Alright folks, this is it. We’ve finally made it to game week! Kansas and Indiana State will meet for the first time on the gridiron one week from today in Lawrence, KS.
The Sycamores are coached by Curt Mallory, who begins his third season in Terre Haute. Mallory played college ball at Michigan back in the early 1990s, and has been a defensive backs coach or defensive coordinator since 2000. This is his first head coaching gig.
In Mallory’s first season of 2017, the Sycamores went 0-11. However, in 2018 they posted a 7-4 record, finishing third in the Missouri Valley and ending the season ranked #25 in FCS. Despite finishing 2018 on a 5-game win streak, ISU was not selected as an at-large participant in the FCS playoffs.
For 2019, expectations are even higher. The Sycamores are ranked #16 in the preseason poll, ahead of traditional FCS programs like Northern Iowa and Sam Houston State. In fact, 5 of the 10 Missouri Valley teams are ranked in the FCS top 20, with a sixth receiving votes.
The Sycamores are expected to contend for a spot in the 24-team FCS playoffs this season, something they have only done once in the last 30 years (2014).
Indiana State @ Kansas
August 31, 2019, 11:00 AM
Lawrence, KS: Memorial Stadium (50,071)
About the ISU Offense
Indiana State should be an excellent prep for the rest of KU’s non-conference schedule. Last season, the Sycamores ran the ball on 59.3% of its snaps and averaged 5.1 ypc as a team.
Overall, ISU returns 9 starters on offense. ISU’s leading rusher from last season is gone, but the Sycamores returns starting QB and second-leading rusher Ryan Boyle, as well as RB Titus McCoy, who carried the ball 120 times last season. Additionally, every receiver who caught more than two passes last season is back for 2019.
Along the offensive line, eight linemen from last year’s Week 1 two-deep return, including four starters. This year’s offensive line looks to feature five fifth-year seniors who will look to improve upon ISU’s 241.5 rushing yards per game last year.
Oh, one other note - ISU’s offense led FCS last year in fewest turnovers. Now, stats like this generally see regression back toward the mean, but, it also indicates that Kansas can’t plan on getting six turnovers and going on a 55-14 romp.
About the ISU Defense
Indiana State returns six starters on defense, but looks to continue improvement on this side of the ball as well. ISU returns just two of its top-5 tacklers from last season, including leading tackler in LB Jonas Griffith. Griffith ranked fifth nationally in tackles last season, leading the Missouri Valley. For 2019, Griffith has been named preseason All-American by three publications, including Phil Steele.
Indiana State was picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley in the preseason media poll, and even garnered a first-place vote.
Neither S&P+ nor Athlon rank FCS teams, so the only comparison we have are the Sagarin Ratings. For the 2019 preseason, Kansas is ranked #91, while Indiana State is ranked #117.
The Jayhawks were ranked #107 by S&P+ and #106 by Athlon.
ISU looks to be a good test of this Kansas team. On offense they’re deep and experienced, and (unfortunately) look to be a solid test for KU’s brand-new front seven on defense. Early betting lines on this game opened with KU as just a slight favorite, Kansas -3.5. Meanwhile, S&P+ projects a 10-point KU win.
However, remember that last season Kansas was a six-point betting favorite over Nicholls State. Surely we all remember how that turned out. Come on, remember? Remember how I was right, and everybody else was wrong?
Anyway, while we remember, we also know - Kansas football is supposed to be different now. Les Miles is here. And if Kansas is to build a football program, it can’t start with a loss to a team like Indiana State. It just can’t. (I won’t mention that even Bill Snyder lost his first home game to Northern Iowa.)
I admit, this game is a lot more scary now than when I made my first way-too-early prediction two months ago. ISU is definitely a team that should have your attention, but I’ll say it one last time - if Les Miles is the coach we think he is, this is a game the Jayhawks should win. Kansas 34, Indiana State 20.