After the dumpster fire that was the 2011 season, Kansas football is looking to turn things around under Charlie Weis. No matter how you feel about the Jayhawks' decision to hire Weis, the man has made an immediate impact on the program - adding talent via transfers, weeding out players who didn't buy into his system and even spearheading an academic turnaround. All signs point towards KU football making some strides next year. However, two questions remain: How big will these strides be, and will they be big enough to help KU win more games?
I'm an optimistic guy by nature, but even I can't help flip-flopping between how I feel. As I've done in the past, I'll hash this out from two different perspectives and we will see how the readers feel.
Viewpoint One - The Optimist
Sure Kansas football is coming off a 2-10 season, but let's not pretend like the Jayhawks got blown out of every single game last year. KU had a 20 point lead against Texas Tech before losing by 10. The Jayhawks went on the road and barely lost to a solid Iowa State team. Oh, and let's not forget about taking Robert Griffin III and Baylor to overtime. Last year's team had its fair share of blowouts, but look this is Division One football. It's the Big 12. It ain't intramurals brother, and the Jayhawks played one of the toughest schedules in the nation. In most of Mangino's seasons, KU would get blown out by the top dogs of the conference, and rack up its wins against weaker opponents. This isn't new territory.
Let's talk about the players. The lack of a quarterback really hurt last year's team. Weis added Dayne Crist to play next year and Jake Heapes to be the quarterback of the future. Two former 5 star recruits. When was the last time KU football had a 5 star guy at any position? Throw in Turner Baty and suddenly that position looks pretty enticing. The Jayhawks still have a lot of experience and talent at running back. There are a lot of talented receivers and tight ends on the roster. The offensive line has veterans and talented young players as well. KU is going to score points next year.
As for the defense, let's see what some real coaching does for this group. KU lost its defensive coordinator right before last season started, and the result was a poorly coached group who seemed lost on every snap. As I mentioned earlier, this group even had its moments as well, and there certainly is some experience and talent in the mix. With the right coaching, plus a few transfers to the defensive line, this group could make a big improvement next year. Maybe we see the group we saw against Baylor and Iowa State on a weekly basis.
This team is talented - it was held back by the worst coaching job in college sports history and personnel issues at a few key positions. We have a new staff, we've upgraded those positions and we have a lot of talent returning. KU football is going to surprise some people this year.
Viewpoint Two - The Pessimist
Look, KU football did everything it was supposed to do after last year's 2-10 debacle. It hired a new coaching staff. It got some high impact transfers. It addressed the issues in the classroom and launched a culture shift. That is all great, and will no doubt improve the product on the field somewhat.
Look, I remember last year. And for every close game, there were two in which the Jayhawks were out of it by the end of the first quarter. You are going to have close losses. In Mangino's early seasons, the Jayhawks won a lot of nailbitters, and lost even more. Saying this team has a long way to go is putting it lightly.
While KU has a lot of weapons on offense, its defense will hold this team back. I mean, there are several games last year where the Jayhawks could have given up 20-30 points fewer and still lost! Teams were treading into the 70s against us. When you can cut the other team's points in half and still lose, well, you need more than one season to get that turned around. Where will the pass rush come from? Will the tackling be better? What about the secondary - this unit has underachieved for three consecutive years now and most of the faces remain the same.
Plus, call me old school, but before Todd Reesing I remember the Jayhawks going through three to four quarterbacks a year. What happens if Crist gets hurt? What if he struggles? What if the line once again fails to provide decent pass protection? We are in the same boat as last year, except the two quarterbacks that actually played last season are both off the team now. Great.
KU football simply just has too far to go, and plays in too tough a conference. We will make some steps in the right direction, just don't expect the win-loss column to be much better... if its better at all.