Most of the preseason football curiosity centers on which inexperienced quarterback will get the call to start the season, a competition Kale Pick likely will win.
Meanwhile, the race for featured running back receives not as much attention but offers more intrigue.
The front-runner? If there is one, nobody’s saying.
Power back Toben Opurum hasn’t been listed on a depth chart, at least publicly, since Turner Gill replaced Mark Mangino as head coach. If that’s not a bad sign for Opurum, at the very least it’s not a good one.
Rell Lewis is sidelined because of a knee injury. Angus Quigley is back for a sixth season, but the more time that passes without him winning the job, the more reason exists to suspect whatever kept Mangino from using him makes Gill pause as well.
Red-shirt freshman Deshaun Sands, listed at 5-foot-7 and 190 pounds, has a shifty, determined running style. Consider him a candidate, but not the front-runner.
Don’t discount the possibility of a true freshman leading Kansas in rushing this season. James Sims of Irving, Texas, and Brandon Bourbon of Potosi, Mo., arrived on campus with big reputations.
A 6-foot, 205-pound runner blessed with pretty good speed and the ability to make tacklers miss, Sims turned down scholarship offers from Arkansas and Purdue.
A 6-1, 208-pound speed back, Bourbon reneged on an oral commitment to Stanford to sign with KU after Gill and recruiting coordinator Reggie Mitchell were hired.
Asked to compare the true freshmen, Mitchell obliged.
“James is probably a little bit more elusive between the tackles,” Mitchell said. “James has really good feet, whereas Brandon has straight-away speed. That’s probably the biggest difference. One guy (Sims) is probably a little more shifty than the other.”
Learning the nuances of pass protection and adjusting to the speed of the college game rank as the biggest adjustments for true-freshman running backs, Mitchell said, but in many ways it’s an easier place to earn instant playing time than most positions.
“The running part, once they get started, you can tell right away, because that’s all instinctive,” Mitchell said. “I say, ‘Hey, your aim point’s here,’ and once the ball is in their hand, it’s all on them.”
Sophomore receiver Bradley McDougald compared the running styles of the two freshmen.
“They both have good speed,” McDougald said. “They both run tough. Bourbon’s a more physical runner, I would say. He likes to put his head down a little bit more, has a more aggressive stiff arm. Bourbon’s faster. Sims has speed as well and is a physical runner, but he’s more agile, a little shiftier.”
The guess here — and it’s just a guess — is that Sims has as good a shot as anybody to win the job. Bourbon’s ceiling could be just as high.
“Bourbon kind of reminds me of Jake Sharp, a bigger Jake Sharp,” McDougald said. “When he gets more comfortable in the offense and the system and with the speed of college football, I think he’s going to be a great impact college player.”