Kentucky, Kansas, UNC, Syracuse run basketball schools whose football teams are fun

Duke and Kansas play Saturday in a nonconference showdown between undefeated teams that is drawing national attention. No, basketball season didn’t sneak up on you. The Champions Classic showdown between the Blue Devils and Jayhawks on the hardwood isn’t until November 15th. This is football, and Saturday’s game between the two is emblematic of a basketball school renaissance taking place on the gridiron during the first month of college football season.

Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Syracuse, UCLA, Maryland and Indiana — most of these certified basketball blue bloods — are undefeated at soccer. The same goes for NC State and Wake Forest, which many collegiate sports fans are more familiar with for their sports basketball stories than for their soccer success.

Kentucky soccer coach Mark Stoops dismissed British basketball coach John Calipari’s notion that Kentucky was a basketball school last month, and the Wildcats backed that up by climbing to No. 8 on the AP Top 25, followed by a 10- win season. Now others seem to be following Britain’s lead in offering their fans a sport other than basketball to get excited about.

As this quirky story unfolds, our basketball writers are keeping an eye on the situation. For this installment of the Dribbling Handover, we examine which of these unlikely football success stories we’re enjoying the most of the 2022 season so far.

Kentucky

Kentucky’s 3-0 (with a win in Florida) and eighth place finish in the Associated Press poll are my favorites of these stories, if only because they follow that back-and-forth between British basketball coach John Calipari and The British football manager Mark Stoops. As you probably know (Given the history, they made national headlines), Calipari irritated Stoops last month when he said Kentucky is not a football school like Alabama or Georgia, while publicly arguing that its basketball program needs a new practice facility and should be prioritized. Stoops quickly clapped back on Twitter by highlighting that British football has been more successful than British basketball lately in the post-season and I really don’t think I’ve ever seen a high-profile coach publicly play against a high-profile coach from the same school like Stoops in Calipari. It was wild and awkward, giving Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart a total headache.

Calipari subsequently apologized for his words – but Stoops didn’t even take his call, at least initially. Awkward again. And now Stoops has British football as arguably Georgia’s biggest threat in the SEC East – and in a position to potentially go 7-0 into next month’s game in Tennessee. That is amazing. In the meantime, give Calipari credit for being able to at least laugh at himself in hindsight. While speaking with Louisville coach Kenny Payne last week, Calipari jumped in when Payne pointed out that Kentucky is a “basketball state.”

Be careful‘ said Calipari to laughter. – Gary Parish

Syracuse

Think back to college or high school when, for some reason, you wandered absentmindedly into the wrong classroom. You walk in and notice that the decor on the walls is unfamiliar. The teacher is not who the teacher is supposed to be. Ah yes. i’m in the wrong place. A bit like how I feel here as I jot down some college football thoughts. Let’s talk to some pigskin guys! To see all these schools that have a proud and mostly reliable history in college hoops find some new success in football is one of the best September storylines in my opinion. I think it actually helped the sport a lot.

As for the basketball school that has the best football storyline, I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I lean towards orange. I go with Syracuse partially because I live in the Northeast and this program has not been a national unit for most of my life.

Syracuse has beaten Louisville, UConn and Purdue this season. A respectable start, if not the world’s best. Next up is a tricky test against Virginia, then Wagner. If Cuse can win both, one of the biggest games of the October 15 weekend (currently ranked) will be NC State in Syracuse. Wouldn’t that be a plot twist? Cuse has been an afterthought in college football for far too long. It has a fun home field advantage by playing in the Dome. It has a remarkable history. But moving to the ACC did nothing to increase his presence in college football. It has also degraded its place in basketball. (Conference realignment isn’t all that matters.)

Dino Babers might have found some magic again in central New York, although I imagine this feel-good tale of Syracuse will get its bearings once the Clemson/Notre Dame/Pitt/Florida State/Wake Forest gauntlet arrives in October . That’s rough. If Syracuse can walk away with a 2-3 mark, it will be a big win and a big season. If anything, this start was a boost to hopefully ensure SU has its first season at .500 or better since 2018. – Matt Norlander

Kansas

Turner Gil couldn’t. Charlie Weis couldn’t. Clint Bowen, David Beaty, Les Miles: they all couldn’t. But Lance Leipold is actually doing what his predecessors failed to do – making Kansas football (dare I say it!) fun again. After 13 straight losing seasons – having in that span seven seasons with two wins or fewer and two all-winless seasons – KU is 3-0 to start the season with victories over Tennessee Tech, West Virginia and most recently a truly impressive straight win over Houston. That’s already their best in a season since winning five games in 2009.

The Jayhawks have consistently been one of the worst football teams at the FBS level for the past decade. As such, it’s probably too early to say that KU will definitely get back on track as it did under Mark Mangino. But it was fun watching KU. They have an identity with a jack of all trades QB at Jalon Daniels. They play with an advantage in defense. And for the first time in a long, long, loooong time, they seem to have some semblance of hope for the future of the program. – Kyle Boone

North Carolina

The reason North Carolina’s football team is so much fun to watch this season ties directly to the Tar Heels’ basketball heritage. Redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye is lighting box scores three games into his tenure as the starter, much like his brother Luke Maye, used to light box scores on the hardwood. Luke went from being a relatively unheralded prospect to being a contributor on the 2017 Tar Heels national title team and then to an All-ACC performer in his last two seasons. He once had 30 points and 15 rebounds in a Duke win and will be fondly remembered for his significant contributions as a four-year-old player from an in-state background.

His younger brother could go down in Tar Heels history as an even bigger star. Drake was a five-star prospect in the 2021 recruit class, according to 247Sports, and he ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency this season. In addition to his 930 yards passing, 11 touchdowns, and just one interception at a 74.2% mark, Maye also has 146 rushing yards. Filling in the shoes of fifth-round NFL draft pick Sam Howell seemed like a daunting task, but Maye is doing it incredibly well and is helping to build a pristine two-sport legacy for the Maye family in North Carolina. -David Cobb

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