Last week, the Big 12 released the 2016 football conference slate. This year was a rough one for Jayhawks everywhere, as the Jayhawks completed only their second winless season in school history.
However, that means that David Beaty has nothing but opportunity in front of him this offseason. He's got the opportunity to recruit and the opportunity to develop, as only five of the 19 seniors this year were on the two-deep. However, I would still think he could sell playing time to certain recruits, especially if that recruit doesn't want to go somewhere and sit around for two or three years.
He'll also have opportunity when the season starts next year to get the Jayhawks back into the win column. Let's take a look at each game on the schedule.
Game 1 - Rhode Island
This is easily KU's best chance at a win in 2016. The Rams went 1-10 in 2015. If you're going to go to a KU game next fall, go to this one, wave the wheat, and help Beaty get the monkey off his back. Ryan Willis should have a field day on this secondary, and I'll be disappointed if we don't beat this team by 30.
Game 2 - Ohio
The Bobcats are probably KU's second best chance at a win in 2016, but will be a stiff test for what will still be a rebuilding Jayhawk football program. Ohio is currently 8-4 (5-3 MAC) with a close, 3-point loss to Minnesota on their resume. They will lose their quarterback and second leading rusher to graduation, but will be returning all three of their top receivers. Ohio is currently rated at #67 in the S&P+ ratings - five spots higher than Iowa State. KU will have a chance in this one, and this will be a good measuring stick to see how well the program developed over the spring and summer. A win here and real progress has been made. A loss by any margin and you probably shouldn't expect KU to do any better than 1-11.
Game 3 - Memphis
Memphis, as I'm sure you'll recall, pasted the Jayhawks rather handily in Lawrence this year by a 55-23 count. They return pretty much everyone on offense in 2016 and will definitely be a handful, especially with Kansas going on the road to face them. Memphis is currently 9-3 and rated #36 in the S&P+. However, their head coach, Justin Fuente, will be replacing Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech next year. I wouldn't expect the Jayhawks to win this one, but if things break right, maybe it won't be a blowout.
The Jayhawks take on the fearsome bye week in week 4 - a nice breather before conference play begins.
Game 4 - Texas Tech
The Jayhawks take to the road to open up Big 12 play. Mahomes should be back for the Red Raiders, although they'll lose their top rusher (DeAndre Washington) and receiver (Jakeem Grant). Kansas hasn't won a road game since 2008, and hasn't won a conference road game since 2007. I wouldn't expect them to break either streak in 2016, but if they were going to do it, this is probably where it would happen.
Game 5 - TCU
Kansas has played TCU well since they became a member of the Big 12. If that trend continues, the Jayhawks will, eventually, knock off the Horned Frogs. The Frogs will be losing a lot on offense, with Boykin, Green, Doctson, and Listenbee all graduating. Will the Frogs take a step back next year? Even if they do, KU has a long way to go until they can expect a win against TCU. But in Lawrence, as we've seen, crazy things can happen.
Game 6 - Baylor
Seth Russel will be back next year, as will the Bears' top two rushers (Linwood, Jefferson) and top two receivers (Coleman, Cannon). If Baylor can avoid the injury bugs they suffered this year, this squad should be competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Getting a win in Waco will be highly unlikely for the Jayhawks.
Game 7 - Oklahoma State
J.W. Walsh will finally have graduated, but Mason Rudolph will be back along with leading rusher Chris Carson and two of their top three receivers (Washington, Ateman). The Cowboys should be in contention again next year for the Big 12 title, which means they'll also be playing for a spot in the playoff. It will be a tough task for Kansas to knock off the Cowboys, but in Lawrence, KU has shown even when having a bad year that they're capable of the upset.
Game 8 - Oklahoma
The Sooners will lose Sterling Shephard and Durron Neal next year, but return pretty much everyone else. Assuming Baker Mayfield returns, Oklahoma should be a top 10, if not top 5 team next year. If Kansas were to knock off Oklahoma, it would literally be the upset of the century - and that's not hyperbole.
Game 9 - West Virginia
The Mountaineers return the QB, top two RBs, and top three WRs. No word on whether or not Karl Joseph will qualify (or even seek) a medical redshirt. Either way, the WVU offense should be scary next year, and once again, here comes the obligatory reference to KU's road woes. Unfortunately, you shouldn't expect much out of the Jayhawks in this one.
Game 10 - Iowa State
Ah, Iowa State. Richardson will be gone, but Joel Lanning got plenty of experience at QB this year. It will help them that freshman phenom RB Mike Warren will be back. As for WRs, Lazard will still be around, but Bundrage will graduate. The last conference team KU beat was these very Cyclones in 2014 in Lawrence. This is KU's best shot at a conference win. This will be another measuring stick game, similar to the Ohio matchup back in September. KU lost by 25 in Ames this year - can they flip the script and pick up a W one year later?
Game 11 - Texas
Like Kansas, Texas played a lot of underclassmen in 2015. Before this year, Charlie Strong promised that fans would never see another 5-loss Texas squad again. They had five losses before November 1. Kansas has, on occasion, played the Longhorns tough in Lawrence. It seems unlikely that they'll do so again in 2016, but like I've said several times earlier, you just never know.
Game 12 - Kansas State
Pretty much everyone returns for K-State with the exception of Kody Cook. Bill Snyder says he will decide after the season whether or not he will return to the sidelines for KSU. On paper, it's possible to make the argument that this is a game that the Jayhawks should have a chance in. However, we all know better, don't we?
By my count, the schedule breaks down like this:
|Should Win||Could Win||Probably won't win||Upset of the Century|
|vs Rhode Island||vs Ohio||@ Memphis||@ Baylor|
|vs Iowa State||@ Texas Tech||@ Oklahoma|
|vs Oklahoma State|
|@ West Virginia|
|@ Kansas State|
Best case scenario is probably 4-8. Worst case scenario is 1-11 - I really don't see how we lose to Rhode Island. Most likely, I think we're looking at 2-10 with a decent shot at 3-9.
I'm interested to see what happens between now and the end of September 2016. I said it at the beginning of this piece and I'll say it again - what Beaty has in front of him is opportunity. Also, I keep reminding myself that at each of their last two stops, Likens and Yenser significantly improved the offenses they were working with from year one to year two. If they can work similar magic here, Jayhawk fans will have something to look forward to in 2016.