Which true freshmen will have biggest impact for KU against McNeese State? Plus, predictions ...
Jesse Newell: Welcome back to the GameDay Cram Session, as Kansas is taking on McNeese State on Saturday in the season-opener at Memorial Stadium.
Tom, which true freshmen do you think will have the biggest impact for the Jayhawks in Game One?
Tom Keegan: I'm going to go with receiver JaCorey Shepherd from Mesquite, Texas.
He's not listed on the depth chart but the way the coaches talk about him suggests he's ready for prime time and could see some action. In time, running backs Darrian Miller and Tony Pierson could make an impact this season, but for now James Sims will probably get the most carries. Alex Mueller, the kicker, would be the safest guess, but I'll go with Shepherd.
JN: Perhaps the most interesting part of this game will be to see how KU utilizes Miller and Pierson.
We've heard a lot of good things about Miller's ability to break a big play, but because he was used so sparingly in the spring game, we haven't had many chances to see him run. Will he get more or fewer carries than red-shirt freshman Brandon Bourbon? And will KU find a creative way to get him on the field, whether it be on special teams or in a Wildcat-type setting?
Pierson also sounds like he can be an explosive back, but his role seems unclear as well. Because he's only 5-11, 175 pounds, will he be able to take a lot of hits? And what is his best use? Is it in the return game? Or even as a pass-catching back out in open space?
I can't remember a year when a pair of KU true freshmen had such high expectations put on them. It's time to see what both can do in a collegiate game.
Looking more big picture, Tom, who are your top three candidates for Team MVP at the end of the season?
TK: Pass-rushing outside linebacker Toben Opurum, cornerback Greg "Lockdown" Brown and running back James Sims all stand a decent shot at winning the honor. But will Sims get enough carries with so many other options available? The better Opurum plays, the better Brown will look.
JN: I have to agree with you on Opurum.
New defensive coordinator Vic Shealy raves about the junior, and it sounds like Opurum will be moved around frequently so he can be most effective as a pass rusher. Not only that, he's in the best shape he's been in since arriving at KU.
I'll go ahead and throw linebacker Steven Johnson and tight end Tim Biere on my list. If healthy, Johnson should compile a huge number of tackles with the new 3-4 defense, and Biere should be free to go on additional routes with fullback Nick Sizemore handling more of the blocking duties.
All right, Tom, what's your prediction for this game?
TK: Kansas 28, McNeese State 14.
JN: I'll go with KU 24, McNeese State 21.
Last year, North Dakota State's strength was its linemen, who pushed KU around enough to stifle the running game and hold the Jayhawks to three points.
McNeese State's strength is its speed. That'll be especially evident at running back with 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior Andre Anderson, who transferred to McNeese State after spending two years at Michigan State.
Anderson was the Southland Conference's newcomer of the year last year after rushing for 101 yards per game in conference play. A few times this week, Shealy has commented that, on film, Anderson had all the skills of a Big 12-level back.
What has to be somewhat scary for KU fans is that 1) KU is thin at defensive line, and 2) the Jayhawks are playing their first game under a new defensive scheme.
Speed can turn a small mistake into a big play, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Cowboys have a couple of long touchdown runs or passes.
In the end, though, I still have to stick with KU. The Jayhawks can't lose to a I-AA team two years in a row, right?
All right, Tom, who's your Hawk to Rock?
TK: Toben Opurum.
Quarterbacks wear a red jersey during practice, which means pass-rushers don't get to finish the job, which means they can't wait for the chance to finish the job and once they do it once they want to do it again and again and again.
JN: I'll go with Brandon Bourbon.
With all the true freshmen scheduled to play, it's easy to forget this is Bourbon's first collegiate game as well.
KU should run the ball plenty, and I think there's a great chance that Bourbon finds success (and the end zone) in his first game as a Jayhawk.