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Is Kansas Football actually getting better?

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Progress or no? We’ve been duped before.

West Virginia v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Progress!

That cry has been heard with each of the last three coaches to take the reigns of the Kansas football program. And now, following a big win at Boston College and close loss to West Virginia, we’re already hearing it again, this time regarding Les Miles, especially among the more local beat writers.

Turner Gill’s 2011 team lost 3 of their last 4 games by a combined 18 points (excluding Texas A&M). Progress! But it wasn’t enough to save his job.

Charlie Weis saw “success” on the recruiting trail with Dayne Crist, Jake Heaps, and the juco “Dream Team” all coming to Lawrence. Progress! After 6 wins in 28 games, Weis was also shown the door.

The end of 2016 was good enough for David Beaty to get a raise and an extension after close games with Iowa State, Kansas State, and the upset of Texas. PROGRESS!!! However, 2017 was again horrible, and three close losses to K-State, Oklahoma, and Texas at the end of 2018 weren’t enough to keep David Beaty in Lawrence.

Now Les Miles is in town, recruiting like he’s still in the SEC, and Kansas is being surprisingly competitive through four games with the leftovers from the Beaty era.

Coastal Carolina was just three weeks ago, guys.

But how much do we really need to pump the brakes, if at all? Let’s let S&P+ be the judge.

KU Football S&P+

YEAR OVR OFF DEF
YEAR OVR OFF DEF
2010 105 108 80
2011 101 73 114
2012 102 92 90
2013 89 112 55
2014 102 109 74
2015 125 111 123
2016 119 115 105
2017 114 108 110
2018 100 114 94
KU Football S&P+

As you can see, since 2010 KU’s highest Overall ranking was 89 in 2013. The best Offense was 73 in 2011, and the best Defense was 55 in 2013.

Four weeks into the 2019 season, KU looks like this: OVR 77, OFF 89, DEF 64. The Jayhawks opened 2019 with an overall ranking of 109 (out of 130 teams). Per the creator of S&P+, preseason rankings rely heavily on recent history, player turnover, and recruiting. This means that in four weeks, Kansas has moved from the 83-percentile (only 17% of teams ranked worse than KU) to the 60-percentile.

That’s... something.

And the best part is, S&P+ is designed (and constantly tweaked) to be “predictive and forward-facing.” It incorporates “tempo- and opponent-adjusted measures” to rate college football teams.

Remember, Kansas has yet to play Oklahoma or Texas. In fact, only two of their first four games have been against fellow “Power 5” programs. Boston College is currently an overall 73 and West Virginia is 74, while Coastal Carolina is down at 91.

The upcoming road game at TCU (overall 28 in S&P+) will obviously tell us more about this Kansas team, but I still think it will be too soon to make any proclamations with more than half of the season still to come.

But if KU can somehow finish in the 70s in S&P+ for 2019 (or higher, obviously), that would be a marked improvement that none of the previous coaches were able to accomplish.

And THAT, my friends, would be progress.

One thing I’d like to note (that I assume S&P+ is accounting for) is that in KU’s last two games, the offense has averaged more than 7.0 yards per play (per sports-reference.com). In four years, David Beaty had four such games, total. For comparison’s sake, Charlie Weis and Turner Gill combined for zero, while Mark Mangino had seven just from 2007-09. It certainly seems as if the offense is coming alive, especially if offensive coaches can continue to steer Miles away from the 2 TE, 1 FB sets.

However, all of that said - at this point, I will not commit to declaring that Kansas is making progress. I will grant that it certainly appears to be the case. And, we can revisit the idea after four more games, which would be 23 of the season. But since I’m in full-blown “see it to believe it mode,” I would really prefer to wait until the end of the year.

Just in case. After all - we’ve been burned before.