Year One of Les Miles was interesting, to say the least. I think we can safely say that we’ve seen him at his best; the first thought that comes to me is how he pulled a decent recruiting class together in less than three weeks. And I think we’ve also seen him at his worst; again for me, it was his stubbornness with the offense throughout the year but especially early on.
But how to really break it down? As always, we’ll just kinda wing it.
On Field Results
Kansas was given 3.5 over/under on wins by most major sports books last year, and the Jayhawks were ohsoclose to getting the over - albeit in a way most of us didn’t imagine. After struggling to beat FCS Indiana State, Kansas laid a huge egg at home against Coastal Carolina before going out and dominating Boston College.
In Big 12 play, the Jayhawks gave Texas all the Longhorns could handle in Austin before knocking off Texas Tech in Lawrence. The K-State game was KU’s first sellout in years, but was a complete disaster for the Jayhawks. It was such an up and down season, with five games decided by less than one score. You can also count the Iowa State game; if not for a ballsy fourth-down call that went for a touchdown, Kansas was in line to have the ball with a chance to win at the end.
With just a few more breaks, the Jayhawks could have easily been 7-5 and off to a bowl game. Coastal Carolina, West Virginia, Texas, and Iowa State were all winnable games, and two of those were on the road. We haven’t seen Kansas be competitive on the road in literally a decade.
They could have also just as easily gone 1-11, however. The Jayhawks suffered blowout losses to TCU, Oklahoma, K-State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor. They were never in any of those games.
Still, as bad as 3-9 sounds, 3-9 with a chance at 7-5 is a helluva lot better than what we’ve seen since 2010.
We have yet to see Miles bring in big recruits like I’m sure some KU football fans were hoping. After all, if David Beaty could do it, surely Miles could do it better! But that just hasn’t been the case. His first class, cobbled together in three weeks, ranked #70 by 247Sports. With just 17 players signed when most schools are inking close to 25 players, that’s a helluva job.
The 2020 class was even better, ranking at #56, within 10 spots of four other Big 12 schools. And the 2021 class is off to a solid start, currently ranking #40.
The key, as I’ve talked about several times, is the depth. There aren’t any flashy four or five-star recruits. But many of the three stars that are coming in are ranked in the national top-1000. It should only take a couple of classes like that to build the roster depth back to where it needs to be to be competitive in the Big 12, and the staff can then look to hit on bigger recruits or uncover hidden gems, something at which the Mangino era staff was quite adept.
Overall, I like the way that recruiting is trending, but I’d like it even more if we could get a few more local products to stick around. But that goes back to our last topic - win, and they may come.
The offense was an absolute disaster in the first two games of the year. Kansas tried to play smash-mouth football against two schools it should have been able to handle in FCS Indiana State and Sun Belt Coastal Carolina. Miles wanted to establish a dominating culture in his first two games.
KU had to come from behind in the fourth quarter against the Sycamores, and didn’t even gain 300 yards of offense in the dismal loss to the Chanticleers. However, after taking more input from then-offensive analyst Brent Dearmon, the Jayhawks had a great showing against Boston College and had their chances against West Virginia. But two blowouts to TCU and Oklahoma ended Les Koenning’s run as OC.
Enter RPO-guru Brent Dearmon. His first two games were massive hits, as the Jayhawks ran up and down the field on Texas and Texas Tech. But three of the final four games of the year saw more offensive whimpers as KU limped to the finish line. Did Miles get involved with the offense again, or was KU just outclassed?
But hey, look on the bright side. At least there weren’t any timeouts on fourth-and-short from midfield prior to calling for the punt team. At least, I don’t remember any. The Jayhawks also appeared much more disciplined for the most part, ranking in the top-30 in the NCAA in fewest penalties.
Off the Field
Miles was a big hit in Lawrence prior to ever coaching a game. He played tailgate games with students and even bought lunch for a lot of folks. And, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention ESPN+ and their production of Miles to Go, which at times gave an interesting look behind the scenes of Kansas football. And let’s not forget his acting career, participating in Dr. Pepper and Dos Equis commercials, as well as a movie.
Miles definitely won fans over early on in the court of public opinion, although some people raised some questions about Miles following Big 12 media days last summer.
But hey, if the man is healthy, I don’t care how “off” he is during press conferences. He’s called the Mad Hatter for a reason, right?
Kansas was more competitive, recruiting is up, and for a while the Jayhawks had a top-50 offense, all under a popular coach who is a proven winner. While the end result was about what most people expected, I do think the arrow is trending up. And while I’m not optimistic about much more improvement in the win column in 2020 (more on that later in the countdown), I do think that finally, Kansas is headed in the right direction with its football program.
Year One of Les Miles was a success across the board.