Kansas Favored Big

With a top 10 finish and a win in a BCS bowl, Kansas was one of the biggest surprises in college football last season. Duplicating that success this year would probably be even more astonishing.

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Determined to prove last season was no accident, the 14th-ranked Jayhawks look to open 2008 in strong fashion when they host Florida International on Saturday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Kansas -36 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 57% of bets for this game have been placed on Kansas -36 (View College Football bet percentages).

Kansas was picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 North last season, but it shocked the college football world by going 12-1, beating Virginia Tech 24-21 in the Orange Bowl and earning the No. 7 ranking in the final AP poll. The sole loss came to Missouri - the only team picked to finish ahead of Kansas in the division this year.

The Jayhawks set a school record for victories and Mark Mangino was named AP Coach of the Year, but reaching a second consecutive BCS bowl will be difficult as they face a much tougher schedule.

Last year, Kansas did not face Oklahoma, Texas or Texas Tech. This season, in addition to a nonconference game at No. 19 South Florida on Sept. 9, the Jayhawks visit the fourth-ranked Sooners and host the No. 11 Longhorns and 12th-ranked Red Raiders.

"Last year is going to be hard to follow," said Kerry Meier, Kansas' wide receiver, punter and backup quarterback. "But we are up to the challenge. We can't wait to get out there and show the fans that (last year) wasn't a fluke. We're the Jayhawks and we're for real now."

Kansas boasted the second-highest scoring offense in the FBS last season (42.8 points per game), and junior quarterback Todd Reesing leads the high-powered unit again this year. Reesing threw for more touchdowns (33) and yards (3,486) than any passer in school history, and was only intercepted seven times.

"I think now we have a lot of confidence in ourselves," Reesing said. "Not that we lacked confidence before, but we really expect to be on the big stage now."

Reesing was 24-of-38 for 368 yards, one touchdown and one interception and also had a rushing TD in Kansas' 55-3 win over Florida International on Sept. 22, the teams' only previous meeting.

Jake Sharp, a backup as a sophomore last season, rushed six times for 42 yards and a touchdown against the Golden Panthers. Sharp is expected to be the Jayhawks' feature back after running for 821 yards and seven TDs in 2007.

Kansas' defense should also be strong, as it returns nine starters from a unit that allowed the fourth-fewest points in the FBS (16.4). The Jayhawks, who also tied for fourth in the nation with 23 interceptions, held FIU to 255 yards while forcing five turnovers last season.

"Our (success) didn't happen overnight," new Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen said. "We don't feel like there is any chance of a falloff because our guys didn't just luck into something.

"They worked their way into the system. They developed habits that allowed them to be successful. The one-hit wonder is a thing of the past for Kansas football."

While the Jayhawks have a tough schedule ahead, they should be able to get past the Golden Panthers. Kansas has won four straight home openers and 14 straight in Lawrence over nonconference opponents, while FIU ranked last in the FBS in scoring average (15.1) and allowed the fifth-most points (39.1) last year.

The Golden Panthers went 1-11 last season - the program's sixth year - and their 38-19 victory over North Texas in the season finale ended the nation's longest losing streak at 23 games.

While FIU was overmatched by the Jayhawks last season, second-year coach Mario Cristobal has confidence going into the rematch.

"I got to be honest, the day I ever am afraid of playing a tough game is the day I retire from football," Cristobal said. "We're not afraid of anybody. Our program is growing and we're going to be challenging teams more and more. Our goal is that one day, when people look down at their schedule and see FIU, they'll be fearing us."

The Golden Panthers are led by sophomore Wayne Younger, who threw for 1,357 yards, nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions and was second on the team with 536 yards rushing as a freshman.

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