Since sports gambling eventually will make its way to Kansas, I’m going to try my hand at picking three college football games vs. the spread for the rest of the Fridays throughout the season. I’ll track my record to see whether I should trust myself to suggest actual wagers once gambling comes to Kansas.
Friday forecasts for Saturday games, listed in order of my confidence in the picks, using odds that appear on vegasinsider.com:
1 (Best bet) - Army (+31) at Oklahoma: Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray has thrown 11 touchdowns and one interception in two seasons with OU, is one of the fastest players college football and was the ninth overall selection in the June baseball draft. He already has established himself as a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate, but the service academies don’t get blown out very often because they frustrate defenses unaccustomed to facing triple-option offenses and keep the scoreboard from getting too lopsided because they eat so much clock by constantly running.
Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 28-21 victory over a decent Hawaii team.
Predicted score: Oklahoma 44, Army 20
Pick vs. spread: Army
2 - Washington State (+4.5) at Southern Cal: WSU coach Mike Leach is a brilliant man and part of his brilliance lies in knowing what he doesn’t know, which is defense. He hired former Minnesota defensive coordinator and head coach Tracy Claeys, a native of Clay Center, to run his defense.
The Cougars haven’t played anybody yet, so it’s tough to draw too many conclusions, but their defense is ranked 18th in the nation, allowing 14.3 points per game, which can’t be a bad thing.
Meanwhile, Leach’s Air Raid offense is averaging 421 passing yards per game, second nationally to his old school, Texas Tech.
USC is ranked 113th nationally with 20 points a game.
Predicted score: Washington State 34, USC 27
Pick vs. spread: Washington State
3 - Tulane (+37) at Ohio State: Here’s why you never should use comparative scores to guide in predicting games: Nicholls State beat Kansas by three. Tulane beat Nicholls by 25, which makes Tulane 28 points better than Kansas, which beat Rutgers by 41 points, meaning Tulane is 69 points better than Rutgers, which lost to Ohio State by 49 points. Therefore, Tulane is 20 points better than Ohio State.
That’s absurd, of course, but there is a valid reason to believe Tulane will lose by fewer than 37 points.
No, it’s not that Urban Meyer in his return to coaching will be so mindful of being perceived as a sensitive guy that he won’t run up the score. Clearly, Meyer does not care about being perceived as a kind and caring individual.
Both teams run the ball more than they pass it, keeping the clock moving and shortening the game, and 37 points is a big margin for a short game.
Fritz’s teams tend to get better and this is his third season at Tulane.
Predicted score: Ohio State 48, Tulane 20.
Pick vs. spread: Tulane.
Best guess as to what Urban Meyer is saying in above photo: "Nick Saban only comes up to here on me."
Kansas scored its first back-to-back football victories since the first two games of the 2011 season by drawing first blood, taking big leads and forcing poor passing teams to try to play catch-up with an air attack.
The Jayhawks took a 21-0 lead midway through the third quarter at Central Michigan on Pooka Williams’ second long touchdown run. They put Rutgers in a 24-7 hole in the first minute of the second quarter on Mike Lee’s 31-yard pick six.
Kansas has been on the other side of that equation repeatedly in recent seasons against Baylor, which has taken big early leads against passing-challenged KU teams year after year.
In the first half of the past five games of the series, Baylor has outscored Kansas, 208-20. Rounding to the nearest number, that's an average halftime score of 42-4.
This KU squad has shown signs it could be the best at the school in several years in most areas, especially in forcing turnovers and fielding an explosive running game.
Yet, one thing hasn’t changed. KU still doesn’t have a productive passing game and therefore still can’t expect to get away with falling far behind.
KU ranks last in the Big 12 in passing yards (483), yards per pass attempt (5.4), yards per completion (9.1) and touchdown receptions (four). Kansas also is the only team that has not thrown an interception, a statistic that says more about its ability to hold leads than to come from behind.
Baylor has won the past eight games in the series, the past five by scoring early blowouts. The halftime scores, from 2013 through 2018: 38-0, 39-7, 52-7, 42-0, 21-6.
The failure to eliminate big plays in the passing game has dogged Kansas in the series in recent years.
In the past eight games, all Baylor victories, two Bears running backs (Shock Linwood and Lache Seastrunk) and seven wide receivers have had 100-yard games. The receivers: Josh Gordon, Kendall Wright, Tevin Reese, Terrance Williams, Corey Coleman two years in a row and Denzel Mims.
It’s imperative Kansas gets off to a strong start Saturday for the 2:30 p.m. kickoff in Waco.
The Kansas secondary played exceptionally well during the nonconference portion of the schedule.
The Jayhawks have allowed 5.1 yards per pass attempt, a figure that ranks them 11th nationally. They have allowed one touchdown pass and have seven interceptions, three returned for touchdowns.
You have to do a whole lot right to compile numbers that exceptional against any level of competition. Still, nobody is in denial that the defensive backs’ jobs are three days from becoming a great deal more difficult.
Nicholls State, Central Michigan and Rutgers all lack the same thing: A passing attack. The three schools have combined to throw five touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. Subtract the numbers against KU and it computes to four TD passes and eight picks. In contrast, Baylor has thrown six touchdown passes and two interceptions.
The Bears always flood the field with a blend of long, fast receivers and shorter, fleet receivers. Tennessee transfer Jalan Hurd, a converted running back, is 6-foot-4, 217 pounds. Junior Denzel Mims is 6-3, 208. Explosive freshman Tyquan Thornton is 6-3, 165, and Marques Jones is 6-2, 204. Chris Platt is only 5-11, but his speed makes him a deep threat as well. It will be interesting to see how true freshman cornerback Corione Harris, coming off an outstanding effort that included an interception vs. Rutgers, fares against Baylor’s size. At 6-1, 180, Harris has good size for a cornerback.
“I really like the Mims kid,” Kansas coach David Beaty said. “I think Mims is, I think he might be the best receiver in the league and there's a bunch of good ones in this league. … This league is full of terrific receivers. And it's hard to choose one. But Mims stands out to me. He's a playmaker. He's big. He's fast. He makes plays. I think he's got perfect size, good length. I know he didn't play last week, but competitors like that, you know they get well. He'll be out there Saturday, I'm sure.”
Beaty, who enjoys breaking down receivers, having played and coached the position for so many years, shared his thoughts on more than just Mims.
“They have the Jalen Hurd kid who transferred from Tennessee,” Beaty said. “He was a running back. He's reshaped his body. I think he's lost 20, 25 pounds, certainly looks like a wide receiver now. Has really worked on his craft. Possesses a lot of skill, a lot of skill. They hand him the ball off in the backfield a couple times and he can still certainly do that. He's got terrific vision.”
Beaty said of Platt: “I was hoping he'd graduate and move on. But he's still there. And he's a track guy that can really run and I've listened to Matt talk a lot about how unselfish he is.”
Baylor has had 19 passing plays of 20 yards or more, compared to just four for Kansas, which gets most of its explosive plays from its running game.
“They have the ability to make a big play at any time, but we're going to have to prepare well this week because I'm not sure we've seen a group of guys like this put together,” Beaty said. “This is a pretty strong group of wideouts.”
As a freshman last season, Charlie Brewer lit up Kansas for 315 yards and three touchdowns in his first start, leading Baylor to its first and only victory of the 2017 season.
But Brewer hasn't won the job outright. Bears coach Matt Rhule has been using North Carolina State graduate transfer Jalan McClendon a lot as well.
Their statistics are quite similar. Brewer has completed 46 of 76 and thrown for 641 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He has a 60.5 completion percentage and averages 8.4 yards per throw. McClendon, 4 inches taller at 6-foot-5, is 23 of 25 for 307 yards, three touchdowns and one interception and is averaging 8.7 yards per throw.
Rhule shared a glimpse of how he evaluates his decisions.
"I do it all from numbers. Charlie has played 138 snaps and completed 60 percent of his passes and he has led us to eight touchdowns, four field goals, and seven punts," Rhule said. "Jalan has played 78 total snaps and has led us to six touchdowns and is converting third downs at 58 percent. Those are good numbers for both. To try and make the decision off a gut feeling is hard when both guys are producing. I wish both guys could take back their picks, but when you play quarterback that's just what happens. Both guys made good plays and both guys have some plays they wish they could take back."
Rhule didn't tip his hand.
"We feel good about both guys. Both guys made big plays in the game the other day, so it’s not an easy decision to say, 'Hey let’s settle on one guy,' just because of the different skills each guy brings," Rhule said. "I think that’s sort of day by day process for us as we go through this week putting the game plan together to get ready for Kansas. We’ll see if we’re going to eliminate it and get down to one guy each day as we go through the week. ... If we were to play today I think we’d probably play both.”
Given how successful he was last season vs. Kansas and that he has played more to this point, Brewer likely will get the nod if Rhule decides to go with just one quarterback. Kansas? Best guess: Miles Kendrick makes his first start, but it's just a guess.
In the past two weeks, Kansas did what good teams do to weak competition, dominating Central Michigan and Rutgers by a combined score of 86-21.
In so doing, KU worked its way high up the national rankings in several statistical categories. KU leads with a turnover margin of plus 12 and no other team has higher than eight.
KU is tied for the national lead with — brace yourself — Alabama with three interceptions returned for a touchdown. The Jayhawks are tied for second with four others in interceptions (seven), ranking behind only North Texas (nine). KU had four interceptions for the entire 2017 season.
Even though Pooka Williams missed the opener, he ranks 27th in the nation with 283 rushing yards, most of anyone in the Big 12.
Williams has not played in 75 percent of his team’s games so he’s not eligible for rushing yards per game, but only five players in the nation who are eligible have rushed for more than his 141.5-yard average. Just 14 backs eligible to be ranked have averaged more than his 8.84 yards per carry. Khalil Herbert ranks 56th with 6.7 yards per rush.
Those are impressive numbers for Pooka and Herbert, but no running back in the nation comes even close to Memphis junior Darrell Henderson. He leads the nation with 521 rushing yards, and 14.47 yards per attempt, and is tied for second (trailing Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary by one) with six touchdowns.
KU is tied for second with three rushing plays of 50 yards or greater, all on TD runs vs. Rutgers: Herbert (59), Deron Thompson (55), Pooka (52). Memphis leads with six 50-plus rushes, three of them in the 70-plus category. KU also ranks tied for second, behind Georgia Tech, with 11 rushing plays of 20 yards or longer and tied for second, behind Memphis, with four rushing plays of 40 yards or longer.
The same sort of logic that made so many prognosticators overrate Texas coming into this season made a few of them paint way too optimistic a picture for Rutgers’ 2018 fortunes.
Second-year Texas coach Tom Herman received kudos for landing the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class. That’s nice, but what does that have to do with 2018? This isn’t basketball where a few McDonald’s All-Americans can carry the team to great heights. Rare is the true freshman (Pooka Williams) who can make a major impact, which brings us to Rutgers.
Pro-style quarterback Artur Sitkowski played his first three years of high school football at Old Bridge Academy in New Jersey and then transferred to IMG Academy in Florida for his senior season. He enrolled at Rutgers at the semester and participated in spring football. Sitkowski, now listed at 6-foot-5, 224 pounds, originally had committed to Miami (Fla.), but changed his mind and decided to play closer to home. Landing him was a big deal for Rutgers, which won three Big Ten games last season without strong quarterback play.
In time, Sitkowski very well could justify the excitement his recruitment generated, but that time isn’t likely to be any time soon. He has played three halves of college football. Sitkowski suffered a shoulder injury on a sack late in the first half of last week’s loss to Ohio State and didn’t play in the second half. Sitkowski completed 6 of 18 passes for 38 yards and threw an interception in a 52-3 road loss to the Buckeyes.
Obviously, Ohio State’s talent is so superior to that of either Rutgers or Kansas that drawing conclusions from those numbers doesn’t necessarily make for an accurate projection for how he’ll do for Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
OK, but Kansas has better athletes on its experienced defense than does Texas State of the FCS, which Rutgers defeated, 35-7, in Week 1. Sitkowski completed 20 of 30 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown. Not bad, until considering he also threw three interceptions.
Third-year Rutgers coach Chris Ash said he expects Sitkowski will be available Saturday. Ash also could turn to redshirt junior Giovanni Rescigno has thrown seven touchdowns and seven interceptions during his career and has averaged 4.6 yards per attempt, completing 50.2 percent of his passes.
It’s a little premature to assume that because Rutgers landed a significant quarterback recruit it has a better offense than a year ago, when the Scarlet Knights finished 121st in scoring with an 18-point average (Kansas was 120th with 18.7).
Also, the Rutgers defense was weakened by multiple dismissals relating to eight players, some with remaining eligibility, others past players, being charged in a credit card fraud scam.
Kansas is favored vs. a Power Five opponent for the first time since 2009 for good reason. If KU doesn’t pick up its first two-game winning streak since the beginning of the 2011 season and snap a seven-game home losing streak, that won’t bode well for its chances of competing very often, even in a weakened Big 12.
Prediction: Kansas 24, Rutgers 13.
Rob Likens, David Beaty's first offensive coordinator, came to Kansas with a reputation for being one of the more well liked assistant coaches among peers, and did nothing to change that in his two seasons in Lawrence, even though things didn't go well for him.
Likens lasted one year in that job and was demoted to Walk Around Guy in his second season, when Beaty appointed himself OC for a year. It was tough watching Likens, well, walk around at practice. At times he looked like a coach without anybody to coach.
No need to fell sorry for Likens anymore. He has a reported base salary of $700,000 as offensive coordinator for first-year Arizona State coach Herman Edwards. It's twice the salary he made last season as receivers coach for Todd Graham.
Likens' offense is averaging 309 passing yards per game and has five touchdown passes and one interception. The Sun Devils (2-0) are coming off a 16-13 victory against Michigan State.
Things also are going well for Beaty's first linebackers coach, former Kansas linebacker Kevin Kane. He left Beaty's staff after one season to become defensive coordinator for Northern Illinois for two seasons and then was recruited to SMU as DC by first-year coach Sonny Dykes.
Calvin Thibodeaux, defensive line coach at KU in 2015 and instrumental in the recruitment of Dorance Armstrong, left after one season to coach at Oklahoma, his alma mater. He's in charge of defensive ends for the Sooners.
Klint Kubiak, receivers coach in 2015, left for the Denver Broncos after one season and remains there, now coaching quarterbacks.
Reggie Mitchell, Beaty's first running backs coach, left after a season and spent two years in the same role at Arkansas. He's now doing the same job for head coach Dana Dimel at UTEP.
Special teams coach Gary Hyman was let go by Kansas after the 2015 season and was not retained after 2016 by Indiana State. He has resurfaced this season at UT San Atonio on Frank Wilson's staff.
In review, after an 0-12 2015 season, 4 of 9 assistant coaches left for what they considered to be better opportunities, and one was fired.
After a 2-10 2016 season, Likens was tired of walking around and wanted to get back to coaching, so he headed to Arizona State. Wide receivers coach Jason Phillips was told he would not be retained and was hired by Oregon State to fill the same role. Defensive line coach Michael Slater was not retained and is coaching the same position for Texas Southern head coach Michael Haywood. Turnover dropped from five assistants in Beaty's first season to three in his second.
In the wake of a 1-11 2017 season, the turnover number again was three. Offensive line coach Zach Yenser and special teams coach Joe DeForest, who spent two seasons at Kansas, were fired. Yenser was hired in May as offensive line coach for Enterprise High, a 7A school in southeast Alabama. Yenser left that job to take a position as offensive quality control assistant at SMU, where he is reunited with Dykes. Yenser worked for Dykes at Louisiana Tech and California. Southern California head coach Clay Helton hired DeForest as a defensive quality control coach. Todd Bradford, KU's linebackers coach for two seasons, accepted a lucrative offer to return to the oil industry.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen and Kenny Perry, who moved from cornerbacks to special teams, where things are going well, are the lone remaining assistant coaches from Beaty's original staff.
Pooka Williams has jolted a slumbering Kansas football fan base awake and it took him all of one game, his first in college.
How did he look on film to the coach who has to prepare his team to face a KU offense rejuvenated by the freshman running back who ran for 125 yards on 14 carries and in the second half gained 85 yards on six carries with touchdown bursts of 20 and 41 yards?
“He's a good little player,” third-year Rutgers coach Chris Ash said at his Monday press conference. “He was productive. He had a couple of explosive runs against Central Michigan.”
A good little player. Interesting choice of words. Williams appears shorter than his listed height of 5-foot-10 and packs a lot of muscle onto his 170 pounds.
“Kansas has some good skill players. They’ve got a couple of running backs that are good,” Ash said. “I think they've got several receivers who can run and make some plays. I think they've got a good scheme. But he did bring a different element to their offense in terms of the running game, and he's got the ability to take it to the house if you're not sound and you don't tackle well because he's really quick. He's got good speed.”
Ash didn’t mention the receivers by name, but the three best for the Jayhawks so far have been Kerr Johnson (seven catches, 122 yards, two touchdowns), Steven Sims (eight receptions, 59 yards, one touchdown), Stephon Robinson (four receptions, 43 yards).
Multiple highlights of Anthony "Pooka" Williams running around through and even over defenders during his record-breaking career for Hahnville High in Louisiana light up Youtube. My favorite is shown in this Tweet:
Colleges have been known to circulate bobble head dolls and other promotional materials to try to generate Heisman Trophy support for start players. If Pooka ever develops into that caliber a running back, KU might want to distribute a mini-statue that has the player in midair executing a stiff-leg move instead of standing on one foot delivering a stiff arm.
Pooka showed up at David Beaty's weekly "Hawk Talk" radio show at Johnny's West on Monday night, but in keeping with Beaty's policy of not allowing freshmen to do interviews, he was not put on the air.
In this video from Nola.com, Williams explains why he chose Kansas. Asked if he could change the school's losing football culture, he said: "Of course. Of course. Of course I can. I mean, if I put my mind to it, we play as a team, we're going to change it."
He's 1 for 1 so afar and Kansas is favored by a field goal against Saturday's opponent, Rutgers, for an 11 a.m. kickoff at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium.
Kansas wide receiver D.J. Beshears caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Webb with nine seconds remaining to give KU a 45-42 victory against Northern Illinois with 48,084 on hand at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 10, 2011.
That dramatic ending made KU's record 2-0 and stands as the most recent two-game winning streak for the program. Las Vegas oddsmakers expect that streak of no winning streaks to end Saturday when Rutgers visits David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for an 11 a.m. kickoff. Kansas opened as a three-point favorite.
KU hasn't come very close very often in trying for a second consecutive victory in recent years.
After opening Charlie Weis' first season on the job with a 31-17 victory over South Dakota State, KU lost to Rice, 24-25, in Lawrence with 44,683 in attendance. In Weis' second season, after opening with a 31-14 triumph over South Dakota, KU lost at Rice, 23-14. The Jayhawks bounced back with a 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech on a Matthew Wyman field goal, but then were drubbed by Texas Tech, 54-16. Later in the season, KU defeated West Virginia in Lawrence, 31-19, but then slipped all over the place in icy Ames, Iowa, and took a 34-0 beating.
Weis opened his third season by holding on to defeat SEMO, 34-28, then took a 41-3 beating at Duke. After a 24-10 victory against Central Michigan, KU was shut out by Texas, 23-0, spelling the end of Weis' tenure.
Interim head coach Clint Bowen defeated Iowa State, 34-14, then lost to TCU, 34-30, the closest Kansas has come to a two-game winning streak since 2011. It started a 15-game losing streak for the program.
David Beaty's first victory as head coach came in the 2016 opener, a 55-6 domination of Rhode Island, but Ohio came into Lawrence and prevented a KU winning streak with a 37-21 victory. KU played pretty well the week after defeating Texas, 24-21 in overtime, but lost in Manhattan to Kansas State, 34-19.
The Jayhawks opened the 2017 season with a 38-16 victory over SEMO, but couldn’t stop Central Michigan quarterback Shane Morris from shredding them, 37-21.