In recent years, predicting the Jayhawks' gridiron performance has been largely guesswork. In 2010, the transition from Mangino to Gill made it difficult to know what the team would look like or how it would perform. Two years later, we experienced not only another coaching change, but also a major upheaval of the roster. Last season, an enormous crop of jucos made most position groups a question mark, as we would be relying heavily on players who had never been in a D1 game before. Since Mangino's departure, guessing just what the team will look like from year-to-year has been a difficult task (aside from the obvious prediction that they would be far worse than any of us would be comfortable with).
This year we see a handful of big question marks, but also some degree of stability. We have an idea of what the offense will look like under new OC John Reagan, but those are really all based on his teams at Rice for the last two years. Offensively, we still don't have much confirmed about this team's philosophy, just how much Charlie Weis will be tinkering with it, or whether we will see significant improvement from the abysmal output from the last two years. That said, we've already seen most of the major contributors this year, and have some idea of what they can do. Defensively, most of the new faces will be relied on for depth, as we return our starting linebackers, defensive backfield, and two starting linemen. At this point we know what Campo and Bowen are running, and what they're trying to do.
With all this mind, I've come up with ten Vegas-style "over/under" questions for predicting this year's team and performance. I've laid out my answers to each, but I'd like to hear yours in the comments section as well
1) Over/under 21 points scored per game
My Answer: Over. I had to think about this one for a while, and I'm not too confident about it. In the four years since Mangino's departure, we have averaged 17.1 (2010), 22.3 (2011), 18.3 (2012) and 15.3 (2013) points per game. Exceeding 21 PPG would make this the second most effective scoring offense of the past five. I think your answer to this really comes down to how much of an impact you think Reagan can make. From a personnel perspective, our offensive talent level looks very similar to last year. We lost James Sims, but Nick Harwell comes into the mix. I think the presence of a decent OC can get us into the low 20s
2) Over/under 40 receptions for Nick Harwell
My Answer: Over. The most receptions for a wide receiver so far in the Charlie Weis era is Kale Pick's 26 in 2012, but we did have one receiver at or over the 40 mark in both the preceding years. Though the WR position has been laughably unproductive so far in Weis' time here, there are a couple factors working in Harwell's favor here. First, though we figure to have a run-first mindset this year, Reagan's offenses at Rice did make good use of the short passing game. This plays to Harwell's strengths as a sure-handed, instinctive receiver. The second is Harwell's history. A 40-catch season would be by far the worst of Harwell's career. As a freshman, he hauled in 64 catches for 871 yards, and went on to compile 165 catches for 2295 yards over his sophomore and junior campaigns. Even in the Big 12, 40 catches is well within his ability as long as Montell Cozart can get the ball near him. Speaking of which...
3) Over/under 55% completion rate for Montell Cozart
My answer: Over. Cozart had a terrible year passing as a freshman in 2013, somehow completing just 37% of his 63 passing attempts. In his defense, he was a true freshman, thrown into the mix running a Charlie Weis offense that changed entirely from week to week. There is no way his passing doesn't improve this year with more experience and consistency, but how much remains to be seen. 55% seems like a huge jump to make (and I suppose it is, sadly), but at the college level, 55% is not even a good number. 55% would have earned a ranking of 92nd in the country last year. So before you think I'm going overboard with optimism here, realize all I'm saying is that I think Cozart will crack the top 90 passers in D1 in a passing game that will likely feature short, safe throws
4) Over/under 20 sacks for the defense
My answer: Under. Last year, Kansas was able to come up with 21 sacks, after averaging just 11 per year from 2010-12. We return our two-leading pass rushers in Michael Reynolds and Ben Goodman this year, so 20 should be very much within reach. However, our depth on the d-line is a big concern. Though guys like Keba Agostinho and Kevin Young were never big playmakers for us, they had been pretty reliable in playing a lot of snaps and doing their job the last couple of years. Our starting line of Goodman, Stowers and Bolton looks pretty solid, but behind them our depth comes from untested players and relatively anonymous juco transfers. 20 should certainly be attainable, but I'll need to see the line play before I can give the pass rush this vote of confidence
5) Over/under 10 made field goals by a single placekicker
My answer: Under. Sadly, this hasn't happened for us since Jacob Branstetter knocked 13 through in 2009. Since then, we've hit just 35 of 59 attempts (59%), and we haven't finished a season using just one kicker since Branstetter graduated after 2010. Matthew Wyman looked good early last year, hitting a 50+ yarder as time expired to beat Lousiana Tech early in the year, but would end up benched after missing 5 of 10 FG tries and clanking three extra points through just 8 games. It should be noted that 10 made FGs last year would only rank a kicker 90th in the country, but given that we don't really know who will be placekicking for us come September 6th, I have no reason to believe any one of our kickers will hit this mark this season
6) Over/under .5 special teams touchdowns
My Answer: Under. Kansas hasn't seen a kick or punt taken to house since DJ Beshears did it in 2010. Since then, the kick return position has been a revolving door of skill position players with very little success. Connor Embree had a solid year as a punt returner in 2013, but he graduated. I honestly haven't heard who the favorites are to win jobs in the return game, but based on what I've seen in recent years, I'm not holding my breath for anything explosive. We also lost Josh Ford, who had been our biggest special teams playmaker in years.
7) Over/under 7.5 double-digit losses
My Answer: Under. Over the last four years, Kansas has suffered 30 double-digit losses (out of 39 total). That makes for an average of exactly 7.5 per year. We've had eight in three of those years, with "just" six in Weis' first year. If you believe Kansas can win four games, that means keeping only one loss in single digits puts you in the "under" column. I think the offense will be better and the defense will be similar in quality to last year, so I believe the average margin of defeat should come down this season, but by how much? I don't see a lot of wins this year, but I do think we can keep at least a couple of losses respectable
8) Over/under 115 tackles for Ben Heeney
My Answer: Under. Heeney's career high came in 2012 as a sophomore, when he racked up 112 tackles. Last year, injury shortened his season to 10 games, but he was still able to wrap up 87. This year he's getting recognized on a national level, and I think he's poised for a career year. That said, I don't think he'll set a new career high in tackles. In 2012, after Heeney and Bradley McDougald, our next two top tacklers were our cornerbacks. On this year's team, Isaiah Johnson, Victor Simmons, Cassius Sendish and Jake Love are all solid tacklers with another year of experience, so hopefully Heeney won't need to be making all our plays. His tackle numbers were also boosted by our 3-and-out based offense the last two years, so any offensive improvements (fingers crossed) will take away from his tackling opportunities as well
9) Over under 80th place ranking in F/+
My Answer: Over (meaning, worse than 80th). I know many don't follow these types of rankings (which are similar in nature to Jeff Sagarin's, or Ken Pomeroy's in basketball), so for frame of reference, here are our rankings in each of the last four years in the F/+: 2010: 111th, 2011: 112th, 2012: 104th, 2013: 101st. Given this, 80th place would be a pretty decent jump. Still, despite their awful seasons last year, Iowa State (78th) and West Virginia (76th) managed to clear this bar last year, so why can't we? I wanted to go with under here, but that's just too much baseless optimism. If John Reagan can make the difference we're all hoping he can this becomes attainable. If he doesn't, all the defensive improvement in the world can't overcome another year of offensive numbers like we've seen in Weis' first two years.
10) Over/under 3.5 wins
My Answer: Under. Given a different schedule, I think this might potentially have the makings of a 5-or-so win team. With this assortment of games, we should pick up 2 wins in the non-con, but after that the Ws are hard to find. I think between home games against ISU and TCU we should be able to grab one conference win, but outside of that you're probably hoping for a victory in a game where we're double digit underdogs. I don't like those odds. I think it's entirely possible we'll grab two or maybe three conference wins if things go our way, but as of now I just don't see them on the schedule