New is always better. At least that is the mindset during the honeymoon phase, which both members of the Sunflower Showdown are currently in.
Kansas head coach Les Miles and Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman are both entering their first season with their respective program. It marks the first year since 1986 that both Kansas and Kansas State will have a new head football coach in the same season.
The Big 12 preseason poll suggests that it will be a tough first year for both, as the Jayhawks were listed 10th and the Wildcats were picked to finish ninth as voted on by the media. Yet, for both programs, most of the Big 12 Media Days was spent discussing the positive impact of having a new coach.
It makes sense that players and even fans choose to focus on the positive differences when a new coach takes over. But it is also worth mentioning that there are some downsides to making a coaching transition, especially for the veterans of both teams.
During Big 12 Media Days, which took place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, I asked four players from each in-state school about the biggest advantage and biggest disadvantage to having a new coach. It was interesting to hear the different responses, so I decided to list the full quotes from all eight players.
Hakeem Adeniji, OL, Kansas
Biggest advantage: “I would say kind of a restart. Once you had a coach for awhile, there is certain players or people that have been there that may not listen to him as much. When there is a new guy, it is ‘Alright, we are going to listen to what you have to say.’”
Biggest disadvantage: “Unfamiliarity. Everything is new for all of us, so it can be harder for us veterans to help young guys out. We have to learn, it is a growing process.”
Khalil Herbert, RB, Kansas
Biggest advantage: “Learning new things, it brings in a new type of (vocabulary) and different type of schemes that you haven’t run before. Just learning new stuff.”
Biggest disadvantage: “If you are not able to pick it up quick. During the spring, I feel like they did a good job of teaching us things. We were able to pick it up and apply it on the field.”
Mike Lee, S, Kansas
Biggest advantage: “Just adjusting to the system that he runs. Different coaches have different schemes that they want to run. They have different expectations for their teams. Coach Les Miles’ expectations, he wants us to come together as a whole brotherhood and go into each week looking to dominate each opponent.”
Biggest disadvantage: “The loyalty. If your coach doesn’t have loyalty in you, I feel like he wouldn’t put you on the field. The loyalty that coach Les Miles has, I love his loyalty. He’s loyal to me, loyal to the team. I’m going to be loyal to him.”
Bryce Torneden, S, Kansas
Biggest advantage: “The element of surprise. Not a lot of people know what kind of schemes you are going to running, things like that.”
Biggest disadvantage: “This is the first coaching change that I have ever had, I don’t see it as a disadvantage. I see it as an advantage from our side.”
Trey Dishon, DT, Kansas State
Biggest advantage: “I would say, is having a little bit more say and ideas. Whether it is film, whether it has to do with the program, (or) things to help the players get better. I would say freedom and having a say. He’s going to listen to us, and take it into perspective.”
Biggest disadvantage: “This point in my career, I think the biggest disadvantage for me is it happening — I wouldn’t say the worst time because this has been a great thing — but just right before my senior season. I was a three-year starter for coach (Bill) Snyder, so I’ll be a redshirt senior this fall. Just having to adapt to a new scheme, new style of play and excelling at that just so I have hopes for a future.”
Wyatt Hubert, DE, Kansas State
Biggest advantage: “Just getting a fresh start on things. Obviously with a new coach, new program, that just resets everything. New playbook, new program, just new experience to how everything is ran. I think we have had a great first start to it all and a great first impression.”
Biggest disadvantage: “Just carrying on that team chemistry. Getting a new coach and a new program, that is something that can sometimes interfere with what was being built before. When I think of an example, I think of just the chemistry of an offense and a defense. Just knowing the playbook so well and then scratching that, learning a complete new one. That is obviously just a part of the game. KU is going through that same process, same with West Virginia and Texas Tech. It is a part of college football, and they are all going through the same thing.”
Dalton Schoen, WR, Kansas State
Biggest advantage: “I think it’s definitely all the energy that has come back into the program. I think a lot of guys were to the point where they were kind of dragging. Obviously we had a bad year, and people were down about that. I think it is a fresh start in a sense, just the amount of energy they brought into spring practice was huge. Building that personal relationship with coach Klieman has been incredible for me and a lot of guys on the team.”
Biggest disadvantage: “We have cleared it some as a team, but learning how they operate and how they run their practice. Obviously learning new offensive stuff, for me being a senior, I wasn’t super excited to learn a new offense. I haven’t had to study my playbook super hard since I was a freshman. To go, you have to review scripts, you have to go over plays and you have to do all this extra stuff. But I think it has made us better too, me especially. I couldn’t be like, ‘Oh, I know the plays.’ I had to go study, I had to go grind every single day. I think that helped. The only disadvantage is how we were in practice. It was a weird feeling, in that first practice, we were going through drills and I would be like, ‘I don’t even know if we are doing this right.’ We have already worked through all that, and we are comfortable with him now.”
Reggie Walker, DE, Kansas State
Biggest advantage: “The biggest advantage to having a new coach is basically you start fresh. That’s probably one of the biggest advantages, and the second is getting to know each other. That’s probably the biggest two advantages.”
Biggest disadvantage: “When you first come in, try to learn a new playbook. You just have to stick with it.”
Since taking over the Kansas football program, Les Miles has not revealed many details about his offensive scheme during any of his press settings.
There is a reason for that, of course. Miles, like most head football coaches, would like an element of surprise for his 2019 opponents. That is probably something even more important for a coach that has been out of the game since 2016.
In early March, Miles was asked about his offensive philosophy during the start of spring ball.
"The ability to throw bubbles and RPOs and have the ability to throw the ball down the field certainly would be things that we would start with,” Miles said. “The ability to rush the football and control the ball when time would suggest that you can win the game by running out the clock.”
While that particular quote suggests Miles is embracing more of a modern offense, it is worth noting his track record during his 15-plus seasons as a head coach would suggest otherwise. After all, history might be the best indicator of what is to come for the Jayhawks with Miles at the helm.
For this exercise, I looked at data from all the way back to Miles’ first year as a head coach in 2001 with Oklahoma State. I kept track of percentage of offensive plays that ended up being a rushing attempt as well as what the team’s top running back accomplished in that particular season during Miles’ tenure at Oklahoma State and LSU.
For comparison, I also looked at the same statistical categories for Kansas during this decade when the team has had multiple different head coaches.
Right away, the biggest thing that stood out was the run percentage. The Jayhawks have run the ball at least 58% of the time on three different occasions since 2010. A Miles-led team has done that 10 different times, including each of his previous six full seasons.
Since 2010, KU’s top running back has only eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark three times. Miles, meanwhile, has had nine different campaigns — and four this decade — where his top running back ran for over 1,000 yards.
Miles has had a number of talented backs, which has led to that level of rushing production. But he’s also shown the ability to feed his guy the rock. With Miles at the helm, the top running back has averaged 196 carries per season. KU’s top running back has only amassed 196 carries twice and averaged 166.8 carries per season since 2010.
(Side note: If you remove 2006 from the pool, when Jacob Hester led the team with 94 carries, Miles’ top running back has averaged just over 203 carries per season.)
All of this is obviously good for sophomore running back Pooka Williams, who recently rejoined the team after a strong freshman campaign. Williams will serve a one-game suspension, but figures to be an important part of Kansas’ offense when he returns.
But this could also be a favorable system for running backs Khalil Herbert and Dom Williams as well. Both could see a significant uptick in carries if the Jayhawks run the ball more than last year’s mark of 35.2 rushing attempts per game.
Even offensive coordinator Les Koenning’s track record would suggest that will be the case.
Koenning’s most-recent stop was UAB in 2017, when the team ran the ball 60.7 percent of the time and Spencer Brown led the team with 1,329 yards on 250 carries. Koenning’s top rusher has averaged 184 attempts per season during his time at Alabama, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and UAB.
Sure, the Big 12 tends to be more pass-happy and more teams are utilizing a spread-style offense in today’s game. KU also won’t likely have the luxury of playing with the lead, which usually warrants more passing attempts.
But if the history of the new coaching staff is any indication — as well as the talent on the 2019 roster — then KU should expect a significant bump in the rushing production this fall.
Why is FanDuel giving away money?
That was my first thought when FanDuel Sportsbook released 2019 win totals for a majority of the FBS teams on Tuesday. I immediately scrolled to the team I cover to see what the number was. And, I must admit, I was shocked.
Kansas opened with a 3.5 over/under win total for the 2019 season, which marks the first year under Les Miles. It has since been dropped to 3.0, as the under is +102 and the over is -120.
I’m less confident that FanDuel is giving away money with the updated odds, because a push with three wins is a likely outcome. If a bettor got the original odds, however, then the under seemed far too easy.
With Miles at the helm, there is undoubtedly more buzz around the program than in recent memory.
But buzz doesn’t always mean success, especially not at first. Based on the current roster, and historical data, it is hard to imagine the Jayhawks winning four or more games. At the very least, it would be tough to put a significant amount of money on them doing so.
For starters, KU hasn’t accomplished that feat since 2009 when the team went 5-7. That is nine consecutive seasons of the Jayhawks winning three or fewer games, so it would be tough to bet on any coach breaking that trend in his first year.
Miles won four games in his first year at Oklahoma State in 2001, but the team had just three consecutive losing seasons before he took over. The Cowboys only lost more than six games once in those three years as well.
To top it off, Kansas will have more roster turnover than last season. The Jayhawks return just 10 starters, five on each side of the ball. As a result, a pair of prominent college football insiders predicted that KU would match its win total from 2018.
In his preseason magazine, Phil Steele projected Kansas to finish 10th in the Big 12 with a 3-9 record. Steele ranked the Kansas running backs as the team’s best unit, which was listed sixth out of 10 teams. No other positional group is ranked higher than eighth by Steele.
Bill Connelly recently moved to ESPN from SB Nation. His final story for SB Nation was a preview for KU, in which he projected a 3-9 clip with an 107th overall S&P+ ranking.
According to S&P+, the Jayhawks have a 72% win probability against Indiana State and a 64% win probability against Coastal Carolina. KU’s next-highest win probability is against Kansas State, and that is just 23%.
Both Connelly and Steele tend to know they are talking about, so I’d trust them when it comes to putting down any sort of money on win totals. With the updated odds, I’d prefer to stay away completely since three wins seems reasonable.
If I had to bet, though, I’d take the under.
Big 12 win totals
Oklahoma: 10.5 (Over -130, Under +112)
Texas: 9.5 (Over +102, Under -120)
Iowa State: 8 (Over +106, Under -124)
TCU: 7.5 (Over -120, Under +102)
Baylor: 7 (Over -156, Under +132)
Oklahoma State: 6.5 (Over -130, Under +110)
Texas Tech: 6.5 (Over +116, Under -136)
Kansas State: 5.5 (Over -108, Under -108)
West Virginia: 5 (Over -146, Under +124)
Kansas: 3 (Over -120, Under +102)