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Jason Bean, We Never Deserved You

How did this skinny North Texas transfer become a cornerstone of the Kansas football turnaround?

NCAA Football: Guaranteed Rate Bowl-Kansas at UNLV Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get the simple stuff out of the way. Jason Bean played three total years for the Kansas Jayhawks. He started his career at North Texas, mostly in a two-QB system, and moved on looking for a place where he could be the guy. In 2021, it seemed like he’d found that place in Lawrence, KS. He played in 11 games, though he completed just 56% of his passes with as many interceptions as touchdowns (six each).

Through a combination of getting banged up and just not meeting expectations, Jalon Daniels, who showed some flashes as a freshman running for his life in 2020, started to take the role from Bean, cementing himself as the starter after leading KU to the first big win of the Lance Leipold era on the road over Texas.

Heading into 2022, the arrow appeared to be pointing upward for Kansas, and Jalon Daniels was a big part of that. No one expected 6 wins and a memorable bowl game for that squad though, and the idea would have seemed especially laughable if you’d said before the season started that Daniels would be dealing with injuries and Bean would have to take the reigns during an important stretch of the season. Bean came in against a TCU team that would end up in the CFP final and nearly led the Jayhawks to an upset victory after going 16/24 for 262 yards and 4 TDs. They would lose that game and the next two close battles, seemingly stuck on 5 wins. Then Bean led the Jayhawks to a 37-16 victory over Oklahoma State to make Kansas bowl eligible.

It sounds like I’m painting a story of a beloved Jayhawk football great, and in a sense I am, but it would be irresponsible to ignore the narrative surrounding Bean. For all the highlight plays and incredible running ability Bean could put on display, he couldn’t shake struggles with both accuracy and decision making at times. In 2022 he held the INTs to just four, and if you look at the numbers, there’s really nothing there to suggest he was anything but an outstanding backup QB.

Despite that, decision-making issues at inopportune times kept the fans from fully embracing Bean, and most seemed to be counting down the days until Daniels returned, especially when Bean was banged up the next week against Texas Tech, and Daniels took back the reigns the following week against Texas, a rough game where it seemed neither Bean nor Daniels was really ready to go, despite Daniels playing all the way through. Bean was already on his fifth year senior season, and in a 3 OT bowl game loss to Arkansas, he made the wrong decision trying to force a throw on a failed two point converstion that ultimately cost KU the game. After 5 years of college football, it appeared that would be the last play of Bean’s career.

However, Bean did have the option of exercising his COVID year exemption and playing a sixth year. He somewhat surprisingly announced he would be doing just that in the summer of 2023. Fan reactions were mixed. Daniels has shown to be injury prone, so having an experienced backup QB who’s seen success as the Kansas signal caller was a great asset. At the same time, Bean had made just enough controversial and inaccurate throws in his time that there were still plenty of haters. I myself was glad to see him return, but with the same asterisk many other fans had. I felt like he was a fine emergency option, but that if he ended up taking a lot of snaps at QB, this team would be in trouble, and unlikely to make a second consecutive bowl game.

I was very, very wrong.

In a sense, I and the other Bean skeptics were still correct. Right down until his final game last night, he continued to throw some head-scratching passes directly into coverage, even when the offense was humming. His accuracy improved a lot, but he still missed throws a D1 quarterback should make. He was frustrating. But lost in that frustration was the real story: Jason Bean is a machine who was leading Kansas to new heights.

As we know, Daniels hardly played this year due to ongoing back problems. The 2023 Jayhawks were Jason Bean’s team. Bean would go on to miss nearly two full games due to injury, and while freshman QB Cole Ballard was mostly fine in his time filling in, the reality is that we likely win at least one of the close losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State if Bean had been able to play. Bean had gone from an erratic backup with flashes of talent, to the guy who could have singlehandedly tipped the scales in KU’s favor had he been in the game in those one-possession losses.

Yet, despite all of this, the frustration with Bean continued. There were fans who were believers from the start, and I tip my cap to them. I wasn’t part of that group. To suggest Bean wasn’t good enough to lead the team to success would have been insane. Even the biggest haters wouldn’t say that with a straight face, especially after Bean led Kansas to what would arguably be the biggest win of the Leipold era to date, knocking off a top-10 ranked Sooners team on a rainy day in Lawrence.

But even in that game, which every KU football fan will remember for years to come, it looked like he cost Kansas their chance at the upset when Bean, in back-to-back possessions in the 4th quarter of a one-possession game, threw a pair of interceptions on passes that should never have even been thrown. Those passes, the second one in particular, really illustrated the negative side of Bean’s game. Bean was going to make frustrating mistakes sometimes. It’s just part of the Bean experience.

Fortunately, another part of the Bean experience is being amazed by his skill, and a 37-yard completion on 4th-and-6 to Lawrence Arnold put that on full display. Not to be crass, but that play just shows you the kind of balls Jason Bean has. No matter what had gone wrong, even with his crazy windup throwing motion on deep balls, he fired a ball downfield with the game on the line on 4th down, and delivered a perfect strike. That strike would end up winning the game for the Jayhawks.

I don’t need to summarize Bean’s whole season. If you’re reading this, you no doubt know what Bean and the Jayhawks would go on to accomplish this year in the absence of QB1 Jalon Daniels, the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. The results, and his numbers, speak for themselves.

Jason Bean, all I can say from the bottom of my crimson and blue heart, is that myself and the doubters in the fanbase never deserved you. You signed on to play a sixth year of football, and signed on to do it at Kansas, despite knowing you could have transferred to a school where you would be QB1 out of the gate. You came back to back up Jalon Daniels, not knowing at that point that it would essentially be your show this season.

And when Daniels went down, you went out and gave Kansas everything you had on every play. Sure, there were mistakes, and turnovers, and poorly thrown balls. But because of the narrative surrounding your play in previous years, the negatives became the focus of too many fans, all while you were putting together an incredible year overall.

Jason Bean was great. Forget the mistakes. The guy wasn’t a perfect quarterback, but he was a hell of a football player. He was unconventional, but he got things done. He was a guy you could put your trust in when Kansas needed points. He was arguably the fastest straight-line runner in college football, and somehow most of those windup deep throws found their target. Bean led Kansas to a 9-4 record in a season where preseason expectations were mostly just hope that KU could get back to a bowl game. Instead, they stayed a part of the Big 12 title race for much of the season.

And they did it on the shoulders of an incredible football player named Jason Bean.

I can’t speak for all the doubters, but I will unequivocally say this: I’m an idiot for doubting Jason Bean, and for focusing on the occasional bad throws rather than what he was doing overall. Bean came back for a 6th year, and for all he knew, he was going to spend it on the sideline watching Jalon Daniels ball out. Instead, he was the one balling out, and leading the Jayhawks to a much better season than even the most optimistic fans expected coming into the year. Jason Bean is a baller, and it took me far too long to recognize that - even as the proof was playing out in front of me every Saturday.

Jason Bean is now a football legend in Lawrence. Granted, not to the same extent as Todd Reesing and other members of the Orange Bowl team, but as of right now, he’s the face of the big turnaround under Lance Leipold. Daniels is a great talent, but it’s hard to feel like the Jayhawks truly missed him this year, at least while Bean was healthy. That’s how good Bean has been. He was one of the top QBs in the conference this year, despite somehow being a controversial player to many fans.

I won’t ramble on and gush any further. The point is simple. Jason Bean isn’t perfect, but he is one hell of a football player, and if he hadn’t selflessly returned to Kansas for one more year, we might not have been watching Kansas in a bowl game this year.

Jason Bean, I apologize for all the doubts I kept harping on throughout your career at Kansas. You’re going to be remembered for a very long time for what you did at Kansas, and you deserve every bit of that recognition. Thanks for everything you did for Kansas football, and best of luck for whatever is next for you following the end of your illustrious college career. It took far too long for many of us stubborn fans to embrace you and your ability.

You’ve earned a spot in the hearts of every Kansas fan, even those of us who didn’t deserve what you were able to accomplish in crimson and blue.