LAWRENCE — Still winless and now without its most dynamic player, Kansas football may appear to outsiders as a team with nothing to play for, at least not for the rest of this season.
Andrew Parchment is eager to challenge that line of thinking.
"Twenty, 30 years down the line when I watch the national championship, I want to make sure that KU is in contention. So I want to make sure that I’m laying the foundation down right now," said Parchment, speaking at a news conference earlier this week. "If this right here is my part in history, then that’s what it is."
Always a leader by example and now the Jayhawks’ de facto best player, Parchment is as important a figure as any for a program reeling from a tough week and on the cusp of what is traditionally the biggest game of its season.
KU (0-4, 0-3 Big 12) fell 38-17 last Saturday at West Virginia, an outcome that represented the team’s fourth defeat this year by a margin of at least 15 points. Then, on Monday, the Jayhawks learned star running back Pooka Williams was opting out of the remainder of the season, citing his mother’s declining health in a decision that could signal the end of the explosive preseason All-Big 12 player’s collegiate career.
Looming is an 11 a.m. Saturday matchup with Sunflower Showdown rival Kansas State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, with the No. 20-ranked Wildcats (3-1, 3-0) looking to push their winning streak over the Jayhawks to 12 games.
A preseason All-Big 12 pick in his own right, Parchment knows what’s at stake this weekend.
"Just understanding what it means for the community, for the alumni and everybody pretty much associated with the University of Kansas, I know it means a lot," Parchment said of the Sunflower Showdown rivalry. "So I’m going to do my best to get my team ready to go out there and win on Saturday."
As has been the case for the first leg of the Jayhawks’ season, much of Parchment’s capacity to put up numbers against K-State will be out of his control.
Playing alongside a porous offensive line and a quarterback group that has been largely ineffective with three different starters across four games, Parchment has seen a significant dip in production from a year ago, where he broke onto the scene with 65 catches for 831 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2020, Parchment has caught just 17 passes for 140 yards and two scores, though he had six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown against the Mountaineers.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., acknowledged it’s at times been a struggle for a wide receiving unit considered by many to be one of the team’s biggest strengths entering this shortened season.
"To be honest with you, it’s been real hard," Parchment said. "But we’ve just got to continue to come to work every single day and just control what we can control, and that’s just our effort."
Parchment, who on several occasions following the Jayhawks’ season-opening defeat to Coastal Carolina graded his own individual performance in that contest "an F," said this week that the way his season has unfolded is "not good."
"But I’ve just got to continue to go to work and be a leader for the young guys," Parchment continued. "... I’m not really concerned about individual (breakthroughs). I’m just trying to win."
KU head coach Les Miles imagines it’s been "difficult" for Parchment to digest the way his senior season has played out to this point but added it shouldn’t be difficult for anyone on the team to find motivation for these final six matchups.
"There’s still a season in front of us. There’s still a serious number of games we’ll play in a significant fashion, including K-State, which is just up the road, just down the street, a big rivalry," Miles said. "I think (Parchment) will look at his participation for the rest of the season and see the opportunity that we have as a team and say, ‘Yeah, this is the place I need to be.’ "
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Marcus Harris called Parchment "a very emotional leader."
"He encourages us every day," Harris said. "At practice he’ll stop and talk to us, step up in the huddle and be like, ‘Hey guys, I feel like we’re doing good, we’re on the right path. Just keep pushing.’ I feel like AP is a very vocal leader. ...
"Man, it’s someone to look up to. I want to be in his position one day, have a chance at (the) NFL. It makes us happy to see we can be the same thing he can be."
K-State left last year's Sunflower Showdown in Lawrence with a 38-10 victory over KU, a result that became the first of four consecutive defeats at the end of Miles’ first season with the Jayhawks. That streak has now been run up to eight games, with KU dropping those contests by an average margin of 27.5 points.
The Jayhawks are 20-point underdogs Saturday.
Despite all of that, Parchment said he senses the program moving in a "winning" direction. Asked why he feels that way, Parchment was quick to respond.
"Just us not giving up, us continuing to play four quarters," Parchment said, "and understanding that what we’re trying to do here isn’t easy."