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Kansas & The No. 2 Curse

It came after the #3 Kansas Jayhawks football team’s latest win, 45-7 over Iowa State. Good friend and fellow sports writer Brett Andersen asked me soon after about whether the BCS and AP polls would show the underrated 11-0 team some love, and give them a number 2 ranking.

My response: “For their sakes … I hope not.”

24 hours later, the latest polls had the Jayhawks as the #2 ranked team in the country. Poor Kansas.

Oregon’s first taste of No. 2 was a bitter one: a loss to unranked Arizona, coupled with an injury to QB Dennis Dixon, dashed all title hopes.

At first glance, many casual fans would think that being ranked #2 in the country was a good thing – a great thing, even. In any other year, I would say that it would be. But, this season, for the most part, a number 2 ranking equals a perilous position. After the previous #2 team in the country, the Oregon Ducks, not only lost their latest game to the unranked Arizona Wildcats, but also lost their Heisman Trophy candidate Dennis Dixon to a season-ending knee injury, it was hard not to ignore what some analysts are beginning to call a “No. 2 curse”.

Yeah, I know – there’s no such thing as curses. Try and tell that to the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs, and all the previous athletes to stamp their faces on the Madden NFL games.

But, I digress. The fact of the matter is, with exception to the LSU Tigers, who have prospered since being ranked #2 to start the season, every No. 2 team to hold the position has lost it. In a college football season full of surprising upsets, the number 2 ranking has been at its most unstable in decades.

Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard led his team to the greatest point-spread upset in sports history (41 points). It began the string of No. 2 upsets this season.

The evidence for a “No. 2 curse” began showing itself in week 5 of the college football season. When LSU leap-frogged then-No. 1 USC in Week 5, many believed the Trojans would win convincingly against the lowly Stanford Cardinal – a team most recently infamous for losing to then-Division II UC Davis in 2005. Stanford was viewed by many as a statement game: the kind of statement USC needed to make to regain the number 1 spot. The point spread reflected these circumstances: Stanford was considered a 41-point underdog. In a surprising back-and-forth game, the Cardinal prevailed on a last-minute touchdown, 24-23, finishing the greatest upset (based on point spread) in sports history.

With USC’s stunning loss, the California Golden Bears moved into the No. 2 spot for the first time in over 50 years. Undefeated at 5-0, Cal had a high-powered offense, complete with a Heisman Trophy candidate in WR/KR DeSean Jackson. Everything came to a grinding halt that same week, however, when the Bears were upset at home against the unranked Oregon State Beavers, 28-31, also on a last-minute touchdown by OSU.

The next victim of the No. 2 curse fell on an upstart South Florida team that was, at the time, 6-0, with aspirations of an undefeated Cinderella season, following in the footsteps of last year’s Boise State Broncos team. Unfortunately, for them, they ran into a hostile Rutgers crowd. Unfortunately, for them, they decided to expose all of their flaws in a night where either team seemed like they could give away the game at any time. Rutgers prevailed, 30-27, and South Florida proved their unworthiness.

Boston College replaced South Florida as the #2, and proved their worth – for a week, anyway – by defeating the No. 8 team in the country, Virginia Tech, 14-10. On the strength of Heisman candidate QB Matt Ryan, BC looked like a team who could make it to the National Championship. Considering the city of Boston’s sports success at the time – the Red Sox winning their second World Series, the Celtics anointed the favorites to win the Eastern Conference, and the Patriots rolling as undefeated juggernauts – it seemed like Karma that Ryan’s Golden Eagles were destined for a title shot. But, again, the No. 2 curse would have none of it: BC was upset by unranked Florida State the very next week, 27-17.

After a convincing 58-10 win over Louisiana Tech the next week, No. 2 ranked LSU left the spot open when they regained the #1 spot over an Ohio State team that had lost to Illinois, 28-21. That spot went to the aforementioned Oregon Ducks, playing as well as ever, with Dixon at the helm. One more loss and minus a Dixon later, the Ducks are history.

Now, the ill-fated position of #2 falls on the Kansas Jayhawks. Ignored by the BCS and the AP until now, some feel like they fell into number 2 by default. Even so, Kansas, known mostly for their basketball success, has won all of their games – most impressively, scoring 76 points in a 37-point blowout of the reeling Nebraska Cornhuskers. With their high-powered offense, led by darkhorse Heisman candidate QB Todd Reesing, the Jayhawks have scored at least 30 points in all but two of their games. With their Big 12 showdown against #4 Missouri this weekend, they have a chance to prove that their spot is no fluke. If they can win out, they will have a legitimate shot at the National championship.

If they lose … well then, they’ll just be another victim of the curse.

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