so confidence is not an issue for this bunch.
If anything, they have taken on the role of a program that operates like it belongs. Whether that includes the coaches remaining consistent or the players staying hungry, you’d never know whether Kansas was or was not ranked by watching how they operate inside the walls of their own facilities.
“It definitely builds our confidence up,” linebacker Cornell Wheeler told R1S1 of being ranked. “But we just want to keep the main thing the main thing. We’re cool. We was ranked last year. We’ve been here before. And it’s time to keep doing what we have to do.”
Wheeler said being ranked this season, after waiting less than a year to crack the Top 25 again, and being ranked last season, after a wait of 674 weeks spread over 14 years, definitely had a different feel.
But only part of that comes from the excitement and euphoria of breaking through.
“I’m glad that they put us on there,” Booker said. “But, either way, we want more. We want to be higher on that list.”
Miller agreed and he appears to have made it one of his goals to make sure everyone on his team understands that.
“What are we 24,” he asked. “It’s not good enough. So, we want more. We’re not No. 1. So, it’s not good enough. We know what we’re capable of, and we just want to keep on proving it and proving that we’re one of the best teams in the country.”
There’s nothing quite like an opportunity at the No. 3 team in the country to convince everyone else of that. And these Jayhawks have that awaiting them this weekend.
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