One Shining Moment of Another Kind: Kansas, Kentucky & Reflections on A Strange Season


The 2012 national championship game pitted two universities that define Basketball School against one another in the New Orleans Superdome. Kentucky bested Kansas on Monday night to win its eighth national championship. That’s 7


* more than UK has won the gridiron (eight more than KU, for that matter).

*Editor’s Note: The half designation is based on a contentious recognition as 1950 national champion. UK bested AP champion Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but Princeton earned title recognition on the strength of a 9-0 campaign, and 11-1 Tennessee received its own championship nods in part of defeat UK.

Football success has largely eluded these two universities that so regularly stand tall on the basketball court. This past season, the two were a combined 7-17 and 2-15 in conference play. However, just four seasons ago both were near the apex of that world. Coincidentally — and fittingly — it was during the most bizarre season of recent memory.

Kansas had shown steady progression in Mark Mangino’s tenure as head coach. However, steady progression in Kansas’s football state meant improvement from dumpster fire to mediocrity. The 2005 campaign brought a bowl win, KU’s first in a decade and just third ever. Even so, competing for a Big 12 championship seemed far fetched. No one predicted the Jayhawks to finish higher than third in the Big 12…North Division. And that was a sole prognasticator, Jim Feist. Fourth was the overwhelming consensus.

Led by quarterback Todd Reesing; a deep and talented receiving corps that included Marcus Henry, Dezmond Briscoe and Dexton Fields; and running back Jake Sharp, KU began to shock pundits scoring at a clip that would impress basketball coach Bill Self. The Jayhawks averaged a ridiculous 53.5 points per game through the first month of the season, dropped 76 points on longtime tormentor Nebraska, and went into the regular season finale against rival Missouri a legitimate BCS championship contender.

The football Jayhawks’ 2007 season didn’t culminate in New Orleans like the 2011-’12 basketball Jayhawks, but Miami was a nice consolation destination. KU went into the Orange Bowl for just the third time in program history, and first since 1968. Unlike 1947 and ’68, KU left South Beach victorious with a 24-21 defeat of Virginia Tech.

Similar to KU, UK was undergoing its own renaissance of sorts in the mid-2000s. Rich Brooks took over the Wildcats in 2003, four years after their last bowl bid. In ’06, he guided them to the Music City Bowl. The 2007 season set a benchmark for future UK teams to aspire toward for years to come.

An 8-5 final record isn’t necessarily the most impressive. The Wildcats did win the kind of marquee game that is typically associated with the UK basketball program, though; a thrilling, overtime defeat of the No. 1 team in the nation.

UK rolled off 13 unanswered points in the late third and entire fourth quarters to force extra frames, then stuffed the Tigers in the third overtime to preserve the victory. LSU’s defense was typically stingy all season, but UK went for 43 points in its victory. Boasting a victory over the national champion is a season defining moment.

At what point a Basketball School becomes a Football School, or at least has a dispute for the crown is difficult to definitively gauge. Had KU beaten Missouri and won the title, the Jayhawks still would have had work to do. A team like Florida, for example, won back-to-back basketball championships but never threatened the football team’s throne.

Conversely, both UK and KU have established basketball traditions that flash-in-the-pan runs in football won’t overshadow. But in that topsy turvy 2007, Jayhawk and Wildcat football had one shining moment.