"Believe", that is the saying and the mantra surrounding the Kansas football program since the arrival of Turner Gill almost two years ago. Unfortunately the product on the field has slowly eroded the belief and hope of the Kansas fanbase and put Turner Gill on a warmer seat than some would have expected in just his second season.
An opening game loss to North Dakota, followed by a series of embarrassing losses in his first season were written off. A new team, a new coach, a new system and a new way of doing business meant that there would be some growing pains and Kansas fans came to that realization early on during Gill's first year.
Heading into year two Gill still had a fair amount of good will and patience built into the Kansas fanbase. Compete, show improvement and provide some positive momentum. That seemed to be the expectation on the Kansas side of things. Gill wouldn't necessarily find himself judged by wins and losses just yet, but he would be judged by the teams ability to compete.
Fast forward to today and the Jayhawks sit 2-4. The first two games were full of optimism. The following three felt like the bottom had fallen out and last weeks game against Oklahoma, while still a loss, felt just a little bit better. All in all it's been a mixed bag for Turner Gill and his staff in year two. At the end of the day most everyone seems to understand the importance of continuity and patience from a Kansas perspective, but this weeks game against Bill Snyder and Kansas State might prove to be a bit of a crossroads for Gill.
Last season the Wildcats made the trip into Lawrence and dismantled Gill's Jayhawks by a final score of 59-7. It was a throw back to the days when Terry Allen's teams were getting chased off the field by Snyder with tails tucked. It was the second game in a row where Kansas had struggled at that level and the beginning of a very grueling Big 12 schedule.
This year many expected Kansas to take a small step forward and Kansas State perhaps to take a small step back. Instead the Wildcats are sitting 6-0 and have put themselves in a position to be a top 10 team if the trend continues. Kansas on the other hand has been a historically bad defensive team and that makes this weekend's task all the more difficult for Gill.
Here's the thing. Winning sounds great, but it isn't the only way that Gill can come out of this one with some positive momentum. A year ago this game was a 52 point margin of victory. A week ago Kansas kept a game fairly close against one of the top four teams in the country. Kansas State is a better matchup for the Jayhawks and while the Wildcats are expected to win, Gill needs to lead Kansas into a fight and the Jayhawks need to respond.
It's about exceeding expectations and not falling well short. That's exactly what the coach on the other side of the field this weekend has made a career doing and it's exactly what Snyder is doing once again in 2011. For Kansas fans it's about seeing a sense of urgency, it's about seeing improvement and it's about the feeling that Gill actually understands what needs to be done. From one week to the next that hasn't always been the case.
While Turner Gill should and most likely will be given a third year to build the Kansas program that he has taken over, this weekend's game against Kansas State could be one of the most important in his short time at Kansas in terms of setting the table for his future. If Kansas stands toe to toe and battles the Wildcats, Kansas fans will continue preaching patience. Drop a game by 52 while letting Bill Snyder and the Wildcats bully you on both sides of the ball and support will take a hit.