An assistant coach to four different Kansas head coaches in 17 seasons, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen can attest as well as anybody to how tough it is to compete against a Big 12 schedule.
That reality probably helps to explain why Bowen tends not to spread hype about the football program for which he has worked for most of his adult life.
So when Bowen does sound an optimistic voice, it resonates.
“If you look at our team, just depth across the board, which creates competition, which pushes guys more, guys are just more physically developed than they have been, the program continues to grow each year,” Bowen said. “Both sides of the ball, special teams, now you know your twos and threes are a little bit better players. It just has that carryover effect across the board."
Kansas went winless in 2015, David Beaty’s first season, and had two victories last season.
So many factors hint at a big jump for the offense. Offensive coordinator Doug Meacham is a proven winner and his addition to the staff will keep Beaty from spreading himself too thin. Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot juices the anemic punt-return unit and passing game, joining fast Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzalez as explosive receivers. Dominic Williams and Octavius Matthews, promising recruits at running back, join returning Khalil Herbert and Taylor Martin.
An extra year in the weight room for the young offensive line, plus the addition of former Alabama recruit Charles Baldwin at right tackle, makes it possible for Kansas to improve significantly a major weakness the past few seasons. And, of course, experienced Air Raid quarterback Peyton Bender qualifies as potentially the most significant addition.
Less has been said about the defense’s chances of improving, especially given the departure of four of the five starters in the secondary.
“I’m optimistic that it will be better,” Bowen said of the defense. "I think our front seven will be better. I think we’ll be able to stop the run better than we were able to last year. . . . We have to bring the secondary along. We have to find some corners. We have some guys in there who look like they can do it. I would think with our ability to stop the run, usually that’s the first sign of getting better faster."
Since it’s impossible to finish worse than 0-12, it goes without saying that Kansas hit rock bottom in 2015. It’s not a stretch to believe that last season was just the beginning of what shapes as a steady climb toward respectability.