There’s an aura of seriousness that surrounds the Kansas football team.
The Jayhawks walked into their team hotel with their heads held high and blank expressions on their faces.
They look like a team with something to prove.
Kansas (6-6, 3-5 Big 12) plays in its first bowl game in 14 years in the Liberty Bowl against Arkansas on Dec. 28.
“This is a big moment for us right now and I think we are just coming out here to show everybody it’s going to get bigger than this,” KU wide receiver Lawrence Arnold said after the Jayhawks arrived at the team hotel.
Though the team might not outwardly show it, they know what playing in a bowl game means.
“The whole team is happy. We really worked hard to be in this position just to play,” said Arnold. “We are all excited just to be down here.”
Winning a bowl game is the first step in KU’s plan.
“I feel like this is one stepping stone,” Arnold said. “We are trying to get to this bowl game and win this bowl game. Next year, we (want) to be able to play for our conference title and then hopefully get to the national championship.
“Just stepping stones that we (are) taking. One percent of the daily goals that we always account for.”
Kansas was picked to finish last by the Big 12 coaches in the 2022 conference preseason poll.
The perception inside the KU locker room was quite different.
“We’ve been talking about this before the season even started,” Arnold said. “I’m going to say 100 percent of the team already knew that we were going to be in this position to be able to play in the bowl game.
“Right now, we are just talking about winning this bowl game. A lot of our heads are going to, ‘We are going to get a Big 12 championship (next year),’ because we were so close. So close only gets you so far, but you know we were right there and we got the potential to be one of the best teams in the Big 12.”
The idea of playing an SEC team means a lot to Kansas. After all, there’s the famed SEC slogan that often pops up whenever one of its teams is in action: “It just means more.”
“I’ve always wanted to play against, they say, the best conference or whatever,” said linebacker Rich Miller. “I want to go out there and show them that I can play with anybody, play against anybody.”
Whatever the outcome on Wednesday, Kansas coach Lance Leipold is proud of his team.
“This will always be remembered as a special team,” said Leipold, “one that helped kind of put this thing back in a positive track.”