College football has had few truly surprising national champions. Teams with no expectations or pedigree rarely rise up to win the whole thing.
Then along comes Kansas, with a chance to become - maybe - the most unlikely national champion ever.
Yes, ever.
Only six times since The Associated Press started preseason rankings in 1950 has it awarded its national championship trophy to a team that entered the season unranked. The pieces are in place for it to happen again with Oregon, Missouri and Kansas all in the running for a spot in the national title game after beginning the season unranked.
While the Ducks and Tigers have had exceeded modest expectations, neither was as far off the college football radar to start this season as the Jayhawks.
Missouri, coming off an 8-5 season, was the preseason favorite in the Big 12 North and first among the other teams receiving votes in the preseason Top 25.
Oregon, 7-6 last season, was picked sixth in the Pac-10, but the Ducks have been one of best teams in West for more than a decade, having missed the postseason only twice since playing in the 1995 Rose Bowl. They even received 73 points in the preseason media poll.
The Jayhawks? They were 6-6 last season and picked fourth in the Big 12 North this year. They've played in a bowl game once in the last 10 years - the 2003 Tangerine Bowl - and only nine times in the 117-year history of the program.
Oregon and Missouri might not be the first two schools you think of the subject is college football powers, but compared to Kansas the Ducks and Tigers look like the Trojans and Sooners.
LSU was the first team to pull the unranked to national champion trick in 1958, when Billy Cannon's team went undefeated. It was a team that had some similarities to Kansas.
``The Birmingham News had a preseason poll that came out in May and said LSU would finish eighth in a 12-team (Southeastern Conference),'' said Bud Johnson, a former LSU sports information director and the director of the Andonie Museum on the LSU campus, in a recent telephone interview.
The Tigers went 5-5 in 1957.
``Nobody really was expecting much,'' said Johnson, whose book ``The Perfect Season LSU's Magic Year - 1958,'' chronicles the Tigers' first national championship.
Those Tigers were 22 years removed from their last conference championship.
The Jayhawks' fifth and last conference title was 39 years ago, when they won the Big 8 and played Penn State in the 1969 Orange Bowl.
Two years after LSU's unexpected title run, Minnesota did the same.
The Golden Gophers were coming off three straight losing seasons, but earlier they had been a dynasty, dominating the Big Ten and winning three AP national title from 1936-41. For the Gophers, 1960 was a return to glory.
Kansas has never been able to make that claim.
Southern California's 1962 championship was a similar return to prominence. The Trojans became the third team to go from unranked to national champion in a span of five seasons.
After going 8-11-1 in coach John McKay's first two seasons, USC went undefeated and started another long run of success for the Trojans, who were one of the nation's best teams during 1920s and '30s.
Nearly two decades passed before Clemson became the fourth team to win a national championship despite starting the season unranked.
The Tigers had a long history as the best football program in the Atlantic Coast Conference. From 1940-69, coach Frank Howard won eight conference titles, but in 1980, just two years removed from an ACC title and 11-1 finish, Clemson slipped to 6-5.
Coached by Danny Ford and led by quarterback Homer Jordan, the Tigers went 12-0 and beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the 1981 national championship.
In 1983, Miami wasn't all that far removed from nearly dropping football. Coach Howard Schnellenberger took over the program in '79 and over the next four seasons, with Jim Kelly playing quarterback, Miami became a budding powerhouse.
``We had the best kept secret in the country,'' said former Miami linebacker and current radio analyst Don Bailey Jr., who played on Schnelleberger's first four teams.
Heading into the '83 season, poll voters had yet to buy into Miami. Coming off a 7-4 season and with Kelly gone, the Hurricanes started the season unranked and lost their opener to Florida.
Not until Miami upset a powerful Nebraska team with Mike Rozier and Turner Gill, 31-30, in the Orange Bowl did the country realize the Hurricanes were to be taken very seriously.
As good as Kansas has been this season, it's doubtful a college football dynasty is sprouting in Lawrence.
The year after Miami's title, BYU became the last team to go from unranked in the preseason to national champion.
Coach LaVell Edwards' Cougars finished the season ranked five times between 1977-83, including No. 7 in '83, and became known as Quarterback U. But Steve Young's departure after that season had many skeptical about the Cougars' ability to maintain success.
Robbie Bosco stepped in for Young and in a strange season, BYU finished as the only unbeaten team in major college football after beating a so-so Michigan 24-17 in the Holiday Bowl. Simply by surviving, BYU won its only national championship.
Kansas won't get off so easy. The Jayhawks will have to beat Missouri, Oklahoma and maybe LSU in New Orleans to win a national title.
If they do, the Jayhawks' championship will truly be one of a kind.

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