It’s that time of year again. I predict the record for the Kansas University football team, get blasted for being too pessimistic, only to be proven too optimistic once the victories and losses are tabulated. So it goes on the slow rebuilding road loaded with roadblocks, the tallest being the always-tough Big 12 schedule.
The Big 12’s reduction to a 10-team league, which kicked in in 2012, makes it all the more difficult to reach the required six victories in order to qualify for bowl-eligibility because it means the nonconference portion of the schedule shrinks from four games to three.
KU’s schedule, ranked in order of the best opportunities for victory. (Note: This is not a ranking of the team’s relative strengths, just a guess as which games KU has the best shot at winning, based on the time and place it occurs):
1. South Dakota (6 p.m., Sept. 7, Lawrence): This squad is not to be confused with two-time defending Football Championship Subdivision national champion North Dakota State, which faces Kansas State this year. South Dakota did not win a game in its first season in the Missouri Valley Conference a year ago.
2. Louisiana Tech (Sept. 21, Lawrence): The prolific, pass-happy coach and quarterback are gone, but running back Kenneth Dixon, who broke several of Marshall Faulk’s NCAA freshman records, returns. Dixon rushed for 1,194 yards and 27 touchdowns, giving coach Skip Holtz a chance to win this one. Holtz named Texas Tech transfer Scotty Young the starter at quarterback.
3. Texas Tech (Oct. 5, Lawrence): First-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury, offensive coordinator for Texas A&M a year ago, won’t have Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel running his offense and not even former Red Raider Seth Doege. Kansas took Tech to overtime in Lubbock a year ago and has the revenge factor on its side.
4. West Virginia (Nov. 16, Lawrence): This could be one of those days in which KU’s high-powered running game becomes an ally to its defense by keeping the fast-paced Mountaineers’ offense off the field.
5. Iowa State (Nov. 23, Ames): Sam Richardson, then a freshman, had his way with the Kansas defense in his first start. Jake Heaps might do the same to the Cyclones this year. By the time this game arrives, KU’s offensive line should be coming together as a unit, and the young Iowa State pass rushers might have trouble getting to Heaps.
6. Rice (6:30 p.m., Sept. 14, Houston): Dual-threat quarterback Taylor McHargue and Chris Boswell, who kicks 50-yard field goals as if they’re extra points, return for the Owls, who won six of their final seven games last season for highly regarded coach David Bailiff. It’s tough to face such an experienced team so early in the season. Nine starters on offense are back, and so are nine on defense. But can the Owls stop the KU running game?
7. Baylor (Oct. 26, Lawrence): Running back Lache Seastrunk, a potential first-team All-American, isn’t the only speedy player who could exploit KU’s young defense. Wide receiver Tevin Reese has big-play potential as well.
8. Texas (2:30 p.m., Nov. 2, Austin): As always, the Longhorns are big, fast and skilled. But are there enough plow horses who enjoy swallowing dirt and picking mud out of their eyes? Too many highly recruited players can translate to a soft edge, and that so often seems to have been the case with Texas in recent years. Will the Longhorns be motivated to bring their best against KU? Regardless, running backs Joe Bergeron, Johnathan Grey and Malcolm Brown will be tough to bring down.
9. TCU (Oct. 12, Fort Worth): Quarterback Casey Pachall, who spent the final two months of the season changing his late-night ways instead of playing football, is back and plenty talented to compensate for lack of depth in other areas.
10. Oklahoma (Oct. 19, Lawrence): The Sooners have done well recruiting in Kansas in recent years, but those victories haven’t helped them, just weakened the Kansas teams. For the most part, the players from the Sunflower State don’t get much of a chance to get on the field because OU gets more than enough talent from elsewhere.
11. Oklahoma State (Nov. 9, Stillwater): The Cowboys bring too much speed, too quick a pace for the Jayhawks to handle.
12. Kansas State (Nov. 30, Lawrence): Bill Snyder always puts a premium on this game, regardless of either team’s record. Snyder will have drilled all the mistakes out of the team by Thanksgiving weekend.
What does it all mean? KU will compile a 4-8 record.