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97 Days to Football: Rock Chalk Roundtable - Gut Punches, Experience and Hope.

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I pulled the crew together to commiserate about the football off-season.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Kansas Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

With Kansas Football only 97 days away, it’s time to start steeling ourselves for what is likely to be a rough season. Despite the joy inspired by the firing of Sheahon Zenger, the season is still shaping up to be pretty hopeless. But we still have a team to cover, and so we start our roundtable by talking through the trauma of last season and the offseason and starting to look for hope moving forward.

Let’s start off the roundtable series by grounding ourselves in reality. Obviously, last season did not go well for Kansas Football. What was the biggest blow to the psyche of the KU football fan?

David: It has to be the Central Michigan game. Being down 24-6 at halftime to a pedestrian MAC team was deflating proof that the team hadn’t improved. When your team has been as bad as KU, that’s all it takes. Even though it was just the second game of the season, I can’t imagine continuing to have any hope for the season season after that.

Jakebogen95: I would go with David as well. That game hurt… a lot. One thing that was really upsetting was to see how even though KU had some big-time defensive players in Dorance Armstrong Jr., Joe Dineen, Daniel Wise, and Mike Lee to name a few. It was all for naught and it seemed like the defense never really had a breakthrough at any point in the season. Armstrong went from a great 2016 to a 2017 with just 2 sacks and it’s a big reason of why he wasn’t a top 40 pick in April.

Kyle_Davis21: In addition to the Central Michigan game and defense, one major blow that comes to mind was the lack of competitiveness in conference play. And it wasn’t just wins and losses. In 2016, not only did KU beat Texas, but the Jayhawks were within a point of TCU in a game they could have won, and were within a touchdown of Iowa State. Last year, the closest Kansas got to being competitive was a 10-point loss to K-State, and went on a two-game stretch where it lost by a combined 88-0 against Iowa State and TCU.

Winmore: Twenty-one total yards, for a GAME, against TCU on October 21, 2017 in front of a nationally televised Fox audience. Mark that date on the tombstone of the David Beaty era of Kansas football. That was a Big 12 record for offensive ineptitude. Outside of the win over Southeast Missouri State in game one - a game that was much closer than the 38-16 final score would indicate - the fact that the Jayhawks were not even competitive in 11 straight contests to close out the year was an absolute embarrassment. It didn’t even look look like Kansas was playing the same sport as their opponents. There’s losing and then there is the 2017 Kansas football Jayhawks. It was like an elaborate performance art piece of savage incompetence.

dnoll5: I agree with Winmore. All of it. From that very first game, you could tell this team was going to be terrible. I’ve put specific details out of my mind because the whole season was such a disaster, and it was for the best.

Mike.Plank: It was definitely the Central Michigan game, but you could see signs of it coming in the victory over SEMO. If you need a refresher, dnoll, here you go. The key stat is that SEMO came in with a statistical profile similar to Rhode Island in 2016, whom KU beat by 45 points. Bender looked average against a bad team, and the season only got worse from there. Central Michigan was, FYI, my first #FireZenger moment on RCT.

Andy Mitts: Every single one of these was an absolute gut punch. But I’m going with the Iowa State game. Before the season started, Iowa State was a team that was just as bad as the Jayhawks, and likely were going to be fighting for the bottom of the conference. And then the Cyclones completely destroyed us. Sure the overall yardage looked worse against TCU, but given where Iowa State was expected to be, this stomping was even worse. Add in the fact that avoiding the letdown cemented the idea that Iowa State had essentially turned their program around, and it became a huge gut punch to realize that we were probably all alone in the long-term at the bottom of the conference.

The Jayhawks lost a major contributor in Dorance Armstrong to the draft, but many important pieces to last year’s team returned. Is this fact a positive or negative for KU thing into Year 4 of David Beaty?

David: It’s a positive, but to derive much hope from the players returning, you’d have to have some faith left in David Beaty. We haven’t seen a bit of evidence that players get better while working with these coaches. Look at Armstrong. He blew up in his sophomore year, but last season, even playing next to an all-conference DT in Wise, he struggled. Teams were shifting extra attention to him in pass protection, and Bowen couldn’t seem to find a way to adapt. Players just haven’t shown steady improvement under this staff, and I can’t see any reason to think they’ll start now.

Jakebogen95: It’s a negative but it was expected. When you have good players like that they eventually leave for the next level. Armstrong gets a ton of blame but when I was watching the film over again for this draft season, I realized Armstrong was held back big time by the coaching staff (at least in my opinion). He had 43 defensive stops which was second only behind Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and I think he still despite not having the freedom to rush as much. He still displayed a great deal of strength as a run stopper. Daniel Wise is going to have a breakout year but Kansas will miss Dorance Armstrong for sure.

Kyle_Davis21: To David’s point, Kansas has had a decent number of strong individual performers over the past couple years, especially on defense (Armstrong, Joe Dineen, Daniel Wise, etc.), but it hasn’t translated to team success. Opposing teams know who to stop on offense and avoid on defense for the Jayhawks. The question still is if the coaching staff can get guys like Steven Sims the ball in the open field and make teams pay for putting all their attention on a few key players on defense.

Winmore: Could be, but David said it best, this coaching staff hasn’t shown the ability to coach any of the team’s talent up. Some coaches simply don’t have it. And while you can excuse one, maybe even two seasons of bad football for coaches at a new job, improvement has to start to show, even in defeat. It doesn’t help David Beaty and his staff what Matt Campbell did at Iowa State in just his second year last season. You could put 1998 Randy Moss with Beaty’s coaching staff and I doubt they would be able to get him the ball.

dnoll5: It’s always a positive to have good players, but when you have no one to coach them up or adapt to what real teams and real coaches are doing to minimize their impact in a game, those talented guys get lost in the overall crapiness of the program. Props to a guy like Dorance Armstrong to keep on grinding and get a shot at the NFL (the scouts obviously know who has pro potential and who doesn’t regardless of their college team’s inability to play the sport) but it’s a testament to the individual player to keep trucking even though the team and coaching staff stinks. I hope the returners act and play with as much class as Armstrong.

Mike.Plank: Sure, there’s something to be said for experience, but I’ll note that Kansas will also be missing Mesa Rhibordy in 2018. The offensive line is the weakest point of this team, and they’re breaking in a new line coach this year, so, the experience that’s there will still have to adjust to those factors. Having experienced players, especially juniors and seniors, is never a bad thing, but I’m just not convinced that it’s going to help that much this year.

Andy Mitts: I wasn’t as clear with this question as I should have been, so Jake gets a pass here. I do think that experience for this team is a bit of a double-edged sword. Sure, you would expect that having another year of experience will help a player to perform better. However, this coaching staff hasn’t shown the ability to utilize or develop players in ways that you would normally expect. So I’m actually hoping we lean less on the experienced guys and more on whatever talent and athleticism we have on the roster.

Finally, let’s at least try to be optimistic. What’s the most positive development coming out of the recruiting period and spring practices?

David: I guess it’s bringing in Corione Harris. It’s an accomplishment to bring in one of the highest rated recruits in school history when you’re mired in failure the way this program is. Other than that, it’s hard to think of anything. As a Kansas football fan, I can’t really say something that happens in the off-season is much of a positive. Until they start playing competitive football, what happens December-August is pretty meaningless.

Jakebogen95: Corione Harris and Pooka Williams were huge gets. Williams could be the next big-time Chris Thompson like pass-catching back and Harris has a chance to be a first-round pick someday. Big-time talents that stuck by their word and didn’t back out of commitment like Devonta Jason, JaMarr Chase, and Aaron Brule.

Kyle_Davis21: Corinne Harris is definitely a reason to be optimistic. But to refrain from being repetitive, I guess I’ll go with Miles Kendrick. Not necessarily because I think he’ll come in and be the difference maker, but because QB is clearly the most important position on the field and Kansas hasn’t had a guy who has taken the reins and clearly been the top quarterback on the roster. Again, I don’t know if Kendrick is that guy. But you mostly know what you’ve got with Stanley and Bender, so reading about the new guy coaches are talking positively about, whom Steven Sims said has an “elite, strong arm,” and for whom an Elite 11 coach said “that the ball spins a little bit better than everybody else’s” makes me at least somewhat optimistic. Even if the same has been said for other failed QBs. Maybe it’s the 5-10 frame that resembles the last guy who had great success under center for the Jayhawks.

Winmore: Every season is a new start. Predictions make fools of everyone. A positive going into this season? If 2017 was rock bottom, the only way you can go is up. Right? Right???

dnoll5: I have no idea. Recruiting isn’t my thing. KU keeps getting better recruits than they should. And the team still sucks. Oops, sorry, we were supposed to be positive, but why should I believe that this year will be any different from the last few?

Mike.Plank: Optimism sure is hard to come by. It’s hard to answer the question because there was no spring game, but in general, KU has some talent at the skill positions in Sims, Dom Williams, and Pooka Williams. There’s talent on defense again with Corione Harris, Daniel Wise, Joe Dineen, and Mike Lee. If the coaches name Miles Kendrick the starter, that will show that they’re adaptable and willing to try new things, and that would be a reason for hope come fall, but I can’t believe they will give up on Bender after one year. So, there is some talent. Your reason for optimism unfortunately has to be placed with the coaching staff, and if you follow the program very closely at all, you quickly realize how difficult of a task it is to be optimistic at this point in time.

Andy Mitts: The firing of Sheahon Zenger isn’t in itself a positive for the football team, but it does set up a season of progress on some front. Either David Beaty is going to find a way to get the football team moving in the right direction and gets some wins, or the firing of Zenger will allow us to move on try again to find a coach that can get the program to where it needs to be. And at the very least, those in the administration know that failure will no longer be tolerated.

We’ll be checking in with the staff a few more times in this summer as we gear up for the season. If you have any questions you want us to answer, feel free to send us an email at rctsbn@gmail.com, contact us on Facebook or on Twitter @rockchalktalk.