Bob Lutz

Jayhawks become own worst enemy

LAWRENCE — Jacob Branstetter had just kicked an improbable 57-yard field goal in the final seconds of the first half to pull Kansas to within eight points against Oklahoma on Saturday and he took off in a dead sprint toward the Jayhawks' dressing room.

I assume he was headed toward the dressing room, at least. For all I know, he might have kept running all the way to Allen Fieldhouse and dunked over Cole Aldrich.

Branstetter was jacked. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm didn't rub off on his teammates, who failed to put up a second-half fight and lost to the Sooners 35-13, muddying up a Big 12 North that is baked in dirt.

Get this: Kansas State now leads the North and dare I say rather comfortably. The Wildcats, who beat Colorado in Manhattan on Saturday, are 3-1 in the conference. Second place belongs to Iowa State, at 2-2.

Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri — the three teams most thought would be at the head of the class in the North — are a combined 2-6 in Big 12 play and have been sent to detention.

Kansas painted itself into a corner with a loss at Colorado last week and against OU, the Jayhawks painted outside the lines.

Senior quarterback Todd Reesing, KU's heart and soul, played a perplexingly bad first half for the second week in a row.

He was able to dig out against Colorado and had the Jayhawks on the verge of winning in Boulder. When Oklahoma buries you, though, they don't leave a shovel.

The Sooners have lost three games, but they still have one of the country's fastest and strongest defenses. OU forced Reesing to make quick reads and bad throws and his three first-half interceptions — especially one that was returned 85 yards for a touchdown by Dominique Franks — were back breakers.

"Those turnovers certainly set the tempo of the game,'' KU coach Mark Mangino said.

Even so, Branstetter's field goal at the end of the first half was a kick in the pants for a moribund team. It was so exciting that most of KU's students, who have been chastised for leaving at halftime of previous home games, decided to stick around.

Regretfully, I'm sure.

Because Oklahoma went 75 yards on nine plays to start the second half for a touchdown that put the Sooners on top 21-6.

The next time OU had the ball, it went 70 yards on seven plays to make it 28-6.

And that was all she wrote.

Kansas' 5-0 start is a distant memory. The idea of a Big 12 North championship is becoming illogical.

What makes more sense is the notion that KU better find some answers fast or a promising season could spiral into disaster.

When the Jayhawks lost at Colorado last week, I thought they introduced the possibility of a 6-6 season. I stand by that, considering the teams that remain on KU's schedule.

The Jayhawks play at Texas Tech next week, then go to Kansas State. Big 12-leading Kansas State. Then there's a home game against Nebraska, followed by a road trip to Texas and a meeting with Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium.

How many of those games will Kansas win?

Do I hear three? Two? One? What's one fewer than one?

Since nothing is at it seems in the Big 12 North, or in the all of college football for that matter, it's dangerous to start trying to predict.

Clearly, though, something is missing with Kansas. Just when we thought it was all about a lacking defense, the offense has cast doubts.

Reesing has played two terrible first halves the past two weeks, turning the ball over in precarious situations.

Reesing is more Brett Favre than Peyton Manning, so Mangino expects a few eyebrow-raising moments every game.

But Reesing has taken his game of chance to even higher levels recently and has mostly rolled snakeyes.

It didn't help that OU's defensive line slammed the Kansas running game, limiting it to 81 yards. Or that the Sooners' secondary was in close company of Reesing's favorite targets, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, for all but a few plays.

Where does Kansas go from here?

To Lubbock, of course. And then to Manhattan. Only one of KU's remaining five games will be played in Lawrence and a season of opportunity is in danger of becoming a season of disappointment.

But, like I said, it's dangerous to look too far ahead. In the Big 12 North, especially, it's better just to keep your eyes on the road directly ahead.

No team in the North, really, has proven much of anything. K-State gets kudos for three wins, but those three wins are against Iowa State, Texas A&M and Colorado and the Wildcats haven't won anything yet on the road.

Iowa State did win on the road Saturday, at Nebraska. The Cyclones are a few yards and a few seconds away from being unbeaten in the North.

Speaking of Nebraska . . . no, let's not.

The North is proving, once again, its insignificance. One of the six teams will win the division and play for the Big 12 championship in Dallas come December.

By obligation, if not choice.