After ending a 46-game road losing streak, the University of Kansas football team will look to record a winning streak for the first time since 2011.
Kansas (1-1) notched a 31-7 victory at Central Michigan last weekend, and returns home for the final contest before Big 12 play. Rutgers (1-1) is coming off a 52-3 loss at Ohio State, but the team did win the season opener with a 35-7 victory over Texas State.
“We’ve got a really good opponent who played one of the better opponents I’ve seen on tape in a long time,” head coach David Beaty said. “So don’t put a lot of stock into that score. That is a really good football team that they played and they hit on all cylinders Saturday. The one we’re playing is a talented football team. So we’re going to have our hands full.”
Kansas plays host to Rutgers at 11 a.m. Saturday.
BREAKING DOWN RUTGERS:
Quarterback — Artur Sitkowski became the first Rutgers true freshman to start the season opener since 2011, completing 20 of 30 passes in his first collegiate start. However, Sitkowski suffered an injury with 22 seconds left in the first half against Ohio State and his status remains uncertain for the game against Kansas, though I imagine he plays based on reports from practice.
Running backs — Raheem Blackshear has averaged 5.5 yards per carry with 331 rushing on 60 career carries for Rutgers. He paced the team with seven receptions against Texas State and leads the team with eight first downs through the first two games. Jonathan Hilliman, a transfer from Boston College, is the team’s most experienced player on the roster with 44 career games, scoring two touchdowns against Texas State in the season opener.
Receivers — Bo Melton led the team in receiving yards for the third time in his career, recording 57 yards against Texas State. He hauled in four passes in the win, which matched his total from 12 games last season. In addition, Rutgers will lean on tight end Jerome Washington, who paced the squad with 28 catches for 282 yards in 2017. Washington earned the top spot on SportsCenter Top-Ten Plays after an acrobatic catch against Nebraska last year.
BUTT CATCH! pic.twitter.com/3HyxhCPUH7— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 23, 2017
Offensive line — The Scarlet Knights have trotted out the same five players to start both games on the offensive line. Kamaal Seymour holds down the right tackle spot, while Jonah Jackson plays right guard. On the left side, Nick Krimin handles the guard position and Tariq Cole is starting at left tackle. Michael Maietti, meanwhile, is the team’s starting center.
Defensive line — Elorm Lumor is looking to become the first Scarlet Knight to record a sack in each of the first three games during a season since Marcus Thompson did so in 2013. Kevin Wilkins leads with team with 12 career tackles-for-loss, and has 77 total tackles in his career. Wilkins is one of four players on the team that has played in all 38 games since 2015.
Linebackers — Trevor Morris is the key player on this defense, as he is the league’s leading returning tackler. Last season, Morris finished second in the Big 10 and 18th nationally with 9.8 tackles per game. Deonte Roberts, meanwhile, was second on the team with 104 tackles in 2017. Roberts’ clip of 8.7 tackles per game ranked fifth in the Big 10 and 43rd nationally.
Secondary — Rutgers has plenty of experience in the secondary to support a talented linebacker unit. Blessuan Austin (26), Damon Hayes (11), Saquan Hampton (17), Kiy Hester (20) and Isaiah Wharton (38) have combined for 112 career starts in the defensive backfield. The Scarlet Knights recorded 12 interceptions in 2017, including nine in league play.
SPECIAL TEAMS — Justin Davidovicz converted his first career field goal attempt at Ohio State, in which he drilled a 41-yard kick. In addition, the Scarlet Knights finished fourth in the Big 10 and ranked 18th in the nation on kickoff return defense with a mark of 18.03.
FUN FACT — Since 2009, Rutgers has blocked 50 kicks (field goals and punts) on special teams, which is the most by any team in the NCAA during that span. The Scarlet Knights, who already have one blocked kick this season, have blocked multiple kicks every year since 2007.
VEGAS SAYS… According to Bovada, Kansas is a 2.5-point favorite as of Friday afternoon. It's only the seventh time the Jayhawks have been favored against an FBS team since 2010, according to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports. In those previous six instances, Kansas is 3-3 straight up and 2-4 against the spread. If you were making me bet this game, I’d take Kansas, but it is very close.
Prediction: Kansas 28, Rutgers 24
It’s no secret that the game slows down for veteran players at almost any level.
That expression is often thrown around by experienced players in nearly every sport, though it’s not always easy to explain. University of Kansas defensive back Bryce Torneden, who has looked better through the first two games of the 2018 season, couldn’t pinpoint a specific example of how things have gotten easier for him in his junior campaign.
“I don’t think there is one play I have in mind,” Torneden said. “Maybe just my confidence. When you have more experience, the game slows down.”
Regardless, it has been evident to everyone that Torneden has displayed improvement this year.
This season, Torneden has tallied 12 total tackles, including six solo stops. Torneden, who plays nickelback for the Jayhawks, recorded one tackle-for-loss and recovered a fumble. To put that in comparison, Torneden finished with 61 tackles in 11 starts during his sophomore season.
“He’s a Tasmanian devil,” head coach David Beaty said. “He’s a tornado coming to the line of scrimmage. But that can be counterproductive if you don’t know how to get your body under control.”
In the offseason, the coaching staff put an emphasis on helping Torneden control his speed at the point of attack.
Torneden demonstrated that during the win over Central Michigan this past weekend, which helped Kansas snap a 46-game road losing skid. Following a 7-yard gain in the first quarter, Torneden halted the Chippewas’ drive with a crucial stop.
There was miscommunication by the Central Michigan offense on this option play, as all receivers were blocking downfield. Torneden, however, charged toward the ball after noticing the broken play and made a solo stop on quarterback Tony Poljan, who is 6-foot-7 and weighs 225 pounds.
“I’m trying to be more consistent,” Torneden said. “I want to step up as a leader for my teammates and do whatever I need to do.”
Torneden made another key play in the first quarter, which ultimately halted another drive by Central Michigan. The Chippewas recorded just one first down during the first half, though this particular play should have been their second first down.
Poljan hit his receiver on a flat route on third down, but Torneden read it immediately and ended up making the play to get his team off the field.
Torneden certainly missed some tackles by being out of control last weekend, but it is something that he’s continuing to work on
“He’s got to learn that to become the player that I think he can really be,” Beaty said. “But we’ve seen that. We identified that as an area he can improve on. He’s gotten better.”
The University of Kansas football team will look to snap a 46-game road losing streak after dropping the season opener.
Kansas, which has lost 12 consecutive games, fell to Nicholls State in overtime in the first game of the 2018 season. Head coach David Beaty, who is in his fourth year at the helm, now has a 3-34 record and has posted a 2-2 clip against FCS teams.
“The big thing for us is not letting this game beat us twice,” Beaty said. “So what are we going to do from here? And making sure that we don’t put too much focus on one game. Whether we came out on top or whether we came out where we did, we’d be having the same conversation in that regard. But I think sometimes you can learn a lot from these.”
Central Michigan (0-1) is also coming off a loss in the first game of the year, dropping a 35-20 decision at Kentucky. The Chippewas went 8-5 last season, including a 45-27 road victory over the Jayhawks.
Kansas travels to Central Michigan at 2 p.m. Saturday.
BREAKING DOWN CENTRAL MICHIGAN:
Quarterback — Redshirt sophomore quarterback Tony Poljan made his first career start under center last week, completing 17 of 27 pass attempts for 137 yards. Poljan also ran for a team-high 47 yards in the loss. Poljan, who played some tight end and receiver last year, is listed at 6-foot-7, 255 pounds on the Central Michigan roster.
Running backs — As a team, the Chippewas ran for 118 yards in the loss to the Wildcats last weekend. Junior running back Jonathan Ward finished with 36 yards on the ground and sophomore Kumehnnu Gwilly notched 26 rushing yards. Last season, Ward paced the squad with 990 rushing yards and Gwilly finished second on the team with 202 rushing yards.
Receivers — Nine different players caught a pass in the season opener, as Cameron Cole led the team with four catches for 51 yards. Brandon Childress, Jamil Sabbagh, Bernhard Raimann, Keggan Cossou and Gwilly eached tallied two receptions. This team will utilize a power run scheme, but it isn’t afraid to throw to several different options in the passing game.
Offensive line — Derek Smith (left tackle), Shakir Carr (left guard), Steve Eipper (center), Jamezz Kimbrough (right guard) and Alex Neering (right tackle) make up of the Central Michigan offensive line. The unit paved the way for 118 rushing yards, recording seven first downs via run. Central Michigan averaged 3.9 yards per play in the season opener.
Defensive line — Central Michigan has a four-man front on the defense line, featuring defensive ends Mike Danna and Mitch Stanitzek. D’Andre Dill and Nathan Brisson-Fast will play defensive tackle for the Chippewas. In his junior season, Brisson-Fast registered 36 tackles and ranked second on the team with 8.5 tackles-for-loss.
Linebackers — Malik Fountain, Trevor Apsey and Michael Oliver made up the starting linebacker unit against Kentucky. Fountain, a senior, earned second team All-Mac last season after finishing first on the team with 89 tackles. Apsey, who has made 38 appearances in his career, posted his first career start last weekend.
Secondary — Xavier Crawford, who transferred from Oregon State, and Brandon Brown got the nod as the starting corners in the first week. Meanwhile, Alonzo McCoy and Devonni Reed held down the safety positions at Kentucky. Both Reed and Brown are redshirt freshmen this fall, as Central Michigan has nine redshirt freshman and four true freshman playing meaningful snaps.
SPECIAL TEAMS — Michael Armstrong netted two field goal to start the season, hitting a 26-yard field goal and a 22-yard field goal in the loss. Armstrong’s 26-yard field was actually the first score of the game, though Kentucky quickly answered with a long touchdown run. Last season, Armstrong made 43 of 44 extra point attempts and drilled seven of 11 field goals.
FUN FACT — Central Michigan’s defense has a knack for creating turnovers, recording four turnovers in the loss at Kentucky. That mark is tied for sixth-best in the nation through the early part of the new season. Last year, the Chippewas were tied for third in the nation with 31 turnovers gained.
VEGAS SAYS… According to Bovada, Central Michigan is a five-point favorite at home against Kansas. The Jayhawks, who have dropped 46 consecutive games away from home, haven’t won a road game since 2009. The overtime loss to Nicholls State didn’t give me any reason to believe this will change anytime soon. I’m willing to sacrifice the points, I’m taking Central Michigan to cover the spread.
Score prediction: Central Michigan 28, Kansas 13
University of Kansas head football coach David Beaty, who is in his fourth season at the helm, enters the 2018 season with his most experienced team yet.
Kansas, which had eight seniors on its roster last year, has 25 seniors on its 2018 team. Those 25 seniors have recorded 235 career FBS starts, including 186 starts with the Jayhawks. Daniel Wise led the team with 30 career starts.
In the season opener, Kansas is set to play host to Nicholls State at 6 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcasted on 38 the Spot, and is available via streaming at ESPN+.
“They are loaded,” Beaty said of the FCS foe. “This is not going to be an easy ballgame for us. It wouldn’t be an easy ballgame for anyone. They are a talented football team.”
The Jayhawks, who are 3-33 in the last three years, cruised to a 38-16 victory over Southeast Missouri State in the 2017 season opener. It was the team’s lone victory last season, as Kansas enters Saturday on an 11-game losing streak. Saturday marks the first meeting between these two schools. Nicholls State is ranked No. 17 in the FCS preseason poll. The Colonels have not beaten an FBS team since 2013, though their previous three matches have been decided in the fourth quarter or overtime.
BREAKING DOWN NICHOLLS STATE:
Quarterback Junior quarterback Chase Fourcade has started in 22 of 23 games over the previous two seasons for Nicholls State. Fourcade ranks third on the program’s all-time passing list with 4,798 yards, posting a pair of 2,000-yard campaigns. He’s only the second player in team history to record two different 2,000-yard seasons, which now rank third and seventh for most passing yards in a year.
Running backs The Colonels will have a familiar face in the backfield, as Kyran Irvin returns for his junior season after leading the team with 764 rushing yards and eight scores in 2017. Irvin ranked second in the Southland Conference with 76.4 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry, accumulating more than 100 yards in three different games. Dontrell Taylor, who was second on the team with 464 yards and four touchdowns, is back for his junior season. Junior Kendall Bussey also transferred in from Texas A&M, and is expected to be involved in the running game.
Receivers Damion Jeanpiere Jr. will lead a talented receiving unit, as he paced the group with 770 receiving yards last season. Jeanpiere ranked 16th in the FCS in yards per catch (19.3), and is sixth on the team’s all-time career receiving list with 1,474 yards. Dai’Jean Dixon caught 23 balls for 489 yards last fall, which ranked second on the team. Dixon was one of two true freshman to play in 2017. Gabe Fuselier spent three seasons with UL-Lafayette, recording 75 catches for 705 yards.
Offensive line Last season, this offense boasted the second-highest rushing average in the SLC with a clip of 200.2 yards per game. The line paved the way for seven 100-yard rushing performances by four different players. In addition, the offensive line only allowed 21 sacks all season. Chandler Arceneaux (RT), and Ryan Hanley (Center) were voted on the preseason All-SLC first team. Eddie Houston, who plays left tackles, earned a second-team nomination.
Defensive line Sully Laiche and Kenny Dotson were both named to the preseason All-Southland first team. Laiche, a two-year starter, has 17 sacks in his first two seasons. He ranked 12th in the FCS as a freshman with 9.5 sacks. Dotson, meanwhile, has recorded 12 sacks in three seasons as a starting defensive end. Devin Simoneaux, Tyler Johnson and Ronald Ollie are also expected to contribute on the defensive line in 2018.
Linebackers Hezekiah White, a fifth-year senior, is one the most experienced players for Nicholls State. White, who has made 32 career starts, is a preseason first-team selection in the SLC. Last season, he ranked fourth in tackles with 54. Allen Pittman has paced the team in tackles twice, recording 80 last year and 95 in 2016. Evan Veron, Adrian Richardson and Laryon James should also be involved in the linebacker unit this weekend.
Secondary Ahmani Martin, a three-year starter, will lead a skilled secondary. Martin has logged 32 starts at safety, and finished with 61 tackles last season to earn a second-team nomination in the Southland Conference. Corey Abraham will also play safety after finishing with 79 tackles in 2017. Jonavon Lewis, Darren Evans, Darryl Adams Jr., and Khristian Mims will all see plenty of reps back there as well this weekend.
SPECIAL TEAMS Kicker Lorran Fonseca set a program single-season record with 19 field goals last season, including five in a single game. He ranked first in the FCS with 1.58 field goals per game and fourth in touchbacks with 36. Stefano Guarisco returned nine kickoffs for 145 yards in 2017.
FUN FACT Kendall Bussey, who transferred to Nicholls State from Texas A&M, is set to make his debut Saturday. Bussey actually faced the Colonels last season, scoring the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. It marked Bussey’s only touchdown in two seasons with the Aggies.
VEGAS SAYS… Oddsmakers don’t set betting lines for FBS teams playing FCS teams, of course. This game will be a close one, though, and I would set the line at Kansas -7.5, if I had the power to do so. Nicholls State is no joke, and Beaty has said as such. This team went down to the wire with Texas A&M last season and lost by just two points to Georgia in 2016. The Colonels will not be intimidated by Memorial Stadium, and I believe the margin of victory will be by single digits. Give me Nicholls State in this hypothetical line, but I think Kansas wins by a touchdown in a 30-23 contest.
Earlier this week, Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan officially made his win/loss prediction for the 2018 Kansas football team, picking the Jayhawks to finish David Beaty's fourth season with a 3-9 record. Clearly, that's not the only possibility for the Jayhawks, who, with a veteran group mixed with some new faces, could finish with more or certainly even fewer victories than the three Keegan's predicting. That's where the rest of us come in. Over the next three days we'll look at three more possible win totals for the 2018 Kansas football team, which opens the regular season at 6 p.m. Saturday night at home against Nicholls.
The case for 0 or 1 win for the University of Kansas football team during the 2018 season can be best made by using historical evidence.
Since David Beaty took over as head coach, the Jayhawks have gone 3-33 over the course of three years. In that time they have defeated just one FBS opponent and even lost to an FCS foe in Beaty’s debut.
That recent track record tells us that it will be tough to expect Kansas to beat an FBS team in 2018. Nicholls State, which is ranked No. 17 in the FCS preseason poll, is no cakewalk in the season opener, either. In fact, Nicholls State was tied with Texas A&M in the fourth quarter when the two teams met last year.
Kansas also lost every conference game in 2017 by an average of 32 points per game. The program still hasn’t won a road contest since Sept. 12, 2009, a streak that now spans 46 consecutive road losses.
All of this would indicate that it will be difficult for the Jayhawks to make a monumental leap this fall. The season opener will be tougher than expected, the Big 12 schedule will be daunting once again and any road contest will prove to be a tall task.
On paper, Kansas has an improved team with several returning starters and an exciting group of newcomers.
Yet the Jayhawks only have a favorable win probability in two games, according to S&P+ ratings, which Bill Connelly highlights in his preview for SB Nation. Per S&P+, Kansas has a 82 percent win probability in the season opener and a 53 percent win probability at Central Michigan in the second week of the season.
In addition, Kansas has just one other game with a win probability higher than 28 percent, and that is against Rutgers (44 percent) in the final game of nonconference play.
The schedule doesn’t bode well for the Jayhawks to win more than three games for the first time since 2009. Since then, they also have only won three games in just three of those years. And finding a second win isn’t even a lock for a team currently on an 11-game losing streak.
Because of all that, I find it hard to predict more than one win for the 2018 season.
It’s no secret that the Big 12 has been home to some talented signal callers over the years.
Most recently, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield was taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2018 NFL Draft. With his departure, however, the quarterback landscape has vastly change in a single season.
West Virginia senior Will Grier is the clear frontrunner of the group, and has some serious Heisman potential. After Grier, though, there is a lot of uncertainty for the league’s quarterback position. In fact, Grier is the only player returning who finished in the top six in passings yards per game in 2017.
And that was evident during the 2018 Big 12 Media Days, as five quarterbacks — two from Kansas State — and five running backs were available to answer questions.
“There are some very good (running backs),” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said during Big 12 Media Days. “I think we have two very good ones and there are other guys in the league that have good tail backs. It’s a position where I don't think you can have enough good tail backs, and obviously, anytime you have a guy that can make you miss in the league, you have to play them.”
Patterson brought junior Sewo Olonilua to speak at Media Days after a strong sophomore campaign. Olonilua had 64 carries for 330 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017. Coming out of high school, Olonilua was the No. 1 ranked athlete in Texas and No. 13 overall player in the state by 247Sports.com.
But Olonilua wasn’t even one of the top-10 rushers last season, in terms of rushing yards per game. TCU junior Darius Anderson averaged 69.8 rushing yards per contest in 13 games, which ranked sixth in the Big 12.
Seven out of the top-10 rushing leaders in the conference are back for another campaign, including Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill. As a sophomore, Hill paced the league with 112.8 yards per outing on 268 attempts in 13 contests. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy believes that Hill has only scratched the surface of his potential.
“He will continue to improve,” Gundy said. “Your first year you're finding your way. Your second year you start to learn how to play the game at this level, and in your third year it's really a year if you're as talented as he is and you can relax and play. I would expect to see that from him.”
In addition, junior running backs David Montgomery of Iowa State and Rodney Anderson of Oklahoma are back after finishing in the top five among rushings leaders in the conference.
After taking over the starting job in mid-October, Anderson finished with 1,161 rushing yards last season to finish fourth in rushing yards per game with 82.9. Montgomery, meanwhile, ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing yards (1,146) and yards per game (88.2). He also led the nation in forced missed tackles (109).
“Has he exceeded my expectations? I don't think so,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “I think the greatest thing about David is who he is as a worker, what he is in terms of worker, attitude, commitment to be the best version of himself, that's never wavered. Nothing has surprised me of why he's been able to have great success and I think there are great things to come from David Montgomery.”
There are also a pair of talented backs playing in the Sunflower State. Kansas State junior Alex Barnes and Kansas junior Khalil Herbert posted top-10 campaigns last season. Barnes ran for 819 yards on 146 attempts, while Herbert toted the ball 120 times to rack up 663 yards.
As a result, Big 12 defenses might be forced to adjust this season after years of prioritizing the pass. After all, a Big 12 running back hasn’t won the Heisman Trophy since 1998 when Ricky Williams did it for Texas. Over that span, five quarterbacks have netted the award.
“There are some talented, young players,” Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “There's a handful of others who can play for anybody and with the zone coverages and teams dropping everybody out and playing the dime defenses, teams are going to be leaning on running backs more and more and you're going to see productive years from those guys.”
The University of Kansas hired Jeff Long as the program's newest athletic director, which was announced Thursday afternoon. Multiple national reporters supported the hiring of Long on Twitter immediately following the announcement.
Long brings more than two decades of experience in athletic administration at the Division I level, most recently at Arkansas, where he led a program comprising 19 sports and 460 student-athletes from 2008 through 2017, before the university fired him this past November.
Kansas will introduce Long during a news conference Wednesday.
Bruce Feldman | Covers college football for The Athletic
Pat Forde | National college columnist for Yahoo Sports
Dennis Dodd | National college football writer for CBSsports.com