The wait is over, and Kansas football season is upon us. Per usual, the Jayhawks will start the 2022 campaign with a matchup against an FCS squad. This year's opponent, Tennessee Tech, won't be quite as competitive as some of KU's other lower division competitors in recent years, where KU has gone up against some tough teams from the Missouri Valley, one of the toughest conferences in FCS. Tech, rather, comes from the Ohio Valley, because apparently FCS conferences must be named after midwestern rivers.
Last year, the Golden Eagles went 3-8 in their campaign, finishing 1-5 in conference play. They did face an FBS opponent, but it wasn't an equal comparison to Kansas. Instead, Tech played the SEC's Tennessee Volunteers. While Tennessee hasn't been a power in the SEC in some time, it's hard to read much into their 56-0 beatdown of Tech that would apply to tonight's game. But with that shutout being one of five games in which Tennessee Tech would lose by at least 26 points, the 2021 schedule does paint a portrait of a team that struggled last year.
Last year's Golden Eagle offense mainly featured the run game, with 403 rushes to 311 pass attempts. Neither ground or air worked particularly well for them, picking up just 3.9 yards per rush and 5.7 yards per pass attempt, against almost entirely FCS competition. By contrast, against FBS teams, KU earned the same number of yards per rush attempt, but gained about 7 yards per throw. Defensively, the Eagles allowed about 32 points per game and allowed 65 more yards each week on average than they gained.
Of course, Kansas isn't playing last year's Tennessee Tech squad, and this year's Golden Eagles have one thing going for them: consistency. The team's leading passer and five leading rushers return from 2021, as does every player who caught a pass last fall. Defensively, you have to drop down to their 7th leading tackler to find one who graduated last year, so both sides of the ball have plenty of experience, and the number of freshmen and sophomores playing last year no doubt fed into their poor results.
One player to keep an eye on its graduate transfer QB, and expected starter, Jeremiah Oatsvall. He started his career at Austin Peay before getting called up to FBS, transferring to Memphis. However, due to a lack of playing time there, he stepped back down a level for his final year. He was successful as Peay's signal caller, and the interest from bigger schools would suggest that he's at least above average in terms of FCS QBs. Running back David Gist will be another name to watch, as he's coming off a 2021 season where he ran for more yards than any Tech back since 2011.
For those nervous about Tennessee Tech as a giant-slayer, history is not on their side. Tech is 2-36 all time against FBS competition, with their last win coming in 1980. Current times are not on their side either, with the Sagarin ratings (one of few ratings to combine FBS and FCS schools), ranks Tech 220th, compared to KU's bad-but-still-much-better 110th. ESPN's college analytics guru Bill Connelly and his sp+ predictive metric have Kansas as 33 point favorites, with a predicted final of 47-14. Many sports books don't put lines on games involving an FCS school, but those that do generally have KU as a four touchdown favorite under the Friday night lights.
I'm not generally known for optimism in my predictions, but I don't see a major letdown coming in this one. Tennessee Tech is not a competitive FCS program, and for all KU's issues, they're still fielding a team of players who were generally recruited by Power 5 schools, and who looked competitive over the last half of 2021. The Jayhawks aren't scrambling to fill gaping holes in the depth chart after last year either, leaving fewer question marks headed into this one than in certain years past. I think Kansas will score early and build a respectable lead, but may give up a few too many yards to really run away with it.
Kansas 38, Tennessee Tech 17