What a difference a year makes. Or more specifically, in the case of the University of Kansas football program, what a difference two leadership shakeups seem to have made.
A year ago at this time, when CBS Sports rolled out its rankings of Power Five college football coaches, the man in charge of KU football, David Beaty, finished dead last.
In the 12 months since then, KU chancellor Douglas Girod fired Athletic Director Sheahon Zenger, the man responsible for hiring Beaty. After observing what proved to be Beaty’s final season with the Jayhawks, KU’s new AD, Jeff Long, fired Beaty and replaced him with a reputable name and face (and hat) in the college football universe.
The presence of Les Miles didn’t propel Kansas from worst to first in the coach rankings. Far from it. But given how low the program has been, worst to 38th doesn’t look or sound that bad.
It’s not the kind of accomplishment that will inspire commemorative T-shirts, or even a social media hashtag, but seeing KU’s football coach ranked ahead of 27 other men in charge of Power Five programs seems like progress, even if the legitimate signs of growth will have to be proven in, you know, actual college football games this coming fall.
In the meantime, we have this list as one reminder that Miles’ presence alone has more people paying attention to KU, even at the national level.
Clearly the college football writers at CBS Sports who voted on these rankings don’t envision Miles’ arrival meaning the Jayhawks are ready to conquer and leapfrog a number of Big 12 programs. It just means Miles’ 142-55 combined record during his 15-plus seasons in charge of the football programs at Oklahoma State and LSU still carries some weight — even though when Miles makes his KU coaching debut this fall it will mark his first time on a sideline since September of 2016, when LSU fired him four games into the season.
Miles’ time away from the game likely hurt him in these rankings, which CBS’ Tom Fornelli points out involve “no strict guidelines.” Miles only ranks seventh among Big 12 coaches on the list. He’s ahead of Texas Tech’s Matt Wells (No. 43) and Kansas State’s Chris Klieman (No. 56), but the national championship ring Miles won at LSU to cap the Tigers’ 2007 campaign wasn’t enough to land him ahead of the Big 12’s seven other coaches more than a decade later.
Here’s a portion of what Fornelli wrote about Miles for the rankings, which counted down Nos. 65 through 26, ahead of the yet to be released top 25:
“I think there's been an overall tendency to underestimate Miles' ability as a coach, as people had a penchant for ascribing his success at LSU to it being LSU. Still, I think this is probably a little too low for Miles (I only had him at 33 myself) considering he has won a national title.”
The poll ranked Baylor’s Matt Rhule (No. 31) and West Virginia’s Neal Brown (No. 36) ahead of Miles, and when the rest of the list is published, TCU’s Gary Patterson, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Texas’ Tom Herman and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley will be ahead of KU’s coach, too.
And if that fact ruffles your crimson and blue colored feathers, just remember: It could be worse. KU could have the 65th-ranked coach on this list.
No one figured it would take Corione Harris long to break into the starting lineup at Kansas. Still, the freshman cornerback from New Orleans might have even flown past some of his highest expectations.
It only took Harris until the second game of his college football career to graduate from contributing reserve to a first series appearance.
On the same day that fellow four-star Louisianan Pooka Williams Jr. sprinted and juked to a spectacular debut at Central Michigan, Harris, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound corner, started, too. And while Harris, who played in spots off the bench the previous week, didn’t provide the same fireworks for the defense that Williams did for the offense, his teammates and coaches thought the young defender held up well.
“He handled it exactly like we thought he would. He didn't make any big deal about it. It was just very workmanlike,” KU coach David Beaty said.
Harris replaced senior Hasan Defense in the starting lineup.
“We felt he had earned that opportunity,” Beaty explained of the switch. “He had shown we could trust him in that position, that he had adapted to the scheme and the way that we were able to do things and that it really, ultimately, with him and all of them, it comes down to who we trust is going to be able to do it the best.”
Initially, it appeared Central Michigan (0-2) might try to test the true freshman often. On the Chippewas’ second play from scrimmage, quarterback Tony Poljan targeted Harris’ man, Brandon Childress. With Harris giving the receiver roughly a seven-yard cushion, CMU picked up 9 yards and a first down, as Harris got credit for a tackle, bringing Childress down out of bounds.
However, CMU spent the majority of the game either running or throwing nowhere near Harris. He finished with three total tackles (two solo) in a road win that improved KU to 1-1. According to analysis from Pro Football Focus, Harris played 49 snaps (on possessions that he sat, Elmore Hempstead Jr. replaced him) and received a grade of 62.6.
Though far from proven at the college level, Harris’ approach and ability has long made teammates think it’s only a matter of time before he starts playing to a level worthy of his high school hype.
Junior safety Bryce Torneden said Harris — KU team policy doesn’t allow freshmen to do media interviews — looked like a natural at times, as early as this past spring’s practices.
“It’s very apparent to see,” Torneden said. “It’s definitely going to be awesome to see him put his whole game together with his natural raw ability that he has and the coaching that we have here.”
According to Torneden, Harris’ ball skills likely are his biggest strength in the secondary.
“When that ball is in the air, he’s a go-getter,” the safety said of the corner. “He’s going to go up and get it.”
Although KU picked off four passes at CMU, Harris didn’t get an opportunity to show off that ability. His best chance to join the takeaway brigade came on the first play of the second half. Poljan didn’t pass to the freshman’s man, but Harris was one of a swarm of Jayhawks zeroing in on a fumble — even getting a hand on it — before Torneden secured it. Harris hopped up off the turf and was the first KU defender pointing in the other direction to indicate Shak Taylor’s forced fumble was recovered by the Jayhawks.
Taylor, who also returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown while playing opposite Harris, said the freshman corner passed a potentially tough test, making his first career start on the road.
“He played his game, and did what he had to do,” Taylor said. “Of course, there are going to be little things you need to work on when you’re a true freshman coming in for your first start. But I felt like he played really well being in that position.”
One example of Harris simply carrying out his assignment came later in the third quarter. On 3rd and 21, he played far off receiver Jamil Sabbagh, making him an easy underneath target. But Harris and senior linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. easily stopped Sabbagh 10 yards shy of a 1st down.
The Jayhawk who knows Harris best, junior safety Mike Lee, a fellow Landry-Walker High graduate, expects the freshman to continue developing and improving.
“He could be real good when it gets to learn things he needs to learn. I think he does everything well: tackle, cover, catch,” Lee said. “He’s just a physical, smart guy. He’s fast. … I ain’t going to say he’s faster than me, but he’s fast.”
The defenders who have witnessed Harris’ growth since he arrived in Lawrence in January think his first career start and the lessons that accompanied it will only help his trajectory.
“Obviously, he’s an amazing player and an amazing athlete,” Torneden said. “I think he played great. He was very consistent throughout the game. I think the big thing about our defense is playing consistent. I think he did a great job of that. He did his job, he played his role and I’m expecting a lot out of him.”
During his first game wearing a Kansas football uniform, backup quarterback Miles Kendrick only got onto the turf for six snaps.
The sophomore dual threat QB carried the ball twice, handed it off once and connected on two of his three throws during his cameo, which included a bit part on the Jayhawks’ final offensive play of overtime.
Now Kendrick’s goal is to absorb all he can, both positive and negative, from the small sample size of game footage at his disposal.
“I think I took a lot away from those reps,” Kendrick said. “There were different things that I see as far as the play calls. I could have changed my mind depending on what I saw, maybe change a route, an RPO or things like that. Nothing really major. We’re continuing to learn from every rep.”
On his first play from scrimmage, coming in for one series worth of relief for starter Peyton Bender with 9:14 left in the first half, Kendrick looked as if he may put the ball in the hands of running back Khalil Herbert before keeping it. Kendrick picked up 4 yards.
Next, on 2nd and 6, a little play-action allowed Kendrick to hit Evan Fairs for 8 yards and a first down.
Asked whether, instinctively, he would rather pass or take off and run on, Kendrick described himself as a “pass-first” QB.
“I just think I bring a different skill set to the table than Peyton. I mean, Peyton throws the ball incredibly well,” Kendrick said, “but I’m just a guy that brings a different dimension. Doesn’t mean I can’t pass the ball. I believe I’m a pass-first guy. Just another thing for the other team to prepare for.”
After Kendrick’s first throw at KU went for a 1st down, Herbert ran for 4 yards before the backup got back to testing his arm. On 2nd and 6 Herbert gave a little token fake handoff in the direction of Dom Williams before taking a deep shot down the left sideline to the Jayhawks’ top receiver, Steven Sims Jr.
On a pass that traveled roughly 40-plus yards in the air, from the right hash toward the left sideline, Sims couldn’t come down with a catch after leaping upward to get a hand on it.
KU also was flagged for an ineligible man downfield on the play, so it wouldn’t have stood if completed, but it still qualified for Kendrick as a chance to assess his skills.
“On that play they played press bail. Originally (we) wanted (Sims) to run kind of like a curl route,” Kendrick began. “But I saw the corner was pressed, so I gave him a go route and it was a 50-50 ball. If I were to replay it and try something else, maybe I would have just handed off the ball and see if our line could have gotten the four or five yards that we needed and my drive would have continued.”
A safety moving toward the line of scrimmage gave KU unfavorable numbers in the box, Kendrick said, so he tried to make a play through the air.
“Looking back at the tape, maybe a little bit underthrown, but like I said, 50-50 ball,” Kendrick said. “Those guys make plays and that’s their job. My job is just to give them a chance and hopefully they make me look good.”
Kendrick’s next throw would be his last of Week 1, as Kendrick shoveled the ball to Williams for a 4-yard gain, 2 yards shy of a 1st down.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound QB left the field with more than 7 minutes to go until halftime. He didn’t return until overtime, on 3rd and 6 at Nicholls’ 21-yard line.
Given the time he spent on the sideline and the situation, was Kendrick surprised when head coach David Beaty inserted him late?
“I’m the type of person, I’m always going to stay ready and I’m always going to want to be in that position,” Kendrick said. “Game on the line, that’s what you play for. I was excited when my number was called. It wasn’t like I was caught off guard or anything. You’ve got to be ready for anything. College football’s exciting. We have a great opportunity this season.”
KU sent five potential receivers out on what proved to be its final offensive play of OT. It was designed for Kendrick to take off and run, ideally for a 1st down or longer. However, Nicholls’ Sully Laiche tackled Kendrick for a 3-yard loss after executing a twist at the line of scrimmage. KU had to settle for a 41-yard Gabriel Rui field goal and a brief 23-20 lead.
Asked by one reporter whether he would do anything differently, now that he has looked back at the unsuccessful play, Kendrick said perhaps he could have checked into a different call at the line of scrimmage.
“At the end of the day I get the call from the coach and they ask me real specifically what they want me to do, and I try to carry out that assignment as best as possible,” Kendrick said.
The QB who provides KU’s offense with some different running possibilities than Bender went 2 for 3 through the air for 12 yards and finished with two carries that netted 1 yard in the opener.
As the Jayhawks (0-1) prepare for Saturday’s road trip to Central Michigan (0-1), Kendrick hopes to take even more in-game snaps moving forward.
“I’m going to stay prepared as much as I can,” Kendrick said. “Peyton is one play away from coming off the field, so either way all quarterbacks in the quarterback room have to be ready to come on the field at any given notice.”
Earlier this week, Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan officially made his win/loss prediction for the 2018 Kansas football team, picking the Jayhawks to finish David Beaty's fourth season with a 3-9 record. Clearly, that's not the only possibility for the Jayhawks, who, with a veteran group mixed with some new faces, could finish with more or certainly even fewer victories than the three Keegan's predicting. That's where the rest of us come in. In the days leading up to KU’s opener, we'll look at three more possible win totals for the 2018 Kansas football team, which opens the regular season at 6 p.m. Saturday night at home against Nicholls.
Let’s say you’re the super-positive type. A person who looks at a 50-percent filled glass of your favorite beverage and thinks, “Man, there is so much drink left! How will I ever finish it? This is going to be a terrific day.” Well, then this is the Kansas football season outlook case for you.
It would take an abundance of factors playing out favorably for the Jayhawks over the next three months, but if you’re convinced that’s possible you could probably talk yourself into KU winning at least four games for the first time since 2009.
The most talented and experienced players on the roster, Daniel Wise, Joe Dineen and Steven Sims Jr., want to finish their careers by delivering a breakthrough season for the program. That’s not a bad place to start, because they are leaders and will have high standards that they expect the rest of their teammates to meet.
In terms of what happens on Saturdays during actual competition, though, the first thing KU needs is for its revamped offensive line to play as well as coaches think it can. If newcomers in center Alex Fontana, right guard Dwayne Wallace and right tackle Kevin Feder jell and produce with left tackle Hakeem Adeniji and left guard Andru Tovi, then the offense could actually build some momentum in the weeks to come instead of regressing the way it did in 2017, following KU’s season-opening win.
If the O-line becomes a strength instead of a weakness, suddenly offensive coordinator Doug Meacham doesn’t have to ask as much out of Peyton Bender at quarterback, and the offense can ride running backs Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams, while mixing in throws to Sims and KU’s other receivers, as opposed to hoping quick hits and bubble screens work out.
An effective run-based offense would obviously benefit a defense that returns the majority of its starters from a year ago, allowing them to rest instead of playing a full series, seeing KU’s offense go three and out and then getting right back on the field.
Let’s say all of this goes according to plan. Then it’s not unreasonable to expect KU to win its two nonconference home games in September against Nicholls State and Rutgers.
And now it doesn’t become crazy to think the Jayhawks could end the program’s longstanding miserable road losing streak at 46 games by winning in Week 2 at Central Michigan — a team picked in the preseason media poll to finish fifth out of six teams in the MAC West Division.
In this utopian September KU finds itself one victory away from its best post-Mark Mangino season. Could a newly confident group of Jayhawks head to Baylor in Week 4 and show no signs of being the same team that failed to score a TD against the Bears in Lawrence in 2017?
Could one of the Big 12 visitors to Kansas David Booth Memorial Stadium — Oklahoma State, TCU, Iowa State or Texas — overlook the Jayhawks? What if one of those teams suffers through a turnover-heavy, mistake-filled game, as well, allowing KU to eke out a win like it did against the Longhorns in 2016?
A viewpoint originating from a pie in the sky gets Kansas football to a much better place in 2018.
In reality, even a 4-8 mark would be rather remarkable for KU, given how low the program has been for so long. Throw in the fact that 4 victories in 2018 would surpass head coach David Beaty’s win total from his first 36 games as head coach and that record actually looks like progress.
Officially, I’m guessing Kansas will be more competitive this fall than it has been at any point during Beaty’s first three seasons. But I’m also guessing the Jayhawks finish 3-9.
No, Miles Kendrick didn’t win the starting quarterback job for the Kansas football team during preseason camp.
But his head coach foresees the sophomore dual threat QB who joined the program as a transfer in the spring factoring into the Jayhawks’ offensive game plan immediately.
It is clear David Beaty, who a week ago named Peyton Bender KU’s No. 1 QB for the season opener, and offensive coordinator Doug Meacham didn’t think Kendrick possessed the right combination of attributes at this stage of his career to supplant Bender, a senior who started eight games in 2017. That doesn’t mean they have completely discounted Kendrick, either.
While discussing the team’s three quarterbacks Monday night on the first installment of his weekly Hawk Talk radio show, Beaty didn’t only speak highly of Kendrick, listed alongside junior Carter Stanley as a potential No. 2 QB on the team’s first published depth chart. KU’s fourth-year head coach actually went out of his way to tell anyone who was listening that the 5-foot-10, 200-pound QB from College of San Mateo will get on the field this Saturday against Nicholls State (6 p.m., Kansas David Booth Memorial Stadium) and beyond.
“He’s gonna play for us. He’s gonna play for us in that first game. He’s gonna play for us in every game,” Beaty added.
While the coach didn’t get into the specifics of those statements — he should be able to elaborate Tuesday at his weekly press conference — it seems most likely KU will have some packages or plays specifically designed for Kendrick.
This doesn’t mean he and Bender will swap roles every other possession or anything of that nature, the way Beaty did a couple years back with Montell Cozart and Ryan Willis.
There just may be some calls or situations in which the Jayhawks can throw a modified attack at a defense with the mobile Kendrick taking the snaps.
“He’s got some things about him that really bring a new type of, a new twist to our offense,” Beaty said, “which I think is gonna be really good. We really like the kid. One of the hardest workers I’ve ever had.”
KU’s coaches liked Kendrick’s potential enough that they gave him every chance during preseason camp to win the starting job before Bender prevailed.
“He got a bunch of reps for us early on,” Beaty said of the initial August practice plan for Kendrick. “We had to find out. We had to know, right? So he took a lot of reps with the first team early on.”
Apparently Meacham and Beaty saw enough out of Kendrick through those reps to start figuring out ways that he could help the offense every Saturday.
“And what we found out was that we got us a good one there,” Beaty said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Beaty explained the sophomore “needs a little bit more time” to become a complete QB. It just so happens Kendrick will get in-game opportunities as he continues working toward that goal.
At some point between now and the season opener, Kansas football coaches will decide upon a starting quarterback.
Maybe tomorrow. Perhaps the night before the Jayhawks’ Sept. 1 debut. Or, conceivably, they already have identified the man for the job and they’re keeping it under wraps.
Whenever that verdict materializes or goes public, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if newcomer Miles Kendrick emerges as the No. 1 QB.
The three-man competition, which began in full when Kendrick joined KU as a sophomore transfer from College of San Mateo (Calif.) before the spring semester, might have been prolonged by the team’s inability to scrimmage in April, due to the lack of healthy bodies available on the offensive line.
No such issues exist anymore for Kansas, and the QB who meshes best with the first-team linemen, receivers and backs during preseason practices will win the job.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Doug Meacham, with the help of defensive line coach Jesse Williams, found Kendrick out in California by “turning over some rocks” in a state with 70-plus junior colleges, late last year. When Meacham examines Kendrick’s development since joining KU, he finds plenty of reasons for encouragement.
“He’s real polished. He studies real hard,” Meacham began. “He loves the game. He’s always up here (at Anderson Family Football Complex). He’s always just in the film room. He’s that guy. He’s a gym rat dude.”
Some football players don’t have that type of dedication in them. They need to break up the monotony of football by going out and enjoying themselves. Kendrick, though?
“This kid,” Meacham attested, “he’s like, full-on football, 24-7.”
Kendrick’s penchant for putting in extra hours won’t only win the favor of coaches, it also makes him that much more prepared to excel during 11-on-11 situations at camp. Even if he’s not the unequivocal best passer on the roster and lacks the Big 12 experience of 2017 starters Peyton Bender and Carter Stanley, Kendrick has taken the mental reps necessary to make up ground.
“When you know a guy’s like that,” Meacham said, “and they make a mistake, you know it’s not because of a lack of preparation. He just may have got fooled or made a bad throw or something like that. It’s not because he didn’t have the study or the prep. He’s a gym rat, that guy.”
Mastering the playbook alone, of course, isn’t enough to secure the starting job. At KU’s closed practices, Kendrick will have to continue showing the traits that made him an appealing addition in the first place. And while Kendrick’s numbers at San Mateo — 1,889 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and nine picks, while rushing for 417 yards and five TDs in nine starts — exhibit his potential as a dual-threat QB, Meacham didn’t put much stock in the statistics, good or bad.
“I don’t think I really look at their stats,” the second-year coordinator said of junior college prospects. “I just look at the kind of kid they are, measurables, potential and all that kind of stuff. I don’t think there’s a statistic that makes you go, ‘He rushed for a thousand yards. Let’s recruit him.’”
It was another quality of Kendrick’s that drew Meacham’s attention.
“He knows how to win,” the QB coach said. “That’s a big thing. You want to look at something? Like with your quarterback, does their team win? The teams he’s been on, they win. That’s a good sign.”
In a wing-T, rush-heavy offense at Valley Christian High, in San Jose, Calif., Kendrick was co-NorCal Quarterback of the Year as a senior. His team went 13-2 and was state runner-up. At San Mateo in 2017, the coaching staff figured Kendrick wouldn’t even play as a freshman. But the now 5-foot-10, 200-pound QB became the starter by Week 4. San Mateo finished 11-2, with one loss coming in the California Community College Athletic Association title game.
The KU offense needs a reboot. What better way to execute that than with a new QB?
It will only help Kendrick’s case if the Air Raid scheme the Jayhawks never made work in David Beaty’s first three seasons has been scrapped for a modified version focused on incorporating talented running backs Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and Pooka Williams.
Already experienced within offenses that successfully ran the ball and gave their defenses time to recover on the sidelines, Kendrick would slide in comfortably in a revamped offense.
And KU’s coaches have extra incentives to switch up their offensive philosophy. They are quietly bullish on their upgraded offensive line, with the additions of transfers Alex Fontana (Houston), Dwayne Wallace (Cal) and Kevin Feder (Ohio State), as well as Api Mane and Adagio Lopeti (San Mateo). A bigger, older, stronger O-line should make it easier to establish a rushing attack.
Plus, they understand the need to pull off something remarkable this fall. Another 1-11 or 2-10 season likely won’t give new KU athletic director Jeff Long much incentive to keep Beaty and his staff in place.
A stylistic overhaul matched with a QB who is both meticulous and athletic would be a good starting point for a program and staff in need of a turnaround season.
Five months still remain between now and December’s early signing period for college football, but as of mid-summer, at least the Kansas football program’s 2019 recruiting class appears minuscule in comparison to most.
While seven Big 12 teams, according to Rivals, have at least 12 commitments lined up, the Jayhawks have received just two.
That number ranks not only last in KU’s 10-team conference — rival Kansas State currently stands in ninth, with six — but also last among the 100 FBS teams tracked by Rivals.
Buffalo and Washington State, with four commitments apiece, just outrank KU at the bottom.
Nevertheless, when asked directly earlier this week whether he was concerned at all right now about the state of KU’s 2019 recruiting class, head coach David Beaty began his reply with two words.
The Jayhawks, Beaty maintained, “could have a lot of commitments.”
Currently, though, the only recruits who have sent KU’s fourth-year coach and his staff nonbinding verbal pledges are four-star New Orleans quarterback Lance LeGendre and three-star Wichita tight end Clay Cundiff.
Why aren’t more rising high school seniors tied to KU football yet?
“We simply are making sure that we get the right ones. Your number to give and how many you get, when you get them, those are things that, being on the inside, you have some privilege that maybe when you’re not on the inside, that I simply can’t share, because there’s strategy involved,” Beaty said. “But right now, we feel really good about where we’re at, particularly with where our numbers are.”
While it stands to reason it may be more difficult to recruit players to KU with the public perception that Beaty’s job security took a hit when former athletic director Sheahon Zenger — who hired Beaty in 2014 and two years later extended the coach’s contract through the 2021 season — was fired in May, Beaty even balked at that notion.
“Our recruiting has not felt any different. The correspondence that we have had with the guys that we have on our radars has, if anything, it has increased,” the coach insisted. “But it has not taken a step back at all. If anything, I think it’s helped us moving forward. I think the kids feel the momentum going on right there, which is good.”
Just how many players end up committing to and signing with KU won’t be known for months. In the meantime, Jon Kirby, of Jayhawk Slant, said Kansas at least has the attention of some intriguing uncommitted prospects.
In June, Jaren Mangham, an in-demand four-star running back from Detroit, included KU on his updated list of nine finalists, along with Oregon, Colorado, Tennessee, Michigan State, Texas A&M, Texas, TCU and Arkansas.
Kirby said first-year KU receivers coach Justin “Juice” Johnson had led the team’s recruiting efforts with Mangham, who has eliminated such programs as Florida, Ole Miss, Florida State, Missouri and Texas from consideration.
Another compelling prospect from New Orleans, four-star cornerback Chester Kimbrough, is in good standing with KU, too, Kirby said.
Just like his Warren Easton High teammate, LeGendre, Kimbrough, you might expect, has been recruited by KU running backs coach Tony Hull, a New Orleans native and former head coach at Warren Easton.
Kansas' recruiting totals certainly aren’t on par with most college football programs for this time of year. But, as he is on most subjects, Beaty remains optimistic about the job he and his assistants have done on that front. The head coach stated he has worked his staffers “pretty hard,” as well.
“And there’s a reason why we do that. We’re committed to making sure we get things done the way they need to get done around here,” Beaty said. “So I take my hat off to our staff, because they busted their rear end.”
Frisco, Texas — Through three seasons as head football coach at the University of Kansas, David Beaty has not yet been able to pull off the grueling task of turning around the long-struggling program.
Addressing reporters Monday, at Big 12 Football Media Days, for the first time since the conclusion of the Jayhawks’ spring football schedule, Beaty, now 3-33 at KU, didn’t want to give many specifics about his expectations for Year 4.
Asked what win total would need to be achieved in order to display the growth and success that has been lacking at Kansas, Beaty opted not to put a number, or even a ballpark figure, on it.
“The name of the game in college sports is production, and we feel like we understand that is no different for us than it is for anyone else, that production is the name of the game,” Beaty began. “When it comes to our preparation, that’s not going to change. We’re going to start with Game 1 and the goal is go 1-0, to win that game and then put just as much focus on that next game to be able to do the same and repeat that.”
Beyond KU’s Sept. 1 opener against Nicholls State, and the obvious objective of leaving that game victorious, Beaty had no interest in projecting desired outcomes.
“When it comes to a win total, I don’t have that answer. I don’t know that many people do,” Beaty said. “But I do know this: I bet around Christmas time, we’ll know.”
State of QB competition
It appears Beaty doesn’t want this season’s quarterback competition to end up as prolonged as last year’s, when KU didn’t name Peyton Bender its starter until the day of the opener.
Beaty said Monday during his morning press conference at Ford Center at The Star, “it is still a competition” entering preseason camp in August, between Bender, Carter Stanley and Miles Kendrick.
However, the coach indicated he and offensive coordinator and QBs coach Doug Meacham would like to determine a winner sooner rather than at the last minute.
“We’re going to narrow that down to two pretty quick. And I know our guys understand that. They know that there’s urgency to get yourself in that top two,” Beaty said.
Due to the “rough-and-tumble” nature of the Big 12, KU’s head coach added that all three QBs will be prepared and ready.
“But we would like to get it down to ‘the guy’ pretty quickly,” Beaty said. “Not going to give a timeline on it, but I would say we want to get it done pretty quickly.”
No longer playing for KU
The KU offense lost two skill players this summer, when running back Taylor Martin and tight end Kenyon Tabor had to leave the team.
Beaty said Martin wanted to be “closer to home,” in Fort Worth, Texas, while Tabor will remain at KU and involved with the program in a nonplaying role.
After receiving what the coach described as “extensive” evaluations for his ailing back, Tabor had to give up football.
“We feel really good about him getting back to a normal, healthy lifestyle," Beaty said. And, although Tabor will no longer be playing with the team for medical reasons, "he is still a huge part of our program."
The coach originally had anticipated that Tabor, a 6-foot-4 tight end from Derby, would become a big part of the program, calling him “probably the best player” in the Sunflower State in the Class of 2017.
“That’s hard to deal with, not having him. We were counting on that. But we’re counting on him having a great life, and that’s the most important thing,” Beaty said.
Tabor never played a game for Kansas, but Martin spent three seasons as a regular in the backfield.
“Taylor did a lot for us while he was here,” Beaty said of the 5-10 rusher, who gained 286 yards and ran for three touchdowns in 2017.
Beaty said Martin encountered “some issues” that led him to want to leave KU, adding Martin “certainly didn’t get kicked off the team.”
“Sometimes, you do what you’ve got to do for family. His situation, my prayer for him is it doesn’t end his football career. That he’s able to handle that,” Beaty said.
Offensive lineman Jacob Bragg (medical) and fullback Quinton McQuillan also left the program.
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.
Headed into his fourth season in charge of the ever-floundering Kansas football program, David Beaty has boundless miles to go before proving he is capable of making the Jayhawks winners.
A reminder of the deficit in which Beaty finds himself operating surfaced Tuesday, when CBS Sports published the first installment of its Power Five conference coaches rankings.
On the worst-to-best ordered countdown of head coaches employed in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12, Beaty’s name popped up at the top — that is to say, the writers at CBS judged KU’s coach as the worst among the 65 candidates.
Beaty inherited a challenging situation at Kansas when he took over in December of 2014, for sure. After an 0-12 debut season, the Jayhawks went 2-12 in Beaty’s second year on the job, prompting some hope for the future. But 2017 bottomed out with an 11-game losing streak following KU’s season-opening win over outmatched Southeast Missouri State.
Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports explained no specific guidelines were used for the rankings. Still, it’s easy to quickly dissect the list and determine how Beaty landed at No. 65. KU’s coach is 1-26 in Big 12 games and 1-32 versus Power Five competition. The only head coach from a major conference Beaty has defeated is Charlie Strong, whom Texas fired a week later. Strong resurfaced outside of the Power Five, as head coach at South Florida.
In what some thought could be a relatively competitive season for KU football, the Jayhawks not only went winless in the Big 12 in 2017, but also were outscored on average, 46.4-14.3, in league games.
Kansas finished Beaty’s third season at the helm ranked 100th or worse among 129 FBS programs in 26 of 47 statistical categories tracked on the NCAA’s official website.
“I’m not sure how my colleagues based their rankings,” Fornelli wrote, “but my approach was likely similar to theirs. I took into account all that a coach has accomplished, and then I considered which coach I'd want to hire the most were I an athletic director with deep pockets and a vacancy to fill. Then we put the results together, and we got our final rankings.”
Beaty dropped five spots from a year ago on the CBS Sports list. He finished behind Arizona State’s Herm Edwards (No. 64), Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith, Ole Miss coach Matt Luke, Indiana’s Tom Allen and Rutgers’ Chris Ash. The Jayhawks play host to Rutgers on Sept. 15 this coming fall.
The Big 12 coach closest to Beaty in the rankings was Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury, at No. 49.