Fans got their first real taste of the freshman three-star quarterback those around the team have been talking about all summer. Jalon Daniels played the entire game Saturday, his first meaningful minutes coming on the road against a team who last year was in the college football playoff hunt.
You have surely seen the stats: 19/33 for 159 yards, 0 TDs and 0 interceptions. But that doesn’t really tell the full story. Daniels showed off his arm strength and was close to connecting on some big plays—he overthrew Andrew Parchment by a couple yards on a 50-yard bomb that would have resulted in a touchdown. He also didn’t make a ton of freshman mistakes, and while he put the ball on the ground twice, neither resulted in a turnover.
Still, Les Miles mentioned after the game that the starter for next week is still a consideration.
Les Miles said KU "might rethink" the QB spot between Miles Kendrick and Jalon Daniels (or presumably another option). #kufball— Scott Chasen (@ChasenScott) September 27, 2020
With Thomas MacVittie injured, it sounds like it’s between Daniels and Miles Kendrick for next week’s starter, although as pointed out in the Kansas City Star game recap by Gary Bedore, Daniels outperformed Kendrick in practice to get the job against Baylor. Despite the hype around those early possessions, Daniels does not have 100% of the fan base on his side, at least going off Twitter (also, it’s extremely dangerous to base things off Twitter sentiment).
But the argument for Daniels is a strong one. Let’s make the case.
We’ll start with the current reality. Kansas is 0-2 with an average margin of defeat of 24 points, and offense averaging 18.5 points per game (60th best out of 72 teams), and a defense giving up 42.5 ppg (65th best out of 72 teams). And instead of having 10 more games to right the ship like a normal season, the Jayhawks only have eight, all being against Big 12 opponents.
So the first question is what is there to play for this year? A fair answer is to say you play for the players—especially the seniors—who have worked hard and shouldn’t be given up on. Absolutely. And we have yet to see, with the small sample size we have, that MacVittie or Kendrick give the Jayhawks a clear and indisputable better chance to win now than Daniels.
Then we look at the future. It was understood when Miles took over that this was not a one- or two-year turnaround. Miles has started to lay the foundation by recruiting talented three-and-four-star freshmen (vs. the JUCO route that Weis made infamous), but the program is still a few years away.
What the Jayhawks need is consistency and depth, which means Miles and his staff have got to continue to grow the roster with capable power-5 conference players. Daniels can be a big selling point in that recruiting pitch.
Everyone knows the QB is the most important single position in football, and maybe all of sports. If Brent Dearmon can develop Daniels into a consistent, productive young talent by the end of the year, then you can market him as the key to Kansas’ future. And given that KU’s top 2021 commits are currently skill players at receiver and running back, knowing that they will be coming into a QB for the next three years is a big check in the pro category for why come to Kansas.
The sell for Kansas is also that guys can come in and get playing time right away. Daniels was the type of recruit Miles is trying to get more of, and by giving him the chance to play early and often, you’re reinforcing one of the selling points for KU over another mid-to-lower Big 12 power-5 school.
The Jayhawks don’t even need a spike in the win column. It’s a weird, shortened year that can somewhat be explained away. They just have to prove they can be competitive and show progress at the most important positions. And a talented will-be sophomore for whom you know is going to be the guy (at least for now) and with whom you can grow a rapport is more appealing than one of a shuffled group of transfers that hasn’t been able to stand out from each other.
Kansas is trying to set the groundwork for future success. For that to happen, you have to get it right at quarterback. And the best long-term opportunity is with Daniels guided by Dearmon. But it has to start now.