AUSTIN (KXAN) — When the Kansas Jayhawks show up Saturday in Austin, they’ll be a top-25 team according to voters in the Associated Press poll. Usually, those words are saved for basketball season, but not this year.
The Jayhawks football team is undefeated and features multiple weapons on both sides of the ball, and they certainly have the full attention of Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian.
“We’re playing for first place,” Sarkisian said. “Our goal is to get to Arlington in December to compete in the Big 12 championship game, and this game is going to matter a lot.”
Kansas head coach Lance Leipold has turned the Jayhawks program around from 2-10 in 2021 to a 4-0 start in 2023 via a combination of developing players in the program and utilizing the transfer portal. Quarterback Jalon Daniels ranks No. 8 in FBS with a 74.7% pass completion rate and running back Devin Neal is No. 18 with 394 rushing yards. Coupled with standout defensive players like Cobee Bryant, who was recently named the Big 12 defensive player of the week, the Jayhawks aren’t the gridiron doormat they once were.
“Kansas is 4-0 for a reason. It’s not a fluke,” Sarkisian said. “These guys are playing very good football right now.”
The Jayhawks are especially tough to stop on third down. At a 60.5% conversion rate, they are the best third-down team in the country. They’ve turned 26 third-down plays into a new set of downs in 43 tries, partially due to Daniels’ ability to run the ball both on designed plays and scrambles along with Neal’s 6.9 yards per carry average.
The last time Kansas came to DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium two years ago, it was perhaps the worst loss for the season for Texas. The Jayhawks built a 35-14 lead only to have the Longhorns fight back to tie it at 49-49 with 0:22 left. The game went to overtime and the Jayhawks won it 57-56 on a 2-point conversion. Sarkisian said that in a big-picture type of way, it actually helped the program.
“In a weird way, I’m glad it happened because it exposed some warts in our program that needed to be removed,” he said. “If we hadn’t removed those warts, we might not be where we are today. Not all storms come to cause issues in your life, some storms clear a path.”
Leipold said that game is “old news and doesn’t matter.” He acknowledged that it helped the program and the players that played in the game, but “both teams are significantly better.”
“It’s so far in the past, we have to keep moving. I hope this is the last time I have to answer that question this week. I want to focus on our team now and where we’re going because that’s what is important. Texas is excellent across the board and we’re going to have our best week of preparation.”