2011 Kansas Preview
Kansas WR Daymond Patterson
Kansas had a shockingly disappointing 2009, and followed it up with a disastrous 2010. Can Turner Gill come up with a promising second season to show that things are turning around? With a young but experienced team, and some decent playmakers like WR Daymond Patterson, the Jayhawks could surprise. Check out the CFN 2011 Kansas Preview.
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When you start out your era with a home loss to North Dakota State, there's room for improvement.
Head coach: Turner Gill
2nd year: 3-8
6th year overall: 23-38
Off. 21, Def. 18, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Kansas Players
1. RB James Sims, Soph.
2. LB Darius Willis, Soph.
3. LB Steven Johnson, Sr.
4. DE Toben Opurum, Jr.
5. WR Daymond Patterson, Sr.
6. CB Isiah Barfield, Sr.
7. LB Huldon Tharp, Soph.
8. C Jeremiah Hatch, Sr.
9. RB Darrian Miller, Fr.
10. SS Bradley McDougald, Jr.
Sep. 3 McNeese State
Sep. 10 Northern Illinois
Sep. 17 at Georgia Tech
Sep. 24 OPEN DATE
Oct. 1 Texas Tech
Oct. 8 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 15 Oklahoma
Oct. 22 Kansas State
Oct. 29 at Texas
Nov. 5 at Iowa State
Nov. 12 Baylor
Nov. 19 at Texas A&M
Nov. 26 Missouri (in KC)
Kansas football hit a rough patch before Turner Gill showed up, but he and his staff didn't exactly turn into the skid in a tough first season that started bad, ended worse – scoring just 24 points in the final three games – and with plenty of ugly moments along the way.
From an offense that scored more than 16 points in just three games; to a defense that got lit up by everyone except North Dakota State, New Mexico State, and surprisingly, Nebraska; to the special teams that allowed five blocked kicks and did nothing in coverage; nothing really worked quite right. But that was to be expected.
It didn't matter who the new head coach was going to be, Kansas had to undergo a major rebuilding project. Gill had to throw several untested players to the wolves with three different quarterbacks seeing time, a constant juggling of pieces on defense, and without any consistency on the lines. Going forward, though, Kansas has some very, very hard self-analysis to do to see if Gill really is the right guy for the job and if there's progress being made. The hope is that he's not the Bucky Dent of college football coaches.
Gill did the impossible and made Buffalo a MAC champion, and even though all the planets aligned correctly and the team got every conceivable correct bounce on the way to the title, it still has to rank among the greatest turnaround jobs in recent college football history. Think of it this way; Al Golden supposedly was a miracle worker at Temple, parlayed the success into the Miami gig, and he didn't win jack squat. Temple didn't even win its own division under Golden, while Gill is a champion. However, it was just one season.
That's not to say that Gill doesn't have the potential to do wonders with KU. He's a good motivator and is the type of coach players love to run through a wall for, but it might take another year or two before the production and the numbers on the field can match everything the coaching staff would like to accomplish. This is still a really young team with a lot of concerns and problems, and while more will be expected of Gill in his second year, to be fair, the bar needs to be set relatively low for 2011 with 2012 to be the key season to see what he can really do.
Instead of this being another stepping stone forward, there's a chance that this could be yet another rebuilding season with two of the key parts, RB Darrian Miller and QB Brock Berglund, coming in from the 2011 recruiting class. The top backups across the board are almost all underclassmen, and there are just five senior starters on the projected depth chart.
However, even though KU football isn't Oklahoma when it comes to expectations, and even though it's a basketball school, patience will be tough to come by if this season is anything like 2010. The schedule isn't a breeze and it's going to take a few major upsets to have any hope of going bowling, but even so, Gill has to provide hope no matter what the record turns out to be.
Former head coach Mark Mangino did just that by making the program relevant, including an Orange Bowl win after the 2007 season, and while a seven game losing streak and the ugliness of 2009 unraveled all the positives, a program that should be bowling on a yearly basis shouldn't have fallen so far so far.
It wouldn't be a Buffalo-like miracle to make KU a player for the Big 12 title again in the next two years, but Gill needs to prove that the program is on its way.
What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Jordan Webb, Quinn Mecham, and Kale Pick combined forces to lead Kansas to the nation's 110th most efficient passing game and the 103rd ranked air attack. Even though things fell off the map in 2009, KU was seventh in the nation in passing and 40th in efficiency, dropping an average of 149 passing yards per game. In the high-octane Big 12, that's not going to work. Pick was moved over to receiver and Webb and Mecham are fighting it out for the job, but everything might changes when Berglund gets to school. The key, though, will be to find one quarterback, live through the mistakes, and have a player to build around.
What to watch for on defense: The linebackers. KU used a 4-2-5 alignment throughout last season, but it'll be tempting to stick with the base 4-3 this year with the talent stepping in. While two key players from last year's corps, Justin Springer and Drew Dudley, are done, there's an upgrade on the way with Huldon Tharp returning from injury to man the weakside job and Buffalo transfer Darius Willis ready to man the middle. With leading returning tackler Steven Johnson able to move to the strongside, KU has the makings of its best group of linebackers in years if everyone can stay healthy.
The team will be far better if … the lines don't stink. There was no pass rush whatsoever from the defensive front when Jake Laptad, who's now done, didn't produce, and the trickledown effect killed the rest of the defense that had to try to manufacture big plays. The offensive line wasn't much better, allowing over three sacks per game and doing little to nothing for the ground attack. On the plus side, the offensive front is healthy, experienced, and big, with the potential to make a quick turnaround, while the defensive tackles are experienced and the ends, if Toben Opurum and Pat Lewandowski look as good as they did at times in spring ball, can hit the quarterback.
The schedule: Gill and the Jayhawks have to get off to a big start. McNeese State would normally be seen as a layup, but considering KU's offensive problems last year and the opener against North Dakota State, nothing can be taken for granted. Northern Illinois might actually come into Lawrence favored, but KU can't give the home game away with a road trip to a revenge-minded Georgia Tech up next. The Big 12 season doesn't do KU any favors with Texas Tech, at Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma right away, and road trips to Texas and Texas A&M in the second half. However, if the Jayhawks can start 2-0, they can be in the mix for a bowl game by coming up with home wins over Kansas State and Baylor and with a victory at Iowa State. However, it's probably going to take at least two big upsets to get a 13th game.
Best offensive player: Sophomore RB James Sims … for now. The coaching staff would love nothing more than for one of the quarterbacks to step up and become the star, but Sims should be a steadying force for the ground game after leading the team with 742 yards and nine scores. While he's not a special back, he has a nice blend of speed, power, and hands for the passing game. Even though he was the team's most effective offensive player last year, he could get pushed aside if speedy freshman Darrian Miller plays up to the billing right away.
Best defensive player: Sophomore LB Darius Willis. The 6-3, 243-pounder shocked the recruiting world when he chose Buffalo three years ago. The Houston native could've gone anywhere, and was given the full court press by Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but he wanted to play for Gill. Willis started right away as a true freshman, got hurt after two games, and sat out the rest of the year. When Gill went to Lawrence, Willis followed, sat out last season, and now he should a guided missile of a playmaker in the middle of the defense.
Key player to a successful season: Junior DE Toben Opurum. The team's top running back as a freshman, Opurum was moved to the defensive side, was considered a linebacker early on, and ended up starting the second half of the year at defensive end. With good speed, a nice burst, and the toughness to handle the position, he should grow into the job with a little more experience, but the key will be his ability to get to the quarterback. The defense desperately needs a steady force into the backfield, and the tools are there for Opurum to be it.
The season will be a success if … KU wins five games. There are enough flaws to keep the Jayhawks from a six-win campaign and a bowl, but improving by two wins over last year would be a positive. Beating Northern Illinois isn't a layup, and it'll take at least two wins against the mediocre Big 12 teams – Kansas State, at Iowa State, and Baylor – but there might also be a shocker somewhere along the way. That's why it'll mean everything to get a win over …
Key game: Oct. 1 vs. Texas Tech. The Red Raiders aren't exactly rebuilding, but they could be vulnerable on the road in the Big 12 opener. If KU doesn't have a pass rush for yet another year, this could be an ugly mismatch, but if KU can pull off the upset, especially if the season starts out with wins over McNeese State and Northern Illinois, the season might be a success no matter what else happens.
2010 Fun Stats:
- 1st half scoring: Opponents 234 – Kansas 91
- Total Offense: Opponents 5,132 yards – Kansas 3,557
- Penalties: Opponents 99 for 1,004 yards – Kansas 72 for 681 yards
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