Welcome everyone to the return of Rock Chalk Talk Roundtable. Today we have a football edition featuring the new contributors to RCT. Tomorrow we'll bring in the "old guard" answering the same questions. Let's get right to it.
1. Who will win the Big 12 this year, and will the Big 12 champion go undefeated?
Jim Nedrow: My prediction is Oklahoma wins the Big 12 conference. As for whether they go undefeated, I say yes. I say yes mainly because I would like to see it happen. I believe the Big 12 conference is relatively stable at this point, or as stable as any conference can be in this era, and having a football team in the national conversation can only bolster the integrity of the conference. For the sake of the Big 12, I hope OU wins out.
strathclyde: I have Baylor losing to OU and OU losing to Kansas State and Okie Light. Baylor takes the title and, with 1 loss, rolls into the playoff.
brendandzwierzynski: Baylor is going to win the Big 12 again this coming season. For one, they have the best player in the conference at the most important position in the game, that being Bryce Petty at Quarterback. Add on to that the fact they have the Big 12's sixth leading rusher returning from last season (who wasn't even the featured back for the Bears) and you have an incredibly potent offense. Oklahoma is going to give them a run for their money, but Baylor is going to be the class of the Big 12 again in 2014.
Jim Hammen: I'll take Oklahoma in a squeaker over Baylor. I think it will come down to their head-to-head matchup in November, and the Sooners will ride the home-field advantage in that game, on their way to an undefeated regular season.
dnoll5: Oklahoma has the talent to win the Big 12 this season, making it the fourth different team to wear the crown since the league went to 10 teams. If they can put together performances like they did in the Sugar Bowl, they can win the Big XII and more, but I don't think they'll go undefeated. It's just too big of a gaunter to get through unscathed. All of their tough games are at home (K-State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor) and they play a neutral site game against Texas in Dallas, but it still seems pretty difficult. If there is a team to do it, this year's OU squad could be the one.
Kye'sKorner: Oklahoma. Boring pick? Perhaps. Not ready to go all-in on Baylor until I see their defense improve, and I think Oklahoma State is poised to take a small step back.
I would bet against Oklahoma going undefeated, even in conference and not speculating on post-season games. They'll trip up at some point.
mikeville: For those of you counting at home, that's OU 4, Baylor 2. Two predict an undefeated champ, three say at least one loss, and one no comment.
2. Convince your readers that Kansas will NOT finish last this year.
Jim Nedrow: It's really hard to argue KU won't finish last this year. What about the program's past three years could justify a different outcome? However, if you are looking for a glimmer of hope, I would look to the new offensive coordinator and a possible breakout season by Harwell. The defense sounds like it has some experience returning which can't hurt.
strathclyde: The defense will take a leap forward and the offense will try to keep up. KU has gotten better at limiting turnovers each year since 2010 and with a ball-control offense expected to control the time of possession, things are looking up in Lawrence.
brendandzwierzynski: Kansas is simply a better team than Iowa State and will finish ahead of them in the final Big 12 standings. While each team has 16 returning starters this coming season, the overall talent of KU's players is better, even without having James Sims. Tony Pierson is still a playmaker, the corps of running backs is decent, Jimmay Mundine is one of the better tight ends in the country (he's on the Mackey Award Watch List), and I truly believe that Montell Cozart has the ability to make things happen and help KU win games. He was often placed in very predictable offensive situations by Coach Weis last season; I believe that with an expanded role he'll be able to have much greater success. I truly feel as though Kansas has a better corps of players, at least on offense, than ISU and the offense is truly the key to success in the Big 12.
mikeville: I'm starting to be a believer... y'all hit the kool-aid pretty hard this summer...
Jim Hammen: I think KU can avoid the Big 12 cellar this year, but it's not an expression of faith in Lawrence as much as it is an indictment of the team residing in Ames. If KU can win the Iowa St. game, and snag another conference game or two along the way, that should be enough to dump the Cyclones into the basement.
dnoll5: Of course KU will not finish last; it's simple math. KU won one game under Charlie Weis in his first season. They won three during his second season. Using strict mathematical extrapolations, when KU triples their win total this season for the third consecutive year under Weis, a nine win season is upon us, and it is impossible to finish last when you are 6-3 in conference.
mikeville: Come on now...
dnoll5: Oh, you want real answers to this question? Ok, here we go. KU has winnable games against West Virginia, Iowa State, and TCU. Plus, for some reason, KU usually gives Texas some trouble and they get them at home this year (after a Texas bye week, but still). If they get three of those, can't that keep them ahead of Iowa State in the standings?
Kye'sKorner: The defense should be good enough to keep this team in most games. They return most of their starters from last year's squad which was pretty decent. If Cozart and the new offense show a semblance of competence, and with a couple of lucky breaks, they could win a couple games they aren't expected to and finish with as high as...5 wins. That would likely push someone else to the bottom of the pile.
mikeville: Everyone has some good thoughts here, but I think Nedrow and especially brendan really nailed it.
3. What team not named Iowa State is Kansas most likely to knock off this year?
Jim Nedrow: If you're asking which conference foe, other than ISU, KU will beat this year - I really don't have an answer. I am hoping for a couple upsets but that seems to be a stretch. Outside of conference play, the team's best shot (shocker) is Southeast Missouri State , who appeared, based on record, to be a subpar team in the Ohio Valley last year. I have to hope KU is better man for man than SEMO.
mikeville: Of course I meant Big 12 teams! Sorry that wasn't specific.
strathclyde: Kansas will win at Tech and West Virginia and home against Texas for four conference wins.
brendandzwierzynski: Kansas is most likely to knock off West Virginia this season (at least in terms of a non-ISU team). Simply put, Kansas beat them last season and I see no reason why they can't do it again, even considering KU's horrific road losing streak. As I've mentioned before, I honestly believe Kansas has an offensive that is good enough to at least be somewhat competitive, and with all of the question marks all over the WVU team, they seem ripe to be upset at home.
Jim Hammen: TCU, in the last home game of the season. KU could have (and probably should have) stolen the game in Fort Worth last year, but couldn't take advantage of TCU's five turnovers and let one slip away.
dnoll5: Lots of people are probably picking KU to beat WVU again, but I think they have a more legitimate shot at beating at beating TCU. The game is at home and KU will hopefully be coming off a win against Iowa State while TCU will most likely be coming off a loss at K-State. None of that really matters of course, but KU held strong against the Horned Frogs last season, and I think that will be one of the closer games that KU plays in conference. A two-game conference winning streak? A guy can dare to dream, right?
Kye'sKorner: You mean aside from SE Missouri State & Central Michigan? Those two would be the most likely in my opinion, but inside the conference, aside from Iowa State I'd have to say TCU. First of all, it's about the only other winnable home game I can realistically see. The Horned Frogs have been a relatively disappointing addition to the conference. They were 11-2 in 2011 and 13-0 in 2010. The hope was that they could sustain a certain level of that success heading into a power conference. For whatever reason (most likely increased difficulty from their competition), it hasn't worked out that way. They dropped to 7 wins in 2012 and only 4 wins a season ago. Of those combined 11 wins, two have come at the hands of the Jayhawks. Perhaps as they continue to fall back this Kansas team can rise up enough to claim a victory.
mikeville: So that's WVU 2, TCU 3, and Nobody 1.
4. Who on KU's current roster can you see playing on Sundays in the future?
Jim Nedrow: It has to be Nick Harwell and Ben Heeney. I didn't appreciate how poor the offense was until I read PenHawks over/under article. Unfortunately for Harwell, he doesn't have full control over his success. He will be directly affected by the production and ability of the guys surrounding him. He can't thrive unless he gets good line play, solid play from the QB, worthy downfield blocking, decent play-calling, and a hell of a lot less three and outs.
As for Heeney, he has a little more control over his situation. It appears everyone expects a decent improvement on the defensive side of the ball so his individual stats may take a dive (thanks for this thought PenHawk), but he seems to be a pretty consistent performer and he appears to be getting some national recognition which always helps.
strathclyde: This begins and ends with Heeney. The Hutchison native is currently ranked as the 9th best ILB in the country per CBS. No other Jayhawk ranks in the top 25 of their position group at this point with the exception of Mundine (FB) and Pardula (P).
brendandzwierzynski: For this one, I look to the defensive side of the ball and I'd have to say either Ben Heeney or Keon Stowers. Heeney is an athletic linebacker and a leader on the KU defense, the sort of player who can find himself on an NFL roster. Stowers is a monster in the middle, a big body who is more than capable as an interior lineman. While neither of these players are likely high draft picks, in my opinion they definitely have shots to make an NFL roster.
Jim Hammen: I'd love to see Tony Pierson in a poor man's Percy Harvin role in the NFL - lining up all over the formation on offense, handling some of the return game - but hopefully avoiding the injuries that have plagued Harvin thus far in his career.
dnoll5: Ben Heeney seems like the logical choice here although he might have to make a position change in the NFL. Nothing is really as straightforward with NFL prospects as it is with NBA prospects, so this is really just a shot in the dark. Nick Harwell is another interesting choice, and if he has straightened his life out (or even if he hasn't), he'd probably be a draft pick, right? He's a three time All-MAC receiver. Add an All-Big 12 receiver accolade on his list of accomplishments, and the NFL will probably come calling.
Kye'sKorner: Ben Heeney. Kind of a no-brainer. He's the only Jayhawk on the pre-season All-Big 12 team. He's on various watch lists, most notably for the Butkus Award. Nick Harwell is the other obvious candidate, although shaky quarterback play will probably limit his stats, and therefore his visibility.
mikeville: I see votes for Harwell (3), Heeney (6), Stowers (1), Pierson (1).
5. Will James Sims make the Green Bay Packers 53-man roster?
Jim Nedrow: I am a Detroit Lions guy so I don't waste time discussing the Packers, but if he is their starting running back that's probably a good sign for Detroit's NFC Championship chances.
mikeville: So that would be a no...
strathclyde: The Packers may carry four RBs with Starks and Lacey being locks. This leaves Dujuan Harris, Sims and three others for the final two spots. It does not look good at this point.
brendandzwierzynski: As a Jayhawk and a Green Bay Packers fan, I am hoping that James Sims makes the Packers' roster, and frankly it wouldn't be all that surprising. Considering the sort of players the Packers and GM Ted Thompson like he very well could make the team, especially since Johnathan Franklin was forced to retire and the future of DuJuan Harris is really in question. In the modern NFL, when a stable of running backs is more practical than one superstar back (with a few exceptions), Sims could definitely play his way on to the roster with a good camp. Plus, considering the injury bug that is yet again affecting Green Bay, they may end up needing to keep him around.
mikeville: I'm counting this as a Yes.
Jim Hammen: If you gave Aaron Rodgers his pick of Kansas Jayhawks to make the squad, he probably chooses Tarik Black, not Sims. Unfortunately, I don't think he makes the cut.
dnoll5: My prediction is that he won't make the initial 53-man squad for whatever reason, but will be good enough to stay on the practice squad and get a weekly paycheck, etc. Hopefully, he will be activated from the practice squad at some point during the season due to an injury/release of a player on the Packers.
Kye'sKorner: Barring an injury to someone in front of him... probably not, unless he can wow them as a special teams talent. Seems unlikely.
mikeville: Five vote "No" vs. one "Yes."
6. How many games do you honestly expect Kansas football to win this fall?
Jim Nedrow: I am predicting 5 wins. Why? Because that's what I would like to see happen. How will they do it? I have no idea and I wouldn't bet any amount of money on it. I just want to be the optimistic outlier for a change.
strathclyde: I have KU winning 6 games this season and finishing no worse than 6th in the league.
brendandzwierzynski: I think that SEMO, Central Michigan, West Virginia and Iowa State are all winnable games. This is a more experienced Jayhawks team with enough talent to compete, and I think four wins is a realistic expectation. None of these four teams are head and shoulders above KU and each one has their own weaknesses and question marks. We're not going to see a ton of it this season, but we will definitely see some improvement from Jayhawk football.
Jim Hammen: I'll go with three. KU gets the win in the season opener over Southeast Missouri St., pulls the patented Week 2 "How the hell did they lose THAT game?" that has become a staple in the Charlie Weis era, then scrapes out a couple of conference wins against Iowa St. and TCU.
dnoll5: Five: Southeast Missouri, Central Michigan, West Virginia, Iowa State, and TCU.
Kye'sKorner: 2-4. SE Missouri State, Central Michigan, Iowa State, & TCU - a split between those 4 seems like the safe bet. Taking 3 of 4 would be nice. A clean sweep might call for a parade down Mass. Street. Any other wins have to be considered a steal.
mikeville: Two votes for five, and one vote each for two, three, four, and six. Quite the optimistic group we have here! Oh, you younglings... you'll learn. You'll learn.
Thanks to our new guys for taking some time and answering these questions for us. Agree or disagree with their responses? Be sure to tell them how naive they are below if you're so inclined.
Tune in tomorrow to see how our crotchety "old guys" answer the same questions. I'm guessing there will be a lot more pessimism. We'll also have a chart summarizing all of the responses together that I hope will be interesting.