LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -Kansas embraced the role of underdog through years of losing and low expectations, an us-against-the-world bond becoming a common front against all doubters.
Now that the Jayhawks are winning, no longer the laughingstocks of the Big 12, they still enjoy the part, relishing the chance to prove everyone wrong.
Another opportunity comes on Saturday.
An underdog for the first time this season, 16th-ranked Kansas is expected to put up a good fight against No. 4 Oklahoma, not expected to win - and loving every second of it.
``We have everybody right where we want them - this is the position we like coming from,'' Kansas coach Mark Mangino said Tuesday. ``When it's coming up on the home stretch, we'd rather be coming around that bend three or four paces behind the pack and then we'll go from there. We always are best when we're coming from the rear.''
Kansas has certainly been in the back a lot.
igher than fourth. Even when it started winning last year, Kansas proudly wore the underdog tag, earning begrudging respect on the way to a 12-1 season and a Big 12 North title.
Now after six games as favorites to open the season, the Jayhawks (5-1, 2-0) are 19 1/2-point underdogs to Oklahoma (5-1, 1-1) and could be picked to lose three more times this season.
Not that anyone in Lawrence is complaining.
``We thrive on that, we like being the underdog,'' Kansas cornerback Chris Harris said. ``That's just the way it's going to be here at Kansas. Basically, just because of the name on our jersey, that's it.''
Playing up the underdog role can be effective, a way to turn negative energy toward a common goal. But even George Costanza got tired of being a schlemiel, at least once in a while.
The next step for Kansas is to shake off that lovable loser tag, reach a point where big wins - and winning seasons - are expected, not considered aberrations. Last season was a good start, putting in place a foundation of respect that had been missing for a long time.
The key now is to keep it going.
ill think that I failed.''
A brutal final stretch to this season won't make it easy.
It starts this weekend in Norman. Kansas hasn't won there since 1996 and the Sooners figure to be angry after losing to rival Texas last week.
The Jayhawks next face No. 7 Texas Tech, which has its highest ranking since 1976, then have a rivalry game against Kansas State. After a road game against Nebraska, Kansas will face top-ranked Texas on Nov. 15, then ends the regular season in the Border Rivalry against No. 11 Missouri.
``Every team we play is going to be good,'' Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing said. ``We approach every game with the mind-set we're going to win. If you don't have that attitude, you shouldn't be playing. We're going to go out there and play the best we can. We have all the confidence in ourselves and that's all we need.''
Spoken like a true underdog.

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