Mason would get so anxious about the lack of talent that he would bolt for Frederick's office from time to time, wondering if there were contingency plans, if a fourth quarter could be called off. "He worried about that a lot," says Frederick.
The 1988 season was humiliating enough without forfeiture. "Nobody on campus knew who we were," says Budde, "and those who did, didn't like us."
With that season behind him, Mason vowed he would never be disappointed in Wichita again. He returned to Ohio. Quarterback Chip Hilleary, who has produced more than 5,000 yards of offense for Kansas since '89, was meeting recruiters in his hometown of Westerville with his arm in a sling. "I impressed nobody," says Hilleary. A high school teammate of Hilleary's, fullback Monte Cozzens, attracted no one's attention but Mason's. Kansas was the only school besides a few in the Mid-American Conference to pursue tailback Maurice Douglas, of Columbus. On Saturday, Cozzens and Douglas each rushed for more than 100 yards and scored a touchdown, and Hilleary threw an 18-yard scoring pass.
The recruiting at other positions has been similarly providential. Defensive tackle Chris Maumalanga, a rare blue-chipper landed by Mason, was told by his parents to accept the scholarship offer that would take him the farthest from his gang-torn neighborhood in Los Angeles. Maumalanga understood their concern. "But Kansas!" he protested. Still, he was a happy man after his visit. "I had never seen snow," says Maumalanga. "On my visit they took me sledding. Stayed on that hill until 4 a.m. I was ready to sign."
Mostly, though, the Jayhawks are a bunch of overlooked players who fit nobody's idea of what, say, a lineman should look like. Shortly before the Oklahoma game, former Sooner coach Barry Switzer visited Mason and told him that his offensive linemen were kind of short. Mason said yes, but they're very wide, more or less confirming Gundy's observation. They come in all shapes and sizes, and Mason's gift is that he makes them all fit.
Kansas is not likely to get the Big Eight's automatic bid to the Orange Bowl this season—Nebraska and Colorado are back-to-back opponents in November—but this team is far removed from the '88 squad. "I remember our players getting off the bus at Oklahoma that year," says Frederick, "and they were kind of small. Some Oklahoma fans said, 'When do the real football players get off?' "
The answer, apparently, is 1992.