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'Worst Game Ever' Part II: Why You Should Watch the Lowly Battle of Kansas-Rutgers

Sports Illustrated logo Sports Illustrated 9/12/2018 Laken Litman
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After Kansas lost its season opener in overtime to Nicholls State, new athletic director Jeff Long put out a statement in support of the football program. A vote of confidence for a program was something out of the ordinary.

“We all expected a different outcome Saturday, but I continue to support our student-athletes and coaches and ask all Jayhawks to do the same,” Long said at the time. “Our evaluation of the program is ongoing without a predetermined timeline.”

Kansas has long lived up to its reputation as one of the most miserable programs in college football history. The Jayhawks have only had four winning seasons since it starting competing in the Big 12 in 1996.

What’s more, on Saturday they’re playing the second game of a home-and-home series against its Big Ten counterpart: Rutgers. The first matchup in 2015 was a 27–14 victory for the Scarlet Knights. It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to watch by any means. Kansas gave up 312 rushing yards on 58 attempts and finished that season winless. Rutgers didn’t do much better, finishing with a 4–8 record and going 1–7 in the Big Ten.

ESPN called that game three years ago “the worst game ever,” and nominated the teams for “Power 5 Dumpster Fire Team of the Year.” Not enough has changed since then. Kansas is lead by coach David Beaty, who is currently 4–34 in the past four years with one conference win—over a Charlie Strong-coached Texas. KU made a little history last weekend with a victory over Central Michigan, getting its first road win since 2009. But after the embarrassing and inexcusable loss to Nicholls State, which dropped the Jayhawks to 2–2 against FCS opponents, Kansas University law school professor Corey Rayburn Yung suggested in a series of tweets that the school drop the football program entirely.

In 2015, Rutgers was the one with a little more drama. Former coach Kyle Flood was serving a three-game suspension for illegally contacting a professor, five players had been arrested and dismissed from the team after being charged with violent crimes and a star receiver was suspended indefinitely for allegedly slamming a woman’s face into the ground. For Kansas, it was Beaty’s first season after Charlie Weis was fired and it didn’t win a single game.

Since Mark Mangino was fired at Kansas following a 5–7 season in 2009, KU has cycled through three head coaches (Turner Gill, Weis and Beaty) and hasn’t finished better than 3–9. The Jayhawks have seen some good times, including the 2007 season when quarterback Todd Reesing led the team to a 12–1 season, an Orange Bowl victory over Virginia Tech and a No. 2 ranking in the AP poll. Back in 1995, quarterback Mark Williams took KU to a 10–2 record and an Aloha Bowl win over UCLA under coach Glen Mason. Those were just two of three 10-win seasons the program has ever had, the other coming in 1905.

Rutgers has yet to earn a 10-win season since becoming a member of the Big Ten in 2014, and only has two in program history. Its last impressive season was when Ray Rice was on the roster and Greg Schiano was in the middle of his decade-long tenure in 2006. The Scarlet Knights have only had 12 winning seasons since 1991, the year they joined the Big East.

If both teams are looking for some kind of measuring stick for cellar dwellers, maybe this is it. Kansas only has conference games left on the schedule, while Rutgers plays Buffalo next week and then fully turns its attention to league play. The Scarlet Knights got Ohio State out of the way last week, suffering a 52–3 loss, and have to play Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State in consecutive weeks in November. Challenging league matchups are more spread out for the Jayhawks, but they somehow play Oklahoma and Texas to finish out the final two weeks.

Maybe this is another “worst game ever” situation. Or maybe it’s low-key the best game of the week. Regardless, maybe you’ll tune in out of curiosity.

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