Fork in the Road: Why Kansas and Missouri football have traveled distinctly different roads since 2008

On August 21, 1863, confederate and Missouri men under the direction of William Quantrill attacked the pro-union town of Lawrence, Kan. in a move that would change the course of sporting history.

It was a one-sided battle, small in the grand scope of the raging civil war. However, it pushed the two opposing states into a Border War.

No one knew at the time the tension that would remain 150 years later. Fortunately, it has taken a much different form. Missouri and Kansas – the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi River.

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Here we are in 2013. And within the last two years, the first separation of one of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports. It took until the year 2012, and Missouri’s move to the Southeastern Conference finally split the two.

But for the last five years, the football programs of Kansas and Missouri have already been on their own distinct paths.

In 2008, the Jayhawks won its last game against the Tigers – Mizzou would win the final three matchups. Each team played and won in a bowl game that year. And from that point forward the incredibly drastic split begins.

“Missouri would have some ups and downs,” said Blair Kerkhoff, who covers college sports for the Kansas City Star. “Now they’re almost off the charts good. And Kansas is a straight line down.”

After finishing 8-5 with a bowl victory in 2008, the Jayhawks won their first five games in 2009 against inferior opponents. After beating Iowa State on Oct. 10 of that year, it took Kansas until Nov. 16 of 2013 to beat a current Big 12 team. After the first five games in 2009, the Jayhawks have a combined record of 9-46 and have yet to post more than three wins in a season.

On the flip side, Missouri has found a mixed bag of success that does include four 8-win seasons and the current 11-2 SEC East division championship team. In the past five years, Mizzou has a record of 41-24, a stark contrast from its rival.

Two important factors have proven to be the catalysts in the detached realities of the two programs.

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Gary Pinkel has been the coach for Missouri’s since 2001, a long-standing mark of consistency and stability. The Jayhawks have had three different coaches in the last five years alone, a point that the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger is quick to note.

“Mike Alden (Missouri athletic director) has had the occasional ‘opportunity’ to fire Pinkel,” Mellinger said. “They’ve always stuck with him. Alden made it clear that loyalty was important when he hired Pinkel.”

It is a far cry from the coaching carousel that has been the Kansas football program. Mark Mangino headed the team from 2002-2009, but was fired after a 5-7 finish and reported off-the-field problems.

“It’s the hiring of Turner Gill,” Mellinger said. “There is so much stupidity in that move, from running Mangino out, to paying Gill $2 million a year.

“KU football can be good, but there isn’t a lot of margin for error. Perkins’ decision to hire Gill was a horrendous error.”

When opportunity knocked to fire Mangino, KU Athletic Director Lew Perkins answered. Mike Alden remained loyal to Gary Pinkel throughout his failures. Perkins saw an additional reason to get rid of his coach after a below average season on the field. And he took the bait.

“Do you really think Mark Mangino would have ‘resigned’ if the Jayhawks were 9-3?” said Mick Shaffer of Kansas City’s Time Warner Sports. “The character issues would have been overlooked or dealt with without a coaching replacement. After all, Gary Pinkel has a DUI.”

Alden had the chance to jump ship on Pinkel. He did not, and his loyalty and the program’s stability because of it have paid dividends. Kansas’ decisions on coaches reflect the exact opposite approach, and provide equally opposite results.

“You can win at KU. You just can’t do it making desperate decisions,” Mellinger said.

***

The other critical factor is the advantage in recruiting Missouri has maintained over Kansas. The Show-Me state with its two major cities (STL, KC) generates more far talent than Kansas and doesn’t have to share it between multiple division 1 programs.

Kansas must recruit against an established program for its talent. Mizzou, effectively, has shut down the borders and keeps many of the in-state top prospects.

Mizzou’s move to the SEC in 2012 also an important recruiting aspect.

“It adds street cred,” Shaffer said. High school players want to play in the best conference, with the best teams, so they can get the most exposure. The SEC offers more than the Big 12 can, hands down.

“Missouri’s rise is a combination of a renewed energy surrounding the SEC move,” Mellinger said. “Pinkel and the coaching staff’s ability to find two- or three-star recruits who turn into stars like Michael Sam, and a generally higher level of recruiting.”

As football evolves into a high-flying, throwing game, the importance of recruiting the quarterback position increases.

At the most even point, the Tigers’ Chase Daniels and the Jayhawks’ Todd Reesing slung the ball around to provide the most exciting head-to-head matchups between the two teams. Since then, similar to the path traveled by both teams, Mizzou has had success and Kansas has not.

“One of Kansas’ biggest reasons for failure during this time is not finding a quarterback to replace Todd Reesing,” Shaffer said.

Kansas can look to Texas, where both Reesing and Daniels are from. But any recruits must go through the filter of Texas schools and the buffer that is Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

The Jayhawks essentially only have rights to the hand-me-downs.

***

As Kansas and Missouri continue to distance each other, the same question is always brought up. When will their paths meet again?

In football terms, the answer is fairly clear.

“I don’t think it makes sense for KU to play MU in football right now,” Shaffer said.

The roads traveled for each program are currently veering too far in opposite directions for a game in football. Non-conference games are too valuable and a bowl game seems less likely than getting struck by lightning, twice.

The hardwood would be the nearest hope for the first interaction since the divorce.

Even if it doesn’t happen voluntarily in basketball,” Mellinger said. “The NCAA Tournament seeding committee is far too ornery not to ignore the possibility of MU and KU on the same side of the bracket.”

For now, there must be content with the split. Even for those who provided some of the greatest moments in the Border War’s history.

“It’d be great to find a way to renew the rivalry,” said former KU quarterback Todd Reesing. “But you know that’s easier said than done.”

NEWKUMU
(Graphic by Jackson Long)

The Kansas City Star’s Blair Kerkhoff on the paths traveled by Kansas and Missouri, and the future of each of their football programs.

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Todd Reesing: Taking care of business

Todd the Businessman is sitting in Austin-Bergstrom International Airport waiting for his noon-flight to take off. First, he’s heading to Des Moines, then a connecting flight to St. Louis for his work. Todd the Businessman is an associate for the Austin-based financial group Dimensional Fund Advisors. The date is December 10, 2013.

Five years and 11 days earlier, Todd taking care of a different type of business and taking a different type of flight.

He was Todd the quarterback. Todd the Savior. Todd Reesing.

In the midst of a shootout with fellow Texas gunslinger Chase Daniels, Reesing and the Jayhawks trailed the Missouri Tigers 33-37 facing a 4th and 7 at the Mizzou 26 with just 33 seconds left.

The rest is ingrained in Kansas football history.

It is Reesing’s favorite play during his time playing quarterback for the University of Kansas. His redshirt was pulled nine games into the 2006 season in a comeback victory against Colorado. He never gave up the reins from that moment on.

But to Reesing, that play would stick with him forever.

Records still stand today from Reesing’s lengthy career under center for KU. He finished the following season and graduated with his business degree. Jayhawk fans went on to view a continuingly poor stretch of football. Reesing turned into Todd the Businessman.

It is a role that he says he is very comfortable in. He is back in his hometown of Austin, where he attended high school at Lake Travis. He resides in the state that is the most captivated by football at every possible level. And of course, he works for David Booth – a Lawrence, Kan. native and KU donor who contributed $9 million to build the Booth Family Hall of Athletics attached to historic Allen Fieldhouse.

Literally and figuratively, Reesing has returned to a place not far from home. He’s surrounded by things that are familiar to his stint of stardom at Kansas. He takes great pride and humility in his time on the field – thankful for the opportunity given to a quarterback who can’t measure up to six feet.

But for now he’s Todd the Businessman. And while the love and appreciation for football is there, today it can take a backseat.

For now, Todd Reesing just wants to take care of business.

That “mean Chiefs D” and how it really did make Peyton Manning look at least sort of human

It’s Monday morning after the Chiefs vs. Broncos game – the NFL game of year thus far. As usual with my morning routine, I scroll through a timeline full of tweets, many relating to last night’s 27-17 win by the Broncos.

I was fortunate to see one of my buddies, a Broncos fan, make a fabulously bold claim. And I took the bait.

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It usually takes about 15 minutes for me to sloth out of bed each morning. But after seeing this, it was a must to rush to my laptop, crunch the numbers and prove him wrong.

The initial look at Manning’s numbers is impressive. He played a mistake free game while still amassing over 300 yards through the air. And Denver thoroughly won the two most important in-game matchups.

An injury riddled offensive line was supposed be fresh meat for the Chiefs’ NFL leading pass rush. The hobbling Manning was never knocked down, let alone even sacked. Perhaps the Chiefs’ greatest perceived advantage entering the game proved to be just the opposite.

The other matchup featured the physical defensive backs of Kansas City against a Denver receiving group prone to struggle against that type of play. Marcus Cooper looked like the rookie he is against Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, giving up combinations of penalties and big plays.

Couple those with a turnover in the scoring zone and not scoring a touchdown with three tries from the 2-yard-line, and that’s no formula for beating the Broncos.

But if you really do “crunch the numbers,” that mean Chiefs D my friend satirically mentioned was still actually much closer to living up to its billing. Because you can’t own Peyton Manning, but you change him.

Peyton Manning’s numbers against the Chiefs

  • 24-40
  • 323 yards passing
  • 60% completion percentage
  • 1 touchdown
  • 0 interceptions
  • ESPN QBR rating of 66.5

Manning’s 66.5 QBR for the game puts him just above the season averages of Andrew Luck, Mathew Stafford, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan – good but hardly elite quarterbacks in the game. The number falls far short of Manning’s NFL leading 82.2 QBR average, and would move him from a distant 1st to crowded 6th on that list.

So essentially, that mean Chiefs D transformed the world’s best quarterback from elite to above average.

The 60 percent completion percentage Manning posted was his second lowest in his 10 games this year. His only lower percentage (59.2) came in Denver’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Sunday’s percentage was 9.9 percent lower than Manning’s season average and would rank him 20th (!!!) in the NFL if that were his season average. That percentage would trail the less-than-impressive names of Chad Henne, Sam Bradford and Jake Locker.

So essentially, that mean Chiefs D made a future Hall-of-Famer look like a Jaguars quarterback.

Also, Denver wasn’t shy about throwing the football Sunday. Manning dropped back to throw 40 times on the night, just one attempt under his season average. He trails only Mathew Stafford and Andy Dalton in this category. So if the argument is that the sample size was skewed against this mean Chiefs D, it’s actually a perfect match.

Kansas City did not sellout to stop Denver’s passing attack either. The Broncos ran the ball 36 times for 104 yards. The result was an average of less than three yards-per-carry and no rush longer than 11 yards.

Give credit where credit is due, of course. Manning is a stud, and the definite reason the Broncos can beat the Chiefs, and anybody, on any Sunday. He didn’t make a costly mistake and never took a sack. But he’s not the kryptonite to the Chiefs’ super defense. His numbers were good, not great. It’s proof he breathes oxygen and needs water like the rest of us humans. Manning is no Superman, merely a beatable Batman with lots of toys.

Neither team has time to look ahead to The Rematch on Dec. 1 in Arrowhead. The Broncos travel to New England for another Sunday night showdown and the Chiefs host a capable San Diego team. Adjustments will be made between the two teams. In two weeks, America will get to watch it all again – likely with the division, home-field advantage and legitimate playoff aspirations on the line.

But before everyone crowns Denver champions of AFC, that mean Chiefs D will have another chance to settle the score with Peyton Manning. And this time with the loudest open-air stadium in the world on its side.

 

Via the Kansas City Star: Andy Reid’s postgame comments from the Broncos game.