LAWRENCE — The Kansas Jayhawks will be the same football team on Saturday in Ames, Iowa. They will have the same players with the same defects wearing the same numbers, and the same coaches will be motivating them and calling many of the same plays.
Only one thing will be tangibly different when KU faces Iowa State, and that's the month showing on the calendar: November.
The symbolic jump forward from a dreadful October in which the Jayhawks went 0-5 and lost by an average of 32.8 points was enough for Kansas football coach Turner Gill to enter the last month of the season — and possibly his KU tenure — with restored hope.
This week, he will ask his players to join him one more time in believing in things not yet seen.
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"Basically, he wants us to forget about all the games we've played up until this point and just start over from scratch," KU senior cornerback Isiah Barfield said. "The season starts 0-0, and everybody look at it that way, instead of looking at it like we're coming in on a losing streak. Come in with the passion we had at the beginning of the season and just win the month of November."
The idea sounds impossible, asking a group of 18- to 22-year olds who have sacrificed plenty to flip a switch in their brains and erase their memories. To forget blowing a 20-0 lead to Texas Tech at Memorial Stadium. Forget falling behind Oklahoma State 56-7 at the half. Forget mustering six yards of offense in the second half against Oklahoma. Forget being humiliated by Kansas State for a second straight season in Lawrence. Forget the shutout at Texas.
"I think you can move on," KU senior center Jeremiah Hatch said. "Not forget about, but move on. Teams tend to catch a lot of people's eyes in November. Those guys who are doing bad earlier in previous months seems to win a lot of games in November. Those are teams that bounce back and stay together and work hard."
Hatch and his teammates were repeating that idea, fed to them by Gill and the staff earlier this week. Asked if the coaches gave any specific examples of such spontaneous November turnarounds, KU junior linebacker Tunde Bakare said the coaches were speaking generally.
Gill said Tuesday that he is "determined to really change what we have done so far this football season," and he knows that effort has to start by making sure his team has a reason to keep pushing against all odds.
"You have to come up with some new things that give them hope," Gill said. "In most cases if you can finish strong in the month of November, then you are going to be showing to yourself and the fans that you are moving forward. It is how you finish. People can have a tendency to forget about what happened in the middle of the season."
KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long presented one example that is happening right now down the road in Kansas City. The Chiefs looked down for the count at 0-3 and are now 4-3 and first in the AFC West.
"It's a mental frame of mind," Long said. "I was listening to the Chiefs pregame yesterday (on ESPN), and they asked Trent Dilfer, 'Why do you think that's happening?' He said, 'Well, it's not the Xs and Os, they just got together and improved their mentality. They had this climb-the-mountain-together attitude.' I thought that was a good thing to share with our team."
The first 20 games of Gill's KU career haven't beaten him down, but it's easy to sense a growing sense of urgency inside the program. It just might be November or never.
"As long as you have games to play, you have an opportunity to improve," Gill said. "It only takes one play, one game, one quarter, to put together something really special. That's what I see. That's what I believe can happen at the University of Kansas."