STILLWATER — Duke and Kansas hold a hallowed common ground as blue bloods of the college basketball world.
They share a similar status in football, too. Except the turf isn't at all hallowed, but rather haunted.
When the Jayhawks step into Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday, they'll lug with them the longest active conference losing streak in the country at 26 games. Kansas hasn't won a Big 12 contest since outlasting Colorado 52-45 on Nov. 6, 2010, a year in which it posted just the one conference win.
With Colorado no longer in play to kick around anymore, league life has been a killer for the Jayhawks. At 0-5 in the Big 12 this season, they're working on their third straight winless conference season.
“I might be on the verge of tears at times,” KU quarterback Jake Heaps said earlier this season. “But that's because I'm an emotional, passionate, competitive guy. I hate to lose, and I want to win every time we go out there. And when that doesn't happen, it's tough.”
Clearly, these are the toughest of times for the Jayhawks.
Which begs the question: is it possible that KU is the worst BCS conference program in the country?
At the moment, perhaps, yes, seeing as Duke is enjoying a season for the ages — at least its ages — at 6-2 overall and 2-2 in the ACC, eligible for a bowl bid. The Blue Devils won three league games a year ago, too, after ending 2011 with a seven-game losing streak.
In the bigger picture, dating back to the formation of the Big 12, which spans just beyond the BCS era, nobody has done losing like Duke. Since 1995, the Blue Devils have suffered three conference losing streaks of at least 21 games. And their 30 straight league losses from 1999-2003 are the most by a FBS program in the BCS age.
Still, Kansas is next at 26, which is currently eight more than the holder of the second-longest active skid — Illinois, at 16. And to think, the Jayhawks won the Orange Bowl in 2007 and followed with an Insight Bowl victory in 2008.
Soon after, Mark Mangino was fired and the program went into decline. And in 2012, KU's all-time winning percentage dipped below .500 for the first time since the team finished 1-2 in its debut season in 1890.
And now the Jayhawks get No. 15-ranked OSU, which is 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12.
Charlie Weis, now in his second year as coach, referred to last year's team as a “pile of crap,” referring to one of his pitches to recruits who might want to play right away and impact the program.
“It wasn't like you walk in and wave a magic wand,” Weis has said, “and all your problems are solved.”
No, KU's problems still exist.
Still, Weis wants others to wait before passing final judgment on this season. The Jayhawks' Big 12 schedule was frontloaded, beginning with five teams that are or were ranked in the Top 25 at some point. They played tough — for a while — before fading against Texas Tech. They hung in — for a while — in losses to TCU, Oklahoma and Texas, too.
Third quarters, in particular, have been KU's downfall, with big plays, or often big mistakes dooming the day.
“What we have not gone a very good job at, collectively, is overcoming those bad things that have happened somewhere in the third quarter,” Weis said. “That's what we haven't done a good job of, and that's what we've got to do a better job at.”
The defense isn't bad, yet has trouble covering up for an offense that ranks last in the Big 12 in yards and points.
“Our margin of error is very small,” Weis said after a third-quarter fumble return turned the game at Texas.
The Jayhawks are looking at Saturday's game against the Cowboys as the start of a potential proving ground. After OSU, they host West Virginia, visit Iowa State and close the season at home against Kansas State.
“In these last four games,” said KU assistant Clint Bowen, “all the frustrations and all the things that happened this year, you can bury them.”