Ryan Willis' decision to transfer was inevitable


Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) walks through the tunnel to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 24-23 heartbreaking loss to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas quarterback Ryan Willis (13) walks through the tunnel to the locker room following the Jayhawks' 24-23 heartbreaking loss to TCU on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

In what is sure to go down as the least surprising development of the offseason for Kansas football — even beating out the departure of former offensive coordinator Rob Likens — quarterback Ryan Willis announced Wednesday he is transferring out of the program.

The only mystery surrounding the next step of Willis’ college career was when he would reveal it and where he would go next. As it turned out, the two-year Jayhawk from nearby Bishop Miege chose Virginia Tech the week before the start of the spring semester at KU.

The notion that the QB’s days in Lawrence were numbered became clear months earlier, after head coach David Beaty decided to move on from Willis as a starter.

The first four weeks of the 2016 season, Willis bounced on and off the field, trading spots with Montell Cozart behind center. After that two-quarterback experiment failed, Beaty handed the offense over to Willis ahead of a home game against TCU. The Jayhawks nearly pulled off an upset victory in a 24-23 loss during Willis’ first start as a sophomore (he also started the final eight games of 2015 as a true freshman), and he threw for 348 yards against the Horned Frogs. However, he also threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and took six sacks in a winnable game.

The following week, at Baylor, went much worse. Again, Willis tossed three picks, and he only completed 10 of 19 passes for 89 yards. The Bears sacked him four times, and the Kansas offense didn’t score until late in what turned out be a 49-7 loss. Plus, KU’s lone touchdown came with Willis watching from the bench.

Willis never threw another pass for Kansas after that Baylor loss. Beaty went back to Cozart as the starter the following week — though that didn’t work either. By the time another switch came and redshirt freshman Carter Stanley took over at QB, it was easy to envision Willis, who still has two years of eligibility left, moving on. Once Beaty got junior college QB Peyton Bender, formerly of Washington State, on board and referenced him as a player who would push Stanley for the starting job, why would Willis even want to stay?

Beaty’s version of the Air Raid offense and Willis just didn’t fit. This isn’t to say Willis won’t play well at Virginia Tech if given the chance. He is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, has a strong arm, and is faster than one might anticipate when he runs. As evidenced by the sacks he took, Willis didn’t have the benefit of playing for a dominant offensive line and he probably held on to the ball too long at times, hoping for something other than a quick pass to the sideline to develop.

He needed a change and he got one at a university that, unlike Kansas, is known for football success.

Willis wasn’t going to become the quarterback who turned the KU program around, but he tried his best to do so while he was in Lawrence. Ultimately both sides can move on now, which is the most important aspect of it all.

Beaty and QB coach Garrett Riley can focus on developing Stanley, Bender and 2017 redshirt freshman Tyriek Starks for the coming season.

Realistically, four quarterbacks is too many, barring a series of unfortunate injuries. Willis knew that and left KU behind. Smart decision.

The next question is: will another similarly inspired Bishop Miege alum, Cozart, leave the quarterbacks room for another position for his senior season at Kansas? Spring football isn’t too far away and Cozart said a year ago he was open to switching spots if the staff needed him to. We shall see.


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