What should we expect from KU football this season? What can we expect from Jalon Daniels and the offense? What can Brain Borland get from Cobee, Rich, Kenny, and the rest of the defensive unit? Can special teams be worse? What are my expectations for each unit this fall? Read on McDuff.
It goes without saying the offense is the lopsided strength of the team. Jalon Daniels is the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year and Devin Neal and Mike Novitsky join him on the Preseason Big 12 Offensive first team, not bad for the team from Lawrence. In my opinion despite the loss of Earl Boskick, Jr. the offensive line is better and deeper than it was last season and will help deliver on those preseason accolades. Add to that an improving group of receivers, and a tight end group that always finds a way to get wide open, and the offense should be fun to watch again this season. KU brings back 91% of their offensive production from last season according to SP+, an indicator fans can expect the offense to be better than last season. A year ago they finished at 9 in the SP+ ratings. Who was number 1? USC and Heisman winner Caleb Williams. Can the offense with a healthy Jalon Daniels produce a season like that? It is not impossible, in fact, it is solidly within the realm of possibility.
Can KU get better on defense so it is not a nail-biting shootout most weeks with their opponent? I think the answer is yes, but it is far from a lock. Like the offense they return a high percentage of their production from last season, 80% according to SP+. That is a good indicator of improvement for this season, but when you are returning 80% production from a unit that finished 110th in 2022 according to the same SP+, it puts a bit of a damper on my hopes. I do believe they will be better, the talent is better. I think the linebackers and defensive backs are better this year. Cobee Bryant is a first-team defensive Big 12 Preseason selection. Kenny Logan is back for one more go-around. The biggest question is the defensive line. There has been a lot of talk about the talent brought in and developed along the defensive front during fall camp, but they are an unknown commodity going into the season. Their play will be the key to defensive improvement this fall. My hope is they can improve, not to be a top-50 unit in the country, but to be a unit that can rank in the 75-85 range of SP+ this season. Still below average but significantly better than last season. Looking at that range of the SP+ ranking last year I am looking for the defense to be on par with East Carolina, Texas State, Old Dominion, Northwestern, and Ball State. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think it is.
If you are reading this I do not need to tell you this but I will. As bad as the defense was last season, the special teams were worse coming in a lowly 128th out of 131 teams. Only San Jose State (131), Northwestern, (130), and thankfully Iowa State (129) were worse. As a result, new blood has been infused into the system. Transfer kicker Seth Keller from Texas State has come in to improve the position this season. Transfer kicker Charlie Weinrich from Nebraska and Blue Valley High School to help address the future at the position. Punting sees incoming Australian and ProKick product Damon Greaves added to the unit. Assuming Keller and Greaves are the starters in those roles or at least provide competition and inspire improvement in others, these positions should be improved over last season. Like the defense, KU does not need them to be world-beaters, just better than they were. Better punting will provide the defense with improved field position. A few made field goals will at least avoid momentum-crushing misses and again better field position for the defense. I hope not for a top-50 unit this season, but a unit ranked somewhere from 85 to 100. On par with 2022 special teams units from Liberty (86), Baylor (91), and Ball State (93). Like with defense, I do not think that is too much to ask.
Those are my expectations for the three major KU Football units this fall. I think they will be better. If Jalon and the offense are healthy, they will be better, and the defense and special teams have to be better even if by happenstance. With all this improvement will their record be better? Will they contend to be a top half of the Big 12 team? Will they contend for a Big 12 title? Will they be better, but have a worse record than last season? That is for another day this week.