LAWRENCE — Charlie Weis told a short story this week, one that left his quarterback smiling and his senior center shaking his head in sheer befuddlement.
During one of his football stops, Weis was part of a coaching staff that was preparing its team to face an opponent that must have toed the line between patsy and scrub. The staff wanted to make it clear to the players that they couldn’t overlook the looming creampuff. But you know how players are.
So the team showed up one day to find mousetraps scattered around the locker room: Hey fellas, it’s a trap!
“Seriously, we’ve done everything,” Weis said. “You try all sorts of things that are symbolic.”
This is apparently an old story, because KU quarterback Dayne Crist — who spent two seasons under Weis at Notre Dame in 2008-09 — says he doesn’t remember seeing any little wooden booby traps during his time in South Bend. But for Weis, the topic of motivation became relevant this week as the Jayhawks prepare for their Big 12 opener against TCU.
The Jayhawks are 1-1, coming off a confidence-shattering meltdown against Rice, and are 5-27 in their last 32 games, dating back four seasons (and three coaches) to the sixth game of the 2009 season.
KU does not need mousetraps or any other props to know what’s ahead, but Weis is still searching, mining for any sort of psychological advantage that could surface as the Jayhawks enter the Big 12 schedule.
Last December, Weis took over a Kansas program with few natural advantages. But there is one area in which Weis believes the Jayhawks have an edge. It starts with this: How many opponents in the Big 12 will be motivated to play Kansas?
“Zero,” Weis said on Tuesday.
On Saturday at Memorial Stadium, the Jayhawks will be a three-touchdown underdog to TCU, a program making its Big 12 debut after moving to the league from the Mountain West. The next week, KU will likely be a road underdog at Northern Illinois in its final non-conference game. And then comes the teeth of the Big 12 calendar — a road game at rival Kansas State followed by games against Oklahoma State, at Oklahoma and at home against Texas.
If you’re scanning the remaining schedule for victories, well …
But if this is a discouraging reality, Weis is attempting to flip and spin it into a positive. What school is going to waltz into Memorial Stadium believing it’s going to be thoroughly tested?
“Let’s be practical,” Weis said. “Let’s just sit there and reflect there for a second. So we just lost at home to Rice, right? I got that right, right? Blew the game in the fourth quarter, up by two scores? ...
“No matter how many times those (TCU) coaches sit there and tell them how good Kansas is, the bottom line is we got by South Dakota State and we just lost to Rice.”
The real question is whether the Jayhawks’ underdog persona will make much of a difference on the field. KU, of course, was expected to do little during the final 10 games last season — and the team met expectations by losing 10 straight games.
That won’t stop Weis from continually reminding his players that maybe they “should just go to brunch on Saturday morning instead.” And it won’t stop KU players from using the “overlooked” card for the rest of the season.
“It’s gonna be something that drives us in our games this year,” senior center Trevor Marrongelli said.
“It’s like, ‘What do we got to lose?’” said senior receiver Daymond Patterson. “Nobody thinks we’re gonna win.”
Weis has a familiar saying: The tape don’t lie. And right now, the tape is telling TCU that it’s facing a Big 12 minnow in its conference opener. On the other hand, Weis has spent this week showing his team the game film from TCU’s 56-0 victory over Grambling State last week — a rout in which the Horned Frogs quarterbacks were both perfect and their defense allowed just 70 total yards.
“I just watched them play 49 snaps of defense; play the same front and coverage 46 times; give up about two yards in a game,” Weis said. “I saw the quarterbacks throw the ball 17 times and complete 17 passes. That’s what I’m looking at.
“So it really isn’t very difficult for our guys to recognize what they have to go (against). So that’s part of the psyche of the game.”