As the 2016 season prepares to kick off in earnest this week, I’ve found myself on what I hope is the wrong end of a few discussions about Kansas Football. Obviously, working in an office with plenty of K-State fans, they’re mostly just going to point and laugh.
Snobs. Your team sucks too, but we’ll get to that in another article. (If I get around to it.)
Most opponents and their fans see Kansas on the schedule and think, oh good, another bye week. I’ll take the kids to park, visit the in-laws, whatever. Go ahead, keep thinking that if you want. Honestly, you’re probably ok - this year. But things are changing in Lawrence.
While it’s true that yes, the most likely outcome for your team is a comfortable three or four (or more) touchdown win, every year the Jayhawks either shock someone (hi West Virginia, Georgia Tech) or scare the tootsie rolls out of someone (oh hey there, TCU, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State).
However, these aren’t the Gill or Weis Jayhawks of the past several years, so maybe hold off on the basketball jokes for at least a couple of weeks. Head Coach David Beaty has now personally taken the reigns of his Air Raid offense. Although he can’t decide who his quarterback is going to be, he has plenty of young, speedy options who will all be given a chance to step up alongside Texas A&M transfer and former 5-star WR recruit Quiv Gonzalez, who looks to sparkplug a Jayhawk offense that was fairly stagnant last year.
KU will spread you out and throw the ball all over the field, wide, short, medium, long. Beaty seemed almost frustrated with how much KU had to run the ball last year, so look for him to really air it out. In addition to Quiv, Ben Johnson is a TE who acts like a receiver, and a big season is expected out of him although it’s all potential at this point. Ke’aun Kinner is a capable back who will keep defenses honest, and he’s got a solid backup in Arkansas transfer Denzell Evans.
I notice I’ve said the word “transfer” twice already. Last year, the Jayhawks had fewer scholarship players than an FCS school (or Penn State after the Sandusky sanctions). Thank you Charlie Weis. Anyway, Beaty is taking players from anywhere he can get them, and I suppose if KU football becomes “Transfer U” like Iowa State basketball I’d be OK with that. Two more transfers not eligible until 2017 are already on campus and practicing. One is a WR, the other OL. They’re both from Alabama, they’re both five-star recruits from the 2015 class, and if they both pan out, the Kansas offense should be something to behold - in 2017.
I got off track. My apologies.
As I said on our site recently, last year there weren’t many offenses in the country worse than Kansas. Depending on whether you prefer OFEI or S&P+, there were either three worse offenses (OFEI) or twelve (S&P+).
That means regardless of how you look at it, the Jayhawks were in the bottom 10 percent (of 128 teams). Kansas has added some offensive weapons for Beaty to work with and significant improvement from the offense overall could put Kansas in the top half of college football (top 64). That isn’t likely, and while most Jayhawk fans would be happy simply getting into the top 100, based on the track record of assistants Rob Likens and Zach Yenser I’m shooting for getting out of the bottom-third (top 85).
As for defense, the Jayhawks will base out of a 4-2-5 formation that features the guy who led the NCAA in solo tackles last year, senior safety Fish Smithson. The secondary is upper-classmen heavy and should be OK - it’s the line that has question marks. The defensive line is young, featuring three sophomores and a senior. Sophomore DE Dorrance Armstrong is expected to have a breakout season after a solid freshman campaign, but I imagine he’ll garner the lion’s share of double teams this year. If the Jayhawks can get any pressure at all on opposing quarterbacks, the defense will obviously look a lot better.
Special teams haven’t changed much - I expect KU to miss any field goals over 30 yards and punt on fourth down no matter where they are on the field. (Unless Beaty took that class on fourth-down math that we’ve been begging for.)
Overall, Kansas should be able to generate more explosive plays more often while on offense this year, which should help keep them in games. Depending on what we’ve got on the defensive line, I’d expect the defense to improve marginally this fall as well.
As mentioned earlier, Beaty is getting talent into Lawrence, moreso than you might think when you think “Kansas football.” Yeah, they’re mostly three-star kids (one four-star so far), but Beaty’s job right now is to build up the depth and talent on the roster, and in my opinion, to this point, he is succeeding - Beaty is absolutely killing it on the recruiting trail considering the state of the program. Eventually, the buildup of depth and talent will resemble a respectable FBS program. It’s not there yet, as the Jayhawks are still way low on scholarship numbers.
But they’re getting better.
And you never know, maybe it’s your team that falls victim to the next upset.