The football season simply hasn't worked out the way it was supposed to for the Kansas Jayhawks.
This was supposed to be the year the Kansas football program finally got over the hump and played in its first Big 12 Conference championship game. In fact, "History Awaits" was the Jayhawks' theme heading into fall camp last August, but with just three games remaining on the schedule, KU's 2009 season has proven to be anything but historical.
Entering Saturday's Senior Day match-up with Nebraska, the Jayhawks find themselves tied with for last place in the Big 12 North Division with arch rival Missouri. Both teams are 1-4 in conference play. The Jayhawks are 5-4 overall and in jeopardy of spending the holiday season at home. They need a win over Nebraska, Texas or Missouri in the final weeks of the season to become bowl eligible.
"It's tough. It's really tough when you come into the season with goals and you've set a lot of goals and worked your butt off all off-season," KU senior linebacker Angus Quigley said earlier this week. "These past few weeks that we've lost, we've had some of the best practices since I've been here. People are working hard start to finish. We just haven't been able to figure out why it's not transitioning onto the field. It's tough because nobody wants to go out their senior year on a losing streak."
The Jayhawks began the season as expected - winning their first five games. However, a loss at Colorado in the second game of the Big 12 schedule sent the Jayhawks into a tailspin that they've yet to recover from. They've suffered through four straight losses.
The Jayhawks' woes have been compounded by a variety of issues - defensive breakdowns, injuries and inconsistency from usually reliable senior quarterback Todd Reesing - to name just a few.
The season, to this point, has been a disappointment for the Jayhawks and their fans, but KU head coach Mark Mangino said his team isn't feeling sorry for itself and isn't ready to throw in the towel.
"You have to understand coaches and players and the world that they live in. Every day is a challenge," Mangino said. "Every day you want to get better and when you lose you want to learn from those experiences. We're not going to get down from losing games. We're going to find a way to get better, that's the way we do it here. We keep looking for solutions."
Mangino emphasized that neither he nor members of his coaching staff are about to press the panic button.
"I'm not naive; I've been down this road before. It's not unchartered waters for me," he said. "Through the years when we've had a tough spell, we've stayed the steady course. We didn't panic, we don't blame players, we don't blame anybody, and it's our own fault that we didn't win. We keep our same routine, we keep encouraging the players and we keep coaching them. I think that's the best way. When you take drastic measures during a tough time, the kids wonder if the coach is panicking or if they don't have confidence that they can pull out of it (losing streak). We've always stayed the steady course because deep down inside, we believe we can pull out of it."
A victory over Nebraska on Saturday wouldn't be enough to salvage all the goals the Jayhawks set for themselves back in August, but it would be a step in the right direction. And despite their recent losing skid, KU players still believe they can right the ship.
"Sometimes in football, you go through slumps," junior cornerback Chris Harris said. "I went through it personally. We can all overcome it. Everyone just has to have faith in each other."