97 Days: The Best Tournament, Round One, Games 1 and 2

Four greats, but only two move on in our The Best Tournament
Lawrence Journal-World, AP
In this story:

In our 100 Days until Kansas football countdown last summer, we ranked the best players to wear certain numbers as a Jayhawk. This summer, we’re taking the top 23 in that group and adding a current Jayhawk and squaring them off against each other in a knockout style tournament. Each of our writers will have a vote in the competition and so will you, the fan, here and through our social media accounts (instagram, threads and X). The winner in the fan vote will be counted as equal to the vote of each of our contributors. The winner will move on in the tournament, the man with fewer votes stays a Kansas legend, but doesn’t progress. 

But since this is the first edition, the entire field and bracket needs to be presented. First, here are the Top 24 players in Kansas football history.

  1. Todd Reesing
  2. Gale Sayers
  3. John Riggins
  4. Willie Pless
  5. John Hadl
  6. Dezmon Briscoe
  7. Aqib Talib
  8. Bobby Douglass
  9. Otto Schnellbacher
  10. Tony Sands
  11. Ray Evans
  12. Kerry Meier
  13. John Zook
  14. David Jaynes
  15. Nolan Cromwell
  16. George Mrkonic
  17. Bill Whittemore
  18. Mike McCormack
  19. Devin Neal*
  20. Larry Brown
  21. Curtis McClinton 
  22. Gilbert Brown
  23. James Sims
  24. Ron Warner**

*Replaces June Henley whose off the field behavior is well documented. Neal didn’t appear on our list over the summer of 2023.

**Replaces Dana Stubblefield whose off the field behavior has been found criminal by a jury of his peers.

In a 24 man tournament, this is how this side of the bracket shakes out:

Onward to the first two matchups of the initial round.

16 George Mrkonic vs. 17 Bill Whittemore

This is the most even matchup of the first round seeding wise, but will a player from a bygone era playing a less than glamorous position prevail or will a well-known quarterback advance to take on the number one overall seed?

George Mrkonic, 1950-1952.

A specialist on both sides of the ball, George Mrkonic played left guard and defensive tackle. The two time all-conference player was also a monster on special teams, leading KU in punting in 1951. He later played with the Philadelphia Eagles and in the Canadian Football League.

Bill Whittemore, 2002-2003.

To me, Bill Whittemore is the player that I most associate with the first wave of Kansas getting good again. Coach Mark Mangino gave Whittemore the keys to the house and Bill took full advantage. In his two seasons at the wheel, Whittemore racked up 4,051 yards passing and threw 29 touchdowns. Those numbers are tenth best ever and seventh best all-time at Kansas. Before last season started he was eighth and fifth but was surpassed by Jason Bean and Jalon Daniels. It doesn’t make his contributions to Kansas football any less important however. Leading that 2003 team to the Tangerine Bowl was a huge turning point for KU football.

9 Otto Schellbacher vs 24 Ron Warner

Our second matchup of the day is also a new(er) meets old matchup. As a student in the late 1990s, I am glad that Ron Warner made this tournament, but will he spring the upset against a Ring of Honor recipient?

Otto Schnellbacher, 1942, 1946-1947.

The “Double Treat from Sublette” was a two time All-Big 6 selection at tight end and is one of only three KU athletes to captain the basketball and football teams. Of course, being from a bygone era, it’s hard to know just how great he was, but considering that he took time off to serve his country in World War II, came back to continue to star at Kansas, and then play both pro football and baseball (triple threat?), I think we’d have to consider him one of the elite athletes of his era. He’s rightfully enshrined in the Memorial Stadium Ring of Honor. 

Ron Warner, 1996-1997.

A force on the defensive side of the ball in his two seasons in Lawrence, Ron Warner ranks third all time in sacks as a Jayhawk with 20.5, 14.5 of those coming in his senior season of 1997. That number is the single season record for sacks at Kansas. The 1997 first team All-Big XII performer was a seventh round draft pick in 1998 and played in 24 total NFL games in his professional career including Super Bowl XXXVII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Remember to vote for who you think should advance wherever you follow Blue Wings Rising on Social media.

Derek Noll


An avid Jayhawks fan his entire life, Derek graduated from the University of Kansas in 1999 and has been writing about the Jayhawks since 2014, getting his start at Rock Chalk Talk.  He specializes in uniform analysis for basketball and football and offers a humorous take on player performances through Player Ratings posts.