Saturday's game marks the beginning of a new season and an opportunity to turn the page on a 3-9 effort from a year ago. There are varying opinions on what to expect from the Kansas Jayhawks in terms of competitiveness and wins and losses but it all starts with what we see from certain groups and key individuals in game one against McNeese.
Jordan Webb vs. McNeese Secondary
In a perfect world Jordan Webb won't have to win games for Kansas. The Jayhawks will have an improved running game that allows them to better control the clock and a defense that doesn't give up as many big plays as it did a year ago.
But what do we have in Jordan Webb? Does he look more comfortable in the pocket. Can he make the reads and handle a game manager type role? McNeese has an athletic and experienced defensive backfield that will take advantage of mistakes and test the Kansas passing game. While you can expect a healthy dose of the running game on Saturday, what Webb does with his opportunities will be a huge focus when watching this one.
Kansas Offensive Line vs. McNeese Defensive Front
It starts up front and Kansas fans have been led to believe that this area could once again be a strength. The offensive line is healthy headed into the opener and they look like a slightly different animal led by the dramatic physical change of senior Jeremiah Hatch.
Across from them will be a McNeese defensive front that is less experienced and breaking in some young players. Can the Jayhawk offensive front make the transition to a nastier, more physical front that creates opportunities for a group of FOUR talented running backs? In order for Kansas to sneak up and surprise anyone that is going to have to be the case.
Kansas Interior Defensive Line vs. McNeese Running Attack
On paper the linebackers look improved, the secondary looks fairly strong, but that's can all become a non factor in a hurry if the interior defensive front is incapable of tying up blockers and containing a running attack. Kansas is thin and to be honest a little banged up at the position right now and it's probably the one position on the defensive side of the ball that has almost everyone a little concerned.
On the other side of the ball this week Kansas faces a team that has a strong backfield returning and much like Kansas, McNeese is going to try to establish a running attack in order to get things going. That means John Williams, Kevin Young and Keba Agostinho become pretty important in a hurry. The trio is still fairly young but all three have seen significant playing time early in their careers. Young and Williams are playing heavier than a year ago while Agostinho is right about the same. Throw in Shane Smith, Randall Dent and Richard Johnson and you have a rotation, it's just not one that jumps off the page.
This is similar to the Jordan Webb situation on the offensive side of the ball. All eyes will be on this defensive front and how capable they are at matching up and giving the linebackers room to work. McNeese is a nice test and a good way to ease into that before having to match up against the likes of A&M, OU and Missouri.
Kansas Special Teams
This was a scary area during most of this past season. Minus DJ Beshears and his ability on kickoff return Kansas struggled to punt the football, they weren't great in coverage and it's honestly tough to remember being in field goal range enough to matter.
This year Kansas has some added depth, which leads to improved special teams...hopefully. The kickoff team is captained by Huldon Tharp who two years ago looked like the next best thing at linebacker. He'll be joined by Ben Heeney, Collin Garrett and a host of other players who have been pushing for reps on the defensive side of the ball. That sounds like a positive.
The kicking game has added Alex Mueller who is an accurate placekicker and Tanner Gibas, a longsnapper expected to help alleviate the problems that were all too common a year ago (blocked kicks). In short, you'll see quite a few folks holding their breath when Kansas goes on special teams until they see a consistent change in the pattern. Game one is step one to doing so.