(This is Part Three of a series examining how one play in one game changed the trajectory of both programs. For Parts One and Two, click here and here.)
If you are a frequent user of the “Sam Ehlinger exclaiming Texas is back” gif in a sarcastic tone, then Nov. 13, 2021 was a big day for you.
That night, Texas lost to Kansas 57-56 in overtime. (In football for those of you who might be unsure.) While that in of itself can be considered a surprise, the Jayhawks have played Texas tough. Just two years earlier, the Longhorns needed a last second field goal to beat the Jayhawks 50-48. Both of these games were in Austin. Kansas was terrible both years. None of this makes sense, but it’s true.
To refresh your memory, Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels hit fullback Jared Casey, a walk-on who hadn’t caught a pass this season, so you know we are a fan here at the Walk-On Redshirts, on a throw for a 2-point conversion in overtime. The completion snapped the Jayhawks’ eight game losing streak and a 56-game losing streak in Big 12 road contests that stretched back to 2008.
But (say it with me) What If….
What if that pass wasn’t completed? What if Texas wins 56-55? How does that potentially alter the future for both teams? Let’s take a look and find out.
From Kansas’s perspective: On the surface, a loss to the Longhorns doesn’t change the overall view of the Jayhawk program. They go from 2-10 to 1-11, pretty standard for Kansas. But Kansas’ victory offered something much more than a victory.
As it stands, there seems to be a sense of growing optimism around the Jayhawk program, and it stems almost exclusively from the outcome of this game. However, it should be noted that the final two games of the season – the two games immediately following the upset of the Longhorns – Kansas lost both by less than a touchdown, to TCU and West Virginia, scoring 28 points in both games. So it appears they may have found something offensively to turn them from “maybe the worst Power 5 program” to “actually, Lance Leipold might be building something here”.
Taking a look at their 2022 schedule, they start the season with a game any version of Kansas football should win against Tennessee Tech. Following that, they have two road games against West Virginia and Houston and three home games against Duke, Iowa St. and TCU that will tell Kansas fans a lot more about where this program is under Leipold. While several of those games are definitely challenging, they are the type of games that need to be won if you want to work your way out of the basement of a conference. (Especially a conference that is losing two teams and gaining four, offering even more hurdles for bottom-dwellers to climb.) While beating Texas last year guarantees nothing going forward, it at least provides hope…which is something their opponent’s fanbase may or may not have.
From Texas’s perspective: Looking at Texas’s 2021 season from a macro point of view, they finished at 5-7 and missed a bowl game. But knock down a two-point conversion pass to a back-up Kansas fullback and things could look a lot different.
For one, they end the regular season 6-6 and make a bowl game. (Remember, this assumes no other outcomes change, so they still lose to West Virginia and beat Kansas St.) Going a step further, if they win that bowl, that puts them at 7-6 heading into an offseason with Quinn Ewers at quarterback (or Hudson Card I suppose), Xavier Worthy at WR and Bijan Robinson at RB. In a wide open Big XII, with all that talent, that hype train is a speeding locomotive. And don’t even get me started on the Alabama game Week 2. Do you think that game in Austin is a nooner if Texas is coming off a winning season?
But that’s not what Texas is coming off of.
Instead, Texas is a team that very few people outside of the state capitol have confidence in taking that next step. Sure, those offensive weapons are there (along with a couple others who transferred from that very same Crimson Tide team they face September 10) but it sure seems like people view them as a notch below Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. in the Big XII hierarchy.
Taking a look at their 2022 schedule, they have the much hyped game against Alabama following their season opener against UL Monroe. But after a game that even the most loyal of Longhorn fans might have to talk themselves into winning, comes a very tricky back-to-back, as they host Eternal-G5-Love-of-My-Life UTSA and travel to Lubbock to face actual Big XII Darkhorse Texas Tech. It’s not likely, but the Longhorns could head into the Red River Rivalry game with a losing record.
Something they have recently become accustomed to.
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