KU's Peyton Bender projected in bottom 20 percent of FBS starting QBs
Spring football came and went in Lawrence without anyone knowing for sure who will open the 2018 season as the starting quarterback at Kansas. But if forced today to take a stab at the winner of the competition nearly four months ahead of the Jayhawks’ season opener, the safest bet would be senior Peyton Bender.
So even though some KU football supporters might think new sophomore QB Miles Kendrick or redshirt junior Carter Stanley would be better suited for the job, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given the unpredictability of the battle, that Athlon Sports rolled with Bender when ranking the top starting quarterbacks in FBS.
A 6-foot-1 senior who began his college career at Washington State and played at Itawamba Community College (Miss.) one season before transferring to Kansas, Bender started eight games and threw for 1,609 yards (20th all-time at KU), 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, while completing 54.2 percent of his 273 throws in 2017. Those numbers landed Bender at No. 108 out of 130 passers on the list.
“The Jayhawks have finished last in the Big 12 in scoring offense for eight consecutive seasons,” Steven Lassan wrote for Athlon. “Without better play under center in 2018, that streak is likely to extend to nine.”
Bender didn’t finish last among Power Five quarterbacks. That unflattering distinction went to Illinois’ Cam Thomas (116th). Another Big Ten QB, who happens to be on KU’s schedule this fall, Rutgers’ Artur Sitkowski (110th) also ranked behind Bender. The only other QB from a power conference lower than Bender was Oregon State’s Jake Luton (109th).
While Bender registered closer to 130th-ranked Kilton Anderson of Coastal Carolina, one of his Big 12 peers, West Virginia senior Will Grier, is Athlon’s No. 1 QB in the country.
The majority of the league’s other quarterbacks ended up closer to, or in, the middle of the pack: Baylor’s Charlie Brewer (32nd), Iowa State’s Kyle Kempt (33rd), Texas’ Sam Ehlinger (34th), Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray (35th), Kansas State’s Skylar Thompson (54th), TCU’s Shawn Robinson (70th) and Oklahoma State’s Dru Brown (77th). The only Big 12 QB in Bender’s neighborhood was Texas Tech’s McLane Carter (97th).
Although Bender experienced enough turmoil in his debut season with KU that he lost the starting job seven games into 2017, Stanley didn’t show enough to win the gig for himself entering the off-season, and Kansas brought in sophomore junior college transfer Kendrick to enter the fray this spring.
The battle to become KU’s starting QB could very well continue through the week of preparation leading up to the team’s Sept. 1 opener versus Nicholls State. Bender didn’t do well during his junior year when the offensive line broke down, so if the coaching staff envisions such scenarios becoming commonplace again in 2018, Bender might not end up starting.
But if head coach David Beaty and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham see enough promise and improvement up front from O-line coach A.J. Ricker’s group, it could become Bender’s job to lose. A fifth-year player — he took a redshirt his first season at WSU, in 2014 — Bender has studied and made throws in some version or other of the Air Raid longer than Stanley or Kendrick. Plus, Bender projects as the most consistent downfield passer.
If Kansas can find a way to balance its offense by featuring Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams in the run game, it might help the offense play to Bender’s strengths and make him a more effective QB.
Of course, all of those best-case scenarios hinge on the success of the offensive line, which lost center Mesa Ribordy to retirement this off-season.
As usual with KU football, more questions exist than easy solutions.