Week one and we're now just a little over three and half days until kickoff. We don't need to rehash what happened in the opener last year, all you really need to know is that this year's opponent is probably better. The hope is obviously that our own Kansas Jayhawks are also better. If there isn't some level of improvement, then there's going to be some trouble in Lawrence.
Some analysts have this pegged as the Kansas Jayhawks one and only shot at a win. While the schedule is pretty far from forgiving this year, I think Kansas should do better than that. Turner Gill and the entire energy around the team seems to be confident. Not seven to nine wins confident, but at the very least confident that they can button up a lot of those mistakes from a year ago and compete on the football field in the Big 12.
It's a twelve week season so time will tell. Without a doubt this game is a must if this team wants to continue to exude that confidence going forward. Losing you're opener to a 1AA opponent two years in a row isn't something you recover from quickly.
Kansas Offense vs. McNeese State Defense
On paper Kansas is more experienced on the offensive line and deep in the backfield. The receivers don't necessarily jump off the page at you right now because they haven't shown any huge playmaking ability. Combine that with the question mark surrounding Jordan Webb's development and you have the makings of a run focused offensive scheme for Kansas.
That's a good thing because McNeese is very strong in the secondary. They return some solid talent in the defensive backfield and they have the ability to make plays and shift the game. Beyond that they have just one returning starter in the front six of what will be a 4-2-5 look.
On the other hand they are a team that is known to have good speed and that should be the case again this year. Last year they finished 45th nationally in total team defense and 17th in defending the run. That's the important thing in this one. Kansas wants to run, the strength of the team should be in the running game and if they can't win a game doing that against a solid FCS opponent, well it isn't going to get any easier. McNeese will be a nice test to see how improved the Kansas offense might be.
Kansas Defense vs McNeese State Offense
Offensively the Cowboys return four starters. Defensively the Jayhawks look like a different team. The secondary looks solid, the linebacking group looks significantly more athletic. Key word here, Kansas looks different on paper and Kansas looks different based on what we're being TOLD not what we've seen just yet.
That said the Kansas defense did look significantly better by the end of the season last year when compared to the Baylor and Kansas State disasters. If the group can make the switch to a 3-4 and use the speed at linebacker to create pressure it could be a much better unit.
The biggest concern is hands down the defensive line. It's a thin position and it's a completely unproven position that could leave a big hole in the middle. That presents a bit of a concern considering McNeese believes they are a team that is just as deep in the backfield as Kansas. Throw in a new starting quarterback that the Cowboys feel pretty good about and they could actually be better than last season's 70th ranked overall offensive production.
At the end of the day it's boils down to the running game for both sides. If McNeese can run in between the tackles Kansas could be vulnerable.
For Kansas the biggest improvement on special teams could come from what Kansas has added in the offseason. Turner Gill went out and landed two true freshman starters on special teams that should be improvements. If Alex Mueller and Tanner Gibas can improve their respective units, that's a start. In the return game Kansas has some talent and speed with Daymond Patterson and DJ Beshears fielding the ball and both have shown the ability to make a play. Special teams has to be better all year for Kansas if they want to be better as a team.
For McNeese State it's more about what they have returning. The Cowboys return both their primary kicker as well as their punter. Their return game was fairly average a year ago but they do have some players returning in that area as well and they seem to feel good about Dionte Spencer who also starts for them at wideout.
It's a tough area to predict because so much of it changes year to year and so much of it depends on coaching. Based on a year ago you'd have to say that McNeese looks more consistent, but if the Kansas staff has truly buttoned things up then they have more talent.
Turner Gill and his staff were a bit of a trainwreck a year ago. The cliche's and coach speak have subsided and they've been replaced with a little more confidence. The talent is said to be better as is the athleticism but how will the special teams look? Will the coordinators get the plays in? Timeouts on 4th down? So many odd miscues from a year ago where the team and the staff need to show improvement. It's a show me don't tell me attitude with many of those things right now and while everyone certainly wants Gill to succeed it has to start in these areas.
For McNeese it's a little different story. Head Coach Matt Viator is the winningest active coach in the Southland conference. He has never posted a losing record, he's won the conference three out of five seasons (2nd place both other times), and he's been to the playoffs twice. Viator has proven he can win on the FCS level and that could present a dangerous challenge for Kansas.