The season-opener vs. Southeast Missouri State at Memorial Stadium is just six weeks and a day away. It also marks the first day head coach David Beaty will release a depth chart, which will appear on the flip chart distributed in the press box.
Obviously, fall camp will have a great influence on the depth chart, but it’s never too early to take a stab at guessing what it might look like:
Defensive end: first-team: Dorance Armstrong and Josh Ehambe; second-team: Maciah Long, Isaiah Bean.
Defensive tackle: first team: Daniel Wise, J.J. Holmes; second team: Isi Holani, DeeIsaac Davis.
Linebacker: first team: Joe Dineen, Keith Loneker; second team: Osaze Ogbebor, Denzel Feaster.
Safety: first team: Mike Lee, Tyrone Miller; second team: Bryce Torneden, Shaq Richmond.
Cornerback: first team: Hasan Defense, Shakial Taylor; second team: Julian Chandler, Ian Peterson.
Nickel: first team: Derrick Neal; second team: Kyle Mayberry.
Quarterback: first team: Peyton Bender; second team: Carter Stanley.
Running back: first team: Taylor Martin; second team: Khalil Herbert.
Outside receiver: first team: Daylon Charlot and Steven Sims; second team: Jeremiah Booker and Chase Harrell.
Inside receiver: first team: LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Ryan Schadler; second team: Quan Hampton and Tyler Patrick.
Left tackle: first team: Hakeem Adeniji; second team: Antoine Frazier.
Left guard: first team: Jayson Rhodes; second team: Malik Clark.
Center: first team: Mesa Ribordy; second team: Hunter Saulsbury.
Right guard: first team: Larry Hughes; second team: Jacob Bragg.
Right tackle: first team: Charles Baldwin; second team: Clyde McCauley.
My guess as to the player not listed above who is most likely to have an impact, other than senior tight end Ben Johnson and freshman hybrid tight end/receiver Kenyon Tabor, is true freshman linebacker Kyron Johnson.
Never having played college football or had a full season of practice as a redshirt, Johnson is playing catch-up compared to the four names listed in front of him, because they all are juniors and are more familiar with the intricacies of the position. But Johnson appears to have the most potential of the group to use his speed and agility to make plays in space. It’s just a matter of how quickly he learns where to go and when, so that he can use his tools efficiently. If he picks it up quickly, he has enough talent to develop into an impact player by season’s end. A year as a redshirt behind him, Dru Prox also has promise at linebacker.
Asked at Big 12 Media Days to share his recruiting pitch, Kansas head football coach David Beaty called an audible on the question and then answered it.
"Well, there's no pitch, there's a relationship," Beaty said. "There's no cliche there. We're going to get to know you. We're going to make sure that you're a Kansas-type guy. And then we're going to show you everything that's great about this great university. And we're going to start with what it means to be a Jayhawk. We say it all the time: When you sign here and you spend any amount of time here, that bird goes straight through your shirt and right to your heart. And it happens. It happens all the time."
It sounded like a recruiting pitch. Beaty explained why he does not consider it one.
"The thing for us," he said, "we don't pitch anything. We tell you the truth. Whether it's good, bad or indifferent, you're going to get the truth. We don't promise things. There's no, 'You're going to start.' We don't ever say that. You're going to get what you earn. And there is going to be competition. You're only going to be as good as your next, but we're going to push you to be the best man you can possibly be and when you leave here, you're going to be a better man, father, husband, productive member of society. And the byproduct of all of that is going to be championships for you on the field and off. So basically we talk a lot about what it means to be a great Jayhawk. So that's where our relationship starts. And if you don't want that, it's no big deal. You just can't come here."
Frisco, Texas — Kansas sophomore safety Mike Lee not only made the biggest play of the 2016 season for Kansas, a game-clinching interception in overtime in the 24-21 victory against Texas, he also was chosen by the coaching staff as defensive player of the week against Oklahoma and Iowa State. Rivals included him on its freshman All-American team. And if a national award had been handed out for hardest hit on a teammate during a spring football game, he would have been runaway winner for tagging receiver Ryan Schadler.
All that becomes more impressive considering Lee graduated high school a year early to start his college career and was playing mostly on instinct, according to Kansas coach David Beaty, who shared at Big 12 Media Day just how raw Lee was last year.
“Mike Lee returning is a big deal. He’s already so much better a player. Not fair to play a freshman," Beaty said at Big 12 Media Day. "Sometimes it’s just not fair. This kid made so many plays for us last year, and for the first half of the season all he knew was he better find Tevin Shaw. It was basically, 'If you can find Tevin, just go where he is and then we’ll teach you a few more things and let you just go use your ability.' Well, now he actually knows the calls. I mean, if you can be that good only finding Tevin . . . that’s what we’re excited about, that some of those youthful players have experience.”
Junior Tyrone Miller, projected starter at the other safety, impressed coaches with a strong spring, as did reserve Bryce Torneden.
Beaty, who went 2-22 in his first two seasons, isn't running from higher expectations for his team. He used Lee as an example of how he thinks KU has improved.
“We have people who have experience and have done it on the Big 12 level and played against the best the Big 12 has to offer," Beaty said. "Now they have experience. We can’t use that as an excuse not to be successful.”
Frisco, Texas — If Big 12 Media Day questions are good indicators, then the hiring of offensive coordinator Doug Meacham rates as the most significant offseason addition to the Kansas football program.
David Beaty's rebuilding project picked up credibility with the addition of Meacham and Beaty was more than happy to talk about the impact the former TCU co-offensive coordinator already has made.
“This game of football, it’s tough on these guys, a day-to-day grind for these guys. It’s a lot more than what a lot of people know. It’s very difficult," Beaty said. "I just believe you’ve got to have a little fun throughout that process. Doug has done such a great job of making sure that we have fun every day. He’s a guy who is infectious, and you just want to be around him. He’s one of those people. I love the fact that our kids want to be around him because it’s not always that you have coaches that they want to be around. They may be there, but they don’t want to be around him. They love being around Doug Meacham because he is so much fun and he’s really good at what he’s done.”
Now that they're on the same side, Beaty's getting a better look at the Air Raid wrinkles Meacham puts on the offense.
"Watching him put his spin on this Air Raid offense has been so much fun,” Beaty said. “It’s going to be really fun watching him put his personality into it. The concepts are all pretty similar, but like all of the guys who live in this offense, everyone has their own little personality and twist on it. It’s been fun watching him instill that. We’ve had some position moves. We’ve had guys move to new spots that I wouldn’t have thought to do that.”
Beaty cited Ryan Schadler’s move from running back to receiver as an example.
“Doug has done so many things to really focus on the individual skill sets of each player, to really utilize them correctly," Beaty said. "It’s been really fun to watch, and it’s just been fun to really just kind of be around him and to just soak up the knowledge that he’s brought to the room.”
Meacham and Sonny Cumbie shared the co-offensive coordinator title at TCU and Cumbie's role in play-calling was going to expand at the expense of Meacham before Meacham's move to Kansas.
Patterson was asked what impact he thought Cumbie calling the plays is going to have.
"Not much," Patterson said. "I mean, Sonny's been part of, you know, our offense, the way we do it, it's everybody's all in as far as the ideas and how we do things. So I don't see that. I think what we have to be able to do is we have to do what we need to do to move the football."
Once Las Vegas sets a line on “college football win totals” for those wishing to wage a guess as to how many games a particular college football team will win in a given season: Guess the over, guess the under, abstain.
In 2015, I advised guessing the under when Las Vegas set KU’s total at 1.5 and the Jayhawks went 0-12. In 2016, I advised abstaining when Vegas kept the total at 1.5. The come-from-behind, upset victory against Texas sent the “over” guessers home winners, giving me a 1-0-1 mark in two seasons of guessing.
Vegas has set the number at 2.5 for Kansas. Take the over, even against an extremely difficult schedule. The beauty of such a guess is that you don’t have to correctly pick which games, just the total.
The season-opener against Southeast Missouri State should not be in question. The Redhawks went 3-8 last season, their only victories coming against Murray State, Eastern Illinois and Austin Peay. Although SEMO remained competitive in every game, its biggest margin of defeat coming at the hands of Memphis, 35-17, in Week 1, KU should be beyond stumbling against a so-so FCS foe.
Week 2, provides the next-best chance at a victory. Central Michigan must replace Cooper Rush, a four-year starter at quarterback. Michigan transfer Shane Morris is a candidate for the job.
The Chippewas won’t lack confidence against Kansas in Lawrence, having defeated Oklahoma State, 30-27, in Stillwater last season and riding a two-year streak of making it to bowl games.
Even so, Kansas should be a slight favorite, maybe as much as a field goal, if impressive enough against SEMO.
Finding a third victory on the schedule is where it gets a little sticky. Then again, a year ago not many would have picked Kansas to score its first victory against Texas since 1938.
Week 3, a road game against Ohio, offers a decent shot at victory, but I’ll skip to Week 4 in guessing at the opponent for the third victory: Texas Tech.
Nic Shimonek threw for 271 yards and four touchdowns on a night Patrick Mahomes also threw for four touchdowns against the Kansas defense and Shimonek will have a whole game to see what he can do against the Jayhawks in Lawrence, a scary proposition.
Kansas didn’t have what it took to get into a shootout with the Red Raiders last season and punted on its first six possessions against a defense most of the rest of the Big 12 shredded.
KU has more playmakers and Tech's defense won't be any better, maybe even a little worse.
Doug Meacham comes to Kansas after spending the past four seasons with the title co-offensive coordinator. He spent 2013 at Houston and the next three seasons at TCU.
During that four-year stretch, the offenses with which he worked never finished worst than 29th in the nation in passing.
True, an offensive coordinator is only as good as his quarterback, receivers, offensive line and running backs and Meacham worked with some good ones.
At Houston, true freshman John O'Korn was his quarterback for most of the season. The Cougars finished 26th in the nation with 280.5 yards per game, threw 30 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. The next season, when Meacham was at TCU, O'Korn was replaced as starter in midseason and transferred to Michigan. His performance wasn't as good once Meacham left.
In 2014, Trevone Boykin became one of the nation's most improved players and TCU finished seventh in the nation in passing offense (326.2 yards per game) and the Horned Frogs threw for 37 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions. More of the same in 2015 with Boykin at the controls (eighth in nation, 347.5 passing yards, 39 touchdowns, 15 interceptions).
Last season, the Horned Frogs slipped to 29th (268.2, 18 TDs, 14 picks) with Kenny Hill at quarterback.
Neither Peyton Bender nor Carter Stanley is Trevone Boykin, but the winner of the KU QB competition might be better than Hill.
The Meacham acquisition was a big one and it will start paying off immediately for a Kansas offense that has been embarrassingly bad for several seasons in a row.
The 41-game road losing streak Kansas takes into the upcoming football season overshadows another streak of futility that hasn’t been all that uncommon for the Jayhawks through the decades.
KU has lost 37 consecutive Big 12 road games, the last victory coming by a 35-33 margin vs. Iowa State in 2008 when Mark Mangino was the coach.
That marked Mangino’s sixth road victory in a seven-game stretch of conference road games. Constantly turning over football coaches is no way to build a program that gains enough momentum to be able to compete on the road in the Big 12. David Beaty will be the first coach since Mangino to earn the time to see if he can build a winner.
Mangino’s predecessor, Terry Allen, didn’t win a Big 12 road game until his 14th try. Mangino’s first road victory in the Big 12 came in his 12th attempt and he finished his tenure with a 7-24 record in conference road games.
Turner Gill went winless in eight tries and Charlie Weis went 0-9, interim head coach Clint Bowen 0-5.
Beaty is 0-9 on the road in the Big 12 and has four shots to claim his first in 2017: at Iowa State (Oct. 14), at TCU (Oct. 21), at Texas (Nov. 11) and at Oklahoma State (Nov. 25).
Never mind that two of the top 20 players in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus’ grading of every snap of the 2016 season, played at Kansas, when a five-star recruit is wooed by the nation’s perennial powerhouses and commits to Kansas reporters are going to keep asking him if he’s still committed to Kansas.
Gabe Brooks of scout.com interviewed Kansas verbal commit Devonta Jason at "Pylong 7v7 Nationals" earlier this week and Jason reiterated he remains committed to Kansas. The first sentence was as discouraging for KU fans as the rest of what he had to say was encouraging.
“I’m committed because I’ve already decommitted one time, and I don’t wanna be a two-time decommit,” Jason said.
Then he talked about what led to him choosing Kansas: “It’s a great atmosphere. Coach Tony Hull, he’s from the city. I played against him in high school my freshman year. . . . Coach (David) Beaty, coach (Doug) Meacham, all the coaches overall are just great people and great to be around.”
Then the next quotes from Jason weren’t quite as encouraging: “I’m still locked in with Kansas, but still an open mind to stay open to the process. I don’t have my official (visit) plans yet, but it’s coming soon.”
The big news about an impending $300 million renovation project for Memorial Stadium came with no details, but since it’s such a huge undertaking it’s easy to draw a few conclusions. First, naming rights are certain to go to the biggest donor or donors.
Second, the renovation will come in stages, not all at once. Since KU doesn’t have a viable option for a temporary home field in the event Memorial Stadium is shut down for a year, it won’t be shut down for a year and all the work will take place from the day after the final home game of each season until the days leading up to the season opener.
TCU and Kansas State underwent their stadium facelifts in phases and so will KU.
Best guess as to the portion of the stadium that will be addressed first is the West side, where the luxury suites and most desirable seats are because the sun isn’t in spectators’ eyes, then maybe the south side end, where the team enters and exits the field.
The stadium will be wired to the max so that fans can watch a play Iive and then watch the instant replay on their phones.
Sports franchises today count man caves as serious competitors for their stadiums, which must include bars, restaurants, family-friendly entertainment options that stretch beyond the field of play.
A sum of $300 million can buy plenty of bells and whistles. And if the money is spent wisely and the stadium sparkles, it also can buy Kansas coaches a seat at the table of big-time recruits more regularly than in the past.
Rehabilitated stadiums tend to become fashionable places to go, even more so if they develop catchy nicknames.
That of course will depend on the name of the new stadium. The identity of the major donor remains a secret, but just for the sake of using an example, let’s suppose it’s David Booth. It wouldn’t take long before the stadium would become known as “The Booth,” as in, “See you at The Booth on Saturday.”
The planned stadium renovations will go down as athletic director’s Sheahon Zenger’s legacy, a big step in his recovery from the program-damaging hire of football coach Charlie Weis.
Zenger initially had announced that a special fundraiser would be in charge of the football-stadium project but never made that hire and let Matt Baty, head of the Williams Fund, and his staff, including closer extraordinaire John Hadl, meet with the donors, explain the goals and ask for the order. They obviously did a terrific job, leading to Wednesday night’s announcement in Kansas City.
The message rings loudly: You don’t spend $300 million on a football-stadium renovation if you don’t care about football.
Kansas has had trouble blocking, passing and running in recent seasons. Consequently, the Jayhawks tend to have fewer drives into field-goal range than the the rest of the teams in the Big 12.
Still, more than that has led to the Jayhawks consistently ranking last in the Big 12 in field goals.
Too often, KU hasn’t even made the field goal part of its offense because the kickers have been too inconsistent to trust.
In the past seven seasons, a Big 12 team has not reached double figures in field goals just seven times. Four of those belong to Kansas and no other Big 12 squad has done it more than once. Baylor (eight field goals in 2016), Kansas State (eight in 2010) and Iowa State (eight in 2010) had off seasons. KU has had an off decade.
Average field goals for the past seven seasons from Big 12 schools: Oklahoma State (20.9), TCU and West Virginia (19.0), Oklahoma (18.9), Kansas State and Texas (16.4), Texas Tech (14.9), Baylor (13.7), Iowa State (12.3), Kansas (9.0).
Enter Liam Jones, the incoming freshman from Choctaw, Okla., charged with kicking to the curb the program's reputation for lousy kicking. A two-star prospect, per Rivals, Jones earned honorable mention all-state distinction.
A left-footed kicker, can win the job by doing little more than not losing it. He'll replace Matthew Wyman, who had his best season as a senior, making 13 of 19 field-goal attempts and all 26 extra points. Wyman made 5 of 5 field goals from 20-to-29 yards, 5 of 7 from 30 to 39, 2 of 4 from 40 to 49 and 1 of 3 from 50 to 59.
The 13 field goals Wyman kicked last season were the most by a Kansas kicker since 2009 when Jacob Branstetter also made 13 of 19 field goals.