The Kansas Jayhawks are coming off of a season in which they had two more wins than they did in Charlie Weis' first season, however they still finished last in the Big 12 standings. This year, KU is looking to continue the improvement, and a lot of that hinges on who they play and where. In the last part of our series, we'll look at which Big 12 opponents Kansas will be playing at Memorial Stadium this season.
September 27 vs. Texas
Not an easy homecoming game for the Jayhawks, although Texas is coming off a very interesting year by their standards. In Mack Brown's final season in Austin, the Texas Longhorns finished with an 8-5 record (7-2 in conference), capped off by a bad loss to Oregon in the Alamo Bowl (they also had zero players selected in the NFL Draft, a distinction they share with three other teams, including KU). With sixth place finishes in the Big 12 in total offense and defense, as well as scoring offense and defense, it was not a season that the Longhorns are used to. It was 2013 which saw a lot of quarterback turmoil for UT, as David Ash played in just three games all season, leaving Case McCoy to start the others. Statistically, McCoy paled in comparison to Ash (two examples: a completion percentage of under 57 compared to nearly 61, yards per attempt a mere 5.88 compared to 8.74), resulting in the third-worst passing offense in the Big 12. In 2014 McCoy is no longer in the picture, and it is up to David Ash to revive a mediocre Longhorns offense. He will have some help though, as Texas' top two rushers from last season, Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, both return from last season when Texas finished third in the Big 12 in rushing offense.
Of course, the biggest story surrounding the Texas program entering this season is the coaching situation, as Charlie Strong enters the picture to replace Mack Brown. The story is well-documented, how Strong was not necessarily the first choice of the Longhorns (and certainly not of their boosters), yet we find him moving from Louisville to Austin, where he takes over a team in some turmoil - the fifth ranked team in the Big 12 from 2013 in terms of the F/+ rankings, with mediocre offense and defensive numbers from last season, returning with a health question mark at quarterback. The Longhorns will be returning 13 starters between offense and defense, but that means a bit less when a new regime takes over and attempts to essentially change the culture of a program, especially one with a profile as large as Texas. Charlie Strong is not coaching the Big East or the American Athletic Conference anymore, he's in the major spotlight and time will tell if he is truly capable of coaching a major program. I'm not necessarily saying he is not capable of it, nor am I saying Texas is primed to fail this season, but it is undoubted that UT has many question marks entering 2014.
October 11 vs. Oklahoma State
The Oklahoma State Cowboys are coming off of a third-place finish in the Big 12 in 2013, a season filled with big victories and big disappointments (a win over #3 Baylor and a loss to lowly West Virginia). Statistically speaking, it was a good year for the Cowboys, finishing with an average of 39.1 PPG, good for second in the Big 12, as well third in conference in total offense with 448.8 YPG. Clint Chelf led the air attack for OSU last season, passing for over 2,169 yards and 17 touchdowns in 12 games in 2013. This year though, Chelf is out and J.W. Walsh is in as the sole starting quarterback for Oklahoma State. Walsh had decent numbers in 2013, throwing 9 touchdowns on 1,333 passing yards in solid action throughout the season. The offense will need to rebuild, at least in terms of starters, this coming season, as only five players are returning from the 2013 squad. If Walsh can have consistent, steady play throughout the season and also make sure that the Cowboys hold on to the ball again this season (something they excelled at in 2013 when they finished first in conference with a +15 turnover margin), they will be a force in the Big 12 yet again (offensively, anyway).
On the defensive side of the ball, OSU needs to replace even more starters, as only four are returning from last season. With Glenn Spencer as their new defensive coordinator last season, Oklahoma State did very well defensively, leading the Big 12 in turnover margin (as previously noted), defensive passer efficiency and third down defense. Despite just decent numbers in certain defensive categories (such as rush defense and total defense), and a downright bad season in terms of pass defense (second-worst in the Big 12), the Cowboys were best in conference in defensive scoring, holding their opponents to just 21.6 PPG. The passing defense must improve for the Cowboys this season however, because allowing 242.5 YPG through the air is not going to cut it in a conference with Bryce Petty leading the team to beat.
November 8 vs. Iowa State
Last season, the Iowa St. Cyclones finished second to last in the Big 12, only besting Kansas in the conference (whom they bested on the field in a 34-0 massacre in Ames). Sam Richardson returns to ISU to lead an offense that, while more experienced this season with 10 returning starters, finished 81st in offense F/+, second worst and third worst in the Big 12 in scoring offense and total offense, respectively. When you look at the numbers for Iowa State last season, nearly everything looks bad, and while experience does help, this team has a lot of work to do. If there is any positive to take away from the 2013 Cyclones offense, it is that they were the most efficient team in the Big 12 in terms of red zone scoring, scoring on 89.7 percent of their red zone possessions (35-39 with 24 touchdowns and 11 field goals). Even this one bright spot is flawed however, as Iowa State had the second least red zone attempts last season in the Big 12, only ahead of the Jayhawks.
Six starters are returning for the Cyclones on defense in 2014, adding another bit of experience to a bad team, one glimmer of hope they can hold on to. Just like the offense, the defense was struggling at best in 2013. Last in the conference in scoring defense, total defense and team sacks, the Cyclones need a lot of improvement in all facets of defense to compete with anyone this season. If Kansas had any shot to win a conference game this season, it would be against Iowa State. While the Cyclones did blow out Kansas in Ames last season, this year the game is in Lawrence and it looks, on paper at least, like the best chance the Jayhawks have in the Big 12 in 2014 when you compare which games are home and which ones are away.
November 15 vs. TCU
The TCU Horned Frogs are coming off of a disappointing season, finishing with a 4-8 record (2-7 in Big 12 play). Offensively, TCU struggled in 2013. Ending up eighth in scoring in conference and ninth in total offense, the Horned Frogs could not beat the strong defenses of the Big 12 and could not keep up with the high-powered offenses (it makes sense that their two conference wins came against Kansas and Iowa State). Despite the poor numbers however, TCU was in many of their games until the bitter end. A 3 point loss at #11 Oklahoma, a 3 point loss to West Virginia (in overtime), a 2 point loss to Kansas State in Manhattan, a 3 point loss to #9 Baylor; each one of those games were within TCU's grasp. The Horned Frogs, despite their record, were not really that bad of a team in 2013. In fact, they finished #44 in the F/+ rankings for last season, second highest amongst teams with a losing record (Utah finished #31). This year, Trevone Boykin will lead the charge for TCU, taking over full-time for Casey Pachall. While the passing game was decent last season, 226.2 YPG (5th in the Big 12), Boykin will have to keep the ball moving through the air while the ground game, second worst in the Big 12 last season, simultaneously improves by leaps and bounds, a necessity to keep pace with the rest of the conference.
TCU had a solid defensive campaign in 2013, at least in some regards. While the passing defense was okay, giving up 225.6 YPG, they still finished second in the Big 12 in total defense thanks to stellar run stopping all year, allowing a mere 130.8 YPG on the ground. #12 at the end of 2013 in defensive F/+, TCU is looking for another good campaign on defense. Having eight returning defensive starters will help, providing experience and skill, both of which will be main factors in slowing down Big 12 opponents, the best chance TCU has to win in the Big 12 this year. With a shaky offense from last year entering their first year with a new coordinator (Doug Meacham), it is going to be the defense that keeps the Horned Frogs in games in 2014. However, unless the offense improves steadily, 2014 could easily mirror 2013 for TCU.
That concludes our 2014 Jayhawks Football schedule outlook series. While the schedule is not favorable for Kansas this season, there are at least a few potential wins out there to be earned.
Returning starter information courtesy of Phil Steele. Big 12 statistical rankings courtesy of the Big 12 Conference.