Several Kansas University football players will fare better this season because they either have improved their conditioning or have sharpened their minds with an extra year of experience. The problem, of course, is that the players from opposing teams have grown, too. A quick look at the foes on the schedule reveals why the most popular predictions for a KU victory total seem to range from one to three:
McNeese State, Saturday, 6 p.m.: Quarterback Riley Dodge twice was named 5A offensive player of the year in Texas and led Southlake Carroll High to three consecutive state titles playing for his father, Todd Dodge. Again playing for his father at North Texas, things didn’t go as well. Multiple injuries forced a temporary switch to receiver, but injuries to two quarterbacks forced a switch back to QB. After his father was fired, the younger Dodge transferred and won the starting quarterback job. Even though the game was played four years before Riley was born, he’ll be looking to avenge his father’s 55-17 loss to KU offensive coordinator Chuck Long in the 1984 Freedom Bowl. In the third quarter alone, Iowa’s Long passed for 241 yards and four touchdowns en route to 461 yards and six TD passes. For the game, Todd Dodge passed for 180 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions for Texas.
Northern Illinois, Sept. 10: Dual-threat Quarterback Chandler Harnish threw 21 touchdown passes and just five interceptions on his way to first-team All-Mid-American Conference honors.
At Georgia Tech, Sept. 17: The Yellow Jackets are mad at the world. They’re mad the NCAA stripped them of their 2009 ACC title for improper benefits and obstruction of an NCAA investigation. They’re mad they went 6-7, and most of all, they’re mad they lost to a Kansas team that finished 3-9.
Texas Tech, Oct. 1: The Red Raiders finished 114th in the nation defensively and have a thin senior class. No reason this can’t be an upset, especially if a rowdy crowd shows up.
At Oklahoma State, Oct. 8: Quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon lead nine starters back from an offense that ranked among the best in the nation.
Oklahoma, Oct. 15: Everybody’s pick to win the national title, the Sooners have had a habit of late of stealing the best high school players in Kansas, not that they don’t have enough athletes from Oklahoma and Texas to turn this into a rout before halftime.
Kansas State, Oct. 22: Running back transfer Bryce Brown didn’t take advantage of summer conditioning, but should be in decent shape by the time the Wildcats visit Memorial Stadium. Quarterback Collin Klein presents another running threat. K-State’s weakness, stopping the run, matches up with KU’s strength, but will that be enough to reverse a 59-7 loss?
At Texas, Oct. 29: By the time this game is played, it’s anybody’s guess what quarterback the Longhorns will have under center. My guess: true freshman David Ash. Handing the ball to true freshman running back Malcolm Brown will be the QB’s most important duty.
At Iowa State, Nov. 5: This game should be circled on every KU player’s schedule because it represents the best shot at a conference victory. The Cyclones will have trouble scoring on anybody.
Baylor, Nov. 12: The Bears don’t get much love from preseason prognosticators, but the memory of a 55-7 bludgeoning in Waco is too fresh to think Baylor will be beaten in Lawrence. Robert Griffin III led an offense that produced 678 yards. The underrated superstar is back for the Bears.
At Texas A&M, Nov. 19: The Aggies have the ultra-organized Kyle Field passion going for them as well as a huge advantage in speed, size, strength, agility, football skill, experience and depth. Other than that, it’s a coin toss.
Missouri in Arrowhead Stadium, Nov. 26: The white-uniform gimmick fell flatter than a Tim Pawlenty speech. When it’s Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, the all-white look can make a player look faster, sleeker. When slow players go with the Man From Glad look, it makes them look softer. The Jayhawks have more speed than a year ago, but it’s probably a good idea to keep the white helmets packed away anyway. With Kansas seemingly ready to mount a sound running game and doubts circling around Mizzou’s ability to stop the run, this should be more of a contest than last season’s 35-7 yawner. If not, the Arrowhead game will have lost its luster and crowds could shrink.