Assembling a conclusive list of all the factors that led to the Kansas football team going winless in 2020 would be time consuming. But one component that surged to the forefront was the staggering lack of continuity with the roster.
Back when this strange, pandemic shortened season began in September, with the Jayhawks taking on soon-to-be college football darling Coastal Carolina, KU’s starting lineup included quarterback Thomas MacVittie, running back Pooka Williams, linebackers Dru Prox and Denzel Feaster, safety Davon Ferguson, and offensive linemen Jacobi Lott and Chris Hughes. It only took a matter of weeks for some of them to become non-factors for KU, through injury or opt out or some other reason. And late in the season none of them were available to start anymore.
Shakeups to the depth chart became a recurring theme in head coach Les Miles’ second year running the program. During the course of the 0-9 campaign the offensive personnel rarely looked the same from week to week. KU started three different quarterbacks, four different centers, four different running backs, three different right tackles, three different right guards, two different left tackles and two different left guards.
At receiver, a perceived strength for KU entering the season, Stephon Robinson Jr. started three games early on, but barely played in any of them while dealing with injury issues. And then Robinson had season-ending surgery.
Even though the Jayhawks had solid depth at the running back spot, after Williams opted out four games into the schedule, new No. 1 rusher Velton Gardner only got to play two more games before his year came to a premature conclusion due to an undisclosed injury. Then freshman back Daniel Hishaw Jr. had to miss a game due to COVID protocols and freshman Amauri Pesek-Hickson, the No. 4 running back when the season began, started a game.
KU’s defense didn’t have to deal with that extent of instability. But the loss of a playmaking linebacker in Prox to an opt out four games into the season proved to be brutal.
Only three players on the roster started all nine games for Kansas in 2020: freshman cornerback Karon Prunty, junior defensive lineman Caleb Sampson and senior offensive lineman Malik Clark (the first seven games at left tackle, before moving to left guard).
Four more Jayhawks started in eight games and played in all nine: senior linebacker Kyron Johnson, senior receiver Kwamie Lassiter II, senior cornerback Elijah Jones and sophomore safety Kenny Logan Jr.
Four others started seven games, and one of those Jayhawks, senior receiver Andrew Parchment, basically started eight. Technically, Parchment didn’t start at Baylor, when KU opened the game on offense with two running backs and a tight end, but Parchment carried his typical workload in that game. Senior defensive tackle Sam Burt and sophomore tight end Mason Fairchild also started seven games. Sophomore left guard Jacobi Lott opted out after starting the first seven games.
Only four players started six games: true freshman quarterback Jalon Daniels, senior offensive lineman Hughes, senior safety Nate Betts and junior O-lineman Earl Bostick Jr.
By the time KU played what proved to be its 2020 finale at Texas Tech on Dec. 5, the starting lineup included several names almost no one would have projected as best case scenario starters for this year: junior quarterback Miles Kendrick, freshman receiver Steven McBride, running back Hishaw, freshman offensive linemen Armaj Adams-Reed and Bryce Cabeldue, freshman linebacker Taiwan Berryhill and defensive back Betts. The last starting lineup of the winless season also featured six more players who didn’t start in Week 1: tight end Fairchild, junior fullback Ben Miles, redshirt freshman defensive end Marcus Harris, sophomore linebacker Gavin Potter, safety Logan and cornerback Jones.
Injuries and opt outs proved to be issues for many college football programs in 2020. But such obstacles are even more challenging to navigate at a place like KU, where instability has been the norm for more than a decade now. Head coaches, position coaches and coordinators frequently coming and going has been one of the few consistent aspects of KU football since Mark Mangino was forced out following the 2009 season. Since then, administrators and KU football coaches alike have struggled to bring some semblance of stability to the program and its roster.
Maybe 2021 will be the year that begins to change. The Jayhawks definitely could’ve benefited from Parchment and Robinson returning for a bonus senior season. But the vast majority of the players you would put on a perfect world two-deep (where injuries weren’t an issue) at the end of the year could return. Along with all the freshmen, sophomores and juniors who played key roles during an albeit difficult year, KU might be able to bring back seniors such as receiver Lassiter, offensive linemen Clark, Hughes and Adagio Lopeti, and safeties Thomas and Betts. Linebacker Johnson and nose tackle Burt already have shared they plan to take advantage of the NCAA’s blanket waiver for an extra year of eligibility. And as long as we’re on the topic of ideal scenarios, some of those veterans could become key reserves instead of starters if KU’s coaches can develop the youngest players in the program.
Plus, of course, the Jayhawks will add the 2021 recruiting class, another group that could be comprised totally of high school recruits, just like Miles and his staff did with the 2020 class.
Some continuity might be coming to the KU football program in Miles’ third season in charge. And the Jayhawks need some of that first before they can start expecting to produce winning seasons again.
As if 2020 weren’t already bizarre enough, it could conclude with the ever rebuilding Kansas football program bowl eligible — technically.
The Jayhawks haven’t won enough games to be automatically considered for a postseason invite since 2008, but the Division I Football Oversight Committee is recommending waiving bowl eligibility requirements for this muddled college football season.
The Division I Council would have to approve the idea when it meets in mid-October, but the waiver is expected to pass, making every FBS team bowl eligible — just for this year — thanks to the complications that surfaced as conferences took different approaches to playing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Jayhawks haven’t sniffed the postseason since going 5-7 and missing out on a bowl berth in 2009, Mark Mangino’s final year with the program.
In the 10 years since then, neither Turner Gill, Charlie Weis, David Beaty nor Les Miles has been able to guide the team to any better than a 3-9 season.
While it will be exceedingly easier for teams to receive a bowl invitation this year, that doesn’t mean it’s time for KU to pop the champagne. It’s unlikely any bowl will have to get desperate and bring in a team that only won one or two games, or worse, went 0-for-the season.
That might have been the case had FBS conferences such as the Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West stuck with their postponement plans of playing in the spring. Now that there are far more teams in the mix this this fall, it becomes easier for bowls to fill out those spots with winning — or just below .500 — teams.
This blanket bowl eligibility isn’t for the teams that struggle. Rather it helps clear the pathway for solid teams that end up on the wrong side of .500 because of this year’s unusual schedules.
The Big Ten is playing an eight-game conference-only schedule when it returns in late October. Now a Big Ten team with a difficult slate that competes throughout the abbreviated fall but ends up 3-5 can play in a bowl.
The Pac-12, which just reached its decision to return this week, won’t start playing until November, and its teams only get seven regular season games. A scenario where there are multiple 3-4 teams that caught some bad breaks is easy to envision.
And even with the SEC playing a 10-game conference-only schedule, you know there will be 4-6 teams that clearly look and perform better than the teams that finish at the bottom of the standings in other FBS leagues.
The good news for KU is that it doesn’t have to go 5-4 in Big 12 play to reach the typical minimum requirements for automatic bowl eligibility. But the Jayhawks are expected to be underdogs in every game left on their schedule after losing their opener at home to Coastal Carolina.
KU hasn’t won more than one game in Big 12 play since 2008, when Mangino coached Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe and the Jayhawks to a 4-4 mark, and the Jayhawks beat Minnesota in the Insight Bowl to finish 8-5.
This year’s Jayhawks may be bowl eligible on a technicality, but they will have to go out and win at least three or four games, one would think, to end their postseason drought.
No one expected the Kansas offense to feature an elite passing attack when college football returned. But the first weekend of Big 12 games also magnified how far behind the rest of the league the Jayhawks might be in that category in 2020.
While Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech posted the top three passing totals among all the teams that played this past weekend, with each topping 400 yards, KU in its home loss to Coastal Carolina couldn’t settle on a starting quarterback and didn’t even crack 200 yards through the air as the three QBs who played combined for 35 passing attempts.
Texas veteran Sam Ehlinger lit up UTEP’s defense for 426 yards and five touchdowns on just 33 throws. The newest Oklahoma star QB, Spencer Rattler, only needed 17 attempts to rack up 290 yards and four TDs versus Missouri State (backup Tanner Mordecai threw for 157 more yards). And Texas Tech went pass-happy in a narrow win over Houston Baptist, as Alan Bowman threw for 430 yards, going 38-for-52.
KU’s 189 passing yards versus Coastal ranked sixth in the Big 12 out of the seven teams that played. In Iowa State’s home loss to Louisiana, the Cyclones’ Brock Purdy was 16-for-35 for 145 yards against a Ragin’ Cajuns defense that finished 18th nationally in scoring defense in 2019.
After Brent Dearmon took over as offensive coordinator last year, KU averaged 267.2 passing yards in its final six games with redshirt senior Carter Stanley leading the attack.
When the 2020 season opened, neither of KU’s two primary QBs, starter Thomas MacVittie and essential co-starter Miles Kendrick, found any sort of rhythm in the first half, leading to the unproductive outing.
MacVittie ran into some bad luck on his first two series, with a pass to Lawrence Arnold going off the receiver’s hands and into the arms of a CCU defender. Next, on the second play of KU’s next possession, a quick completion to Takulve Williams ended up as a fumble recovery for CCU.
Then KU commenced with its QB rotation. Kendrick came in for a series. Then it was back to MacVittie. Then two for Kendrick to close the first half, with the first of those ending with an interception.
After MacVittie was the first QB to play in the third quarter for KU, the plan was put to a halt due to MacVittie getting hurt. Kendrick entered with a few minutes left in the quarter and handled the rest of the snaps until KU put in its reserves for the final 1:13 and true freshman Jalon Daniels made his debut.
Kendrick finished with far more passing attempts than MacVittie, even though he only played three more snaps.
A junior, Kendrick went 15-for-24 for 156 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception while playing 39 snaps. He was sacked twice, losing 11 yards.
A senior, MacVittie finished 5-for-9 for 20 yards, with no touchdowns and the one pick, on his 36 snaps. He was sacked once for a loss of 4 yards.
It remains unclear how KU will use its two QBs moving forward, or if MacVittie will be healthy enough to play in the Jayhawks’ Big 12 opener at Baylor on Sept. 26.
But based on the limited snaps we’ve seen from the KU offense so far, the rushing attack might need to become the focal point. Star junior running back Pooka Williams only had 12 carries and 67 yards before leaving the game with an injury late in the third quarter (Les Miles expects him back after getting “nicked”). And sophomore rusher Velton Gardner produced 81 yards and a TD on his 11 runs.
Although KU technically ran the ball more (38 attempts versus 35 passes) in its opener, the numbers are a little skewed due to sacks and other times a QB had to take off and run on a passing play. MacVittie, Miles and Daniels combined for 12 rushing attempts and 19 yards.
KU only had non-QBs running the ball 26 times. Not counting the sacks, KU rushed for 193 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
The offensive line’s pass-blocking in the opener was historically bad, too, as Pro Football Focus’ grades showed.
It will be interesting to see if all that transpired in a let down of a debut will alter KU’s upcoming offensive game plans. Relying on two running backs in Williams and Gardner might prove more effective than depending on two QBs behind an O-line that didn’t protect its passers well versus CCU.
According to CFBstats.com, KU’s 4.68 rushing yards per attempt ranks 15th nationally out of the 42 teams who have played so far in this strange season. The Jayhawks’ 5.4 yards per pass attempt ranks 34th.
Andrew Parchment made it unmistakably clear that the Kansas football team’s second home loss to Coastal Carolina in as many years was unacceptable. And the senior receiver did so by pointing the finger at himself.
After the Jayhawks’ offense turned the ball over three times in the first half of their opener, leading to 21 points for the Chanticleers, there were plenty of questions about KU’s issues.
During Parchment’s postgame video press conference an inquiry came up about the performances of KU’s quarterbacks in the 38-23 loss.
“I would grade my performance as an F,” Parchment replied.
And what about the QBs?
“I would grade my performance as an F,” Parchment repeated.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior wideout felt that way, he elaborated, because, “I didn’t do enough for my team to win the game.”
Parchment returned to that theme a little later during his Q&A, when asked about how Miles Kendrick played at QB after Thomas MacVittie had to leave the game due to an injury.
“My performance tonight was an F,” Parchment replied.
Parchment caught six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown in KU’s season debut, but he kept circling back to what he deemed his personal failures on the night. He identified a few things he could have done better.
“The block on the perimeter,” Parchment began, referring to a Takulve Williams fumble immediately after a reception on KU’s second possession, when Parchment “got beat up on a block” near Williams.
The senior receiver also said he needs to be more of a leader, “not only on Saturdays, but through the week.”
As Parchment admitted, it was his blocking on the perimeter in particular that was not up to snuff. As detailed in the NCAA Premium stats from Pro Football Focus, Parchment’s night was graded out at 57.3 on his 75 snaps. PFF graded his run blocking on 26 plays at 32.8.
Even when asked about about his 14-yard TD reception on 4th and 5 in the third quarter, Parchment wasn’t interested in taking any credit.
“I don’t honestly remember,” is all he said about the score.
All of this transpired after the loss because Parchment holds himself to high standards. He aspires to be one of the best receivers in the country and he knows, especially playing for KU receivers coach Emmett Jones, that there is much more to the position than catching a few balls and adding a TD to your stat line.
The next step for Parchment, he said, is watching the video from the game and learning from his mistakes. That’s a theme that showed up on his Twitter timeline, too, in the days that followed KU’s loss. Parchment retweeted some messages from NFL receivers that seemed to apply to his current situation.
Carolina receiver Robby Anderson tweeted: “Best thing I ever did was look myself in the mirror and tell myself the truth and take accountability for my own actions and take pride in restructure.”
The Broncos’ Jerry Jeudy shared: “Failure is growth.”
Parchment’s teammates late Saturday night didn’t seem surprised by the veteran receiver’s self-evaluation.
“Andrew Parchment’s a competitor,” Kendrick said. “He has a lot of passion for the game. And I think that’s just what that is. I think a lot of guys on the team feel that way tonight.”
Kendrick said all of the Jayhawks have to watch the game footage and make corrections and improve, just like Parchment said.
Fellow senior receiver Kwamie Lassiter II explained why Parchment was hard on himself.
“It’s tough, but we’ve all got things we need to work on,” Lassiter said. “We’re gonna come back on Monday and then go to work. And step up, because we’ve got to go down to Waco and play again.”
The Jayhawks play at Baylor on Sept. 26, following their bye week.
Kansas football fans, you may want to sit down for this.
Oddsmakers don’t like the Jayhawks chances of winning the Big 12 title this year.
Obviously that doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone. But if you follow the Jayhawks closely, the types of odds and props that SportsBettingDime.com put out this week are likely to intrigue in some fashion, even if you don’t want to send any of your hard-earned money in the direction of these outcomes.
Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State are SBD’s favorites to win the Big 12 championship in 2020, while KU head coach Les Miles, a former SEC and national championship winner at LSU, leads a Jayhawks roster the gambling site considers a whopping 50,0000/1 long shot. (The second-longest odds are West Virginia at 105/1.)
What are the chances of KU finishing the Big 12 schedule in one of the top two spots in the standings, assuring the Jayhawks of a berth in the title game? SBD put those odds at 25,000/1.
In this sure to be strange 10-game season in the age of COVID-19, one normal expectation is that the Jayhawks will have to shock some people to win more than a couple games. SBD put KU’s over/under at 2.0 wins for the year.
Fortunately, the gambling experts also delivered some more captivating odds for individual players. Along with declaring KU star running back Pooka Williams a 350/1 dark horse for the Heisman Trophy, SBD placed his total rushing yards over/under at 965.5.
Williams already is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, going for 1,125 yards as a freshman and 1,061 more as a sophomore. He put up those numbers while playing 11 games in each season. For his career he’s averaging 99.4 rushing yards per game. If Williams maintains that and stays healthy in 2020, he’d come close to a third 1,000-yard season.
Considering KU doesn’t have an obvious starting quarterback at this point, projecting passing numbers is a little trickier. But SBD provided some anyway. The site put Andrew Parchment’s over/under for receiving yards at 605.5. In his first season with the Jayhawks in 2019, Parchment played in all 12 games, finished with 831 yards and averaged 69.2 a game.
SBD also set over/unders for whomever finishes the season as KU’s leading passer (whether that’s Thomas MacVittie, Miles Kendrick or maybe even someone else). Will KU’s leading passer this year throw for more or fewer than 1,550.5 yards and 9.5 touchdowns? That’s for you to decide. Last year Carter Stanley started every game for KU and turned in 2,664 passing yards with 24 touchdowns.
If you’re so daring you also can place a bet on who will start the most games at QB for KU this year. SBD has MacVittie as the favorite, with 2/3 odds, followed by Kendrick at 7/3 and true freshman Jalon Daniels at 9/1.
SportsBettingDime.com’s 2020 Big 12 champion odds
Oklahoma State: 9/2
Iowa State: 8/1
Kansas State: 71/1
Texas Tech: 95/1
West Virginia: 105/1
The NCAA is doing what plenty of people wish they could — pretending like 2020 never happened.
At least that’s the approach its Division I Board of Directors is taking with eligibility for its fall sports athletes. The board this past week officially gifted football players and other D-I fall athletes nationwide a blanket waiver to receive an additional year of eligibility, what with the COVID-19 pandemic upturning some schedules and canceling others.
One bizarre consequence of this move by the NCAA, though, is that a struggling program such as Kansas football could hypothetically have all of its seniors play 10 games this fall and then invite them back to do it again in 2021, because seniors will be allowed to return and not count against a team’s roster or scholarship limits.
It’s unlikely that it would play out to that extreme, because no athlete is guaranteed financial aid or a scholarship with that extra year of eligibility. As detailed in the AP’s report on the news, those decisions will be up to each athletic department.
Surely there will be some seniors Les Miles and his coaching staff will want to have back, and some that they will allow to move on.
Likewise, just because a player has the option of an additional season doesn’t mean he’ll want to take it. Think back to last year’s KU team. Quarterback Carter Stanley was very open at the end of his senior year that he wished he had more eligibility left so he could keep playing for Miles and offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon. But would someone like Hakeem Adeniji want to return for another year when he could go to the NFL and get paid for all the collisions and hard work offensive linemen endure?
What happens in the months ahead will no doubt shape how KU approaches these unique circumstances. But why not, if it’s possible, bring back a talented trio of receivers such as Andrew Parchment, Stephon Robinson Jr. and Kwamie Lassiter II?
There’s lots to sort out — and plenty of time for that — over the course of the next year with the ramifications of this decision from the NCAA, and it goes much farther than the players who are seniors this year. Perhaps the even crazier part of this is: freshmen who play this fall could still potentially have four more years of eligibility left when the 2021 season arrives.
So KU coaches this year don’t have to worry about how they manage freshmen who they were planning on redshirting. It’s just a freebie. Play them as much as you want. They’ll still be freshmen a year from now. (And the NCAA still will have to figure out how to handle the aftermath of these numbers and how they impact rosters for the next several years.)
The NCAA granted this blanket waiver to clean up any potential eligibility confusion ahead of time, in case entire seasons end up being cut short or canceled due to the pandemic. Remember: many D-I fall athletes, in non-football sports especially, still don’t know what their seasons will look like this year. Not every conference is forging ahead like the Big 12, ACC and SEC.
If COVID-19 doesn’t derail football plans this fall for the FBS leagues, KU would have the opportunity to bring back a number of experienced players for a bonus season.
Here’s a look at some KU football seniors who could potentially play an extra year in 2021:
• Ricky Thomas, S
• Andrew Parchment, WR
• Stephon Robinson Jr., WR
• Thomas MacVittie, QB
• Kwamie Lassiter II, WR
• Kyle Mayberry, CB
• Kyron Johnson, OLB
• Denzel Feaster, OLB
• Dru Prox, LB
• Api Mane, OL
• Malik Clark, OL
• Logan Klusman, LS
• Adagio Lopeti, OL
• Antione Frazier, OL
• Chris Hughes, OL
• Kyle Thompson, P
• James Sosinski, TE
• Jack Luavasa, TE
• Sam Burt, DL
Ask Les Miles about what he saw in his team’s first preseason scrimmage and the Kansas football coach will intentionally keep his answer vague and broad.
You know, just to be sure no one outside of the closed practice somehow discovers some nugget or piece of insight that would provide a glimpse at the Jayhawks’ plans, strengths or weaknesses.
“Offensively I think we moved the football well,” Miles said of the Wednesday session. “Pooka (Williams) ran the football well. The quarterbacks did the things that we asked them to do. I think offense won in the short term against the defense.”
Players are typically more revealing in their answers about scrimmage situations, even if they have been coached up to not divulge much, either.
Sure enough, the KU players who spoke with the media Thursday during the program’s first Q&A of the preseason actually came through with a behind-the-scenes look at the scrimmage.
Here’s what a few key players had to say.
• Thomas MacVittie, senior QB
Asked about the highlights from this week’s scrimmage day, MacVittie didn’t boast about any of his throws or start his answer by bringing up the passing game. Instead the QB shared how impressed he was with another part of the offense.
“We have depth at running back, no doubt,” MacVittie declared. “Our line held up great, and then we got the ball down field.”
MacVittie said his position coach and KU’s offensive coordinator, Brent Dearmon, teaches the quarterbacks there’s a rhyme and rhythm to everything they do offensively, and that’s why the QBs have to listen closely to every piece of advice Dearmon provides.
“You have your reads, you have your drop and if you stray away from that you’re gonna be late or you’re gonna be early,” MacVittie explained.
• Miles Kendrick, junior QB
The man competing with MacVittie for KU’s starting job, Kendrick thought the offense showed some promising signs in the scrimmage, too.
“We were aggressive,” Kendrick said of what stood out to him. “There were some shots early that we took and they counted, and we scored from those shots and being aggressive. I think that’s going to be a big part of the offense, being aggressive but taking calculated risks.”
Kendrick also brought up some of Dearmon’s philosophy while discussing what worked in the scrimmage.
“When you get the opportunity, Coach Dearmon always preaches it, you want to hurt the defense,” Kendrick said. “That’s what we want to do.”
• Stephon Robinson Jr., senior WR
Robinson thought the first deep shot the offense completed was the biggest highlight of the scrimmage.
That particular play ended with senior receiver Andrew Parchment beating the secondary and hauling in a bomb.
“It got us going real quick at the start of the scrimmage, so that was a highlight for me, getting ready and going out there right away,” Robinson said of Parchment’s initial chunk yardage contribution.
As for what he did individually that might have been a highlight, Robinson took his answer in another direction.
“I’m really hard on myself with critiquing myself, so I always feel like I can do more. I feel like I did my job to my best ability, but I can always do something better,” Robinson explained of his thinking. “There was a play I caught a slant and I could’ve gone the distance, but I got tackled. I didn’t get a lot of YAC on that play, so I can improve on that.”
• Pooka Williams, junior RB
KU’s star offensive player in the backfield, Williams didn’t point to specific highlights or big plays that resonated with him in retrospect.
“We had a lot of standout plays and fundamental plays, too,” Williams said. “If we didn’t make them it would have been different.”
• Denzel Feaster, senior LB
The only defensive player made available for interviews this week, Feaster said some of the plays that impressed him most came from Parchment in the passing game.
“Obviously AP’s catches, man,” Feaster said. “That guy’s completely explosive.”
But Feaster spoke highly of another position group for KU’s offense, as well.
“I love our backs, personally, just because of how they run the ball,” Feaster said, adding when they have the ball there’s a physicality to their rushes. “To me that’s a highlight. When my backs run physical regardless of size, that shows heart.”
Feaster couldn’t leave out the defense, though. He said watching younger players in particular proved satisfying.
“Nick Channel had a great scrimmage, great highlights,” Feaster revealed of the sophomore safety from Wichita.
Asked to confirm his head coach’s assessment that the Jayhawks’ offense won the day, Feaster delivered a veteran response.
“Whatever Coach Miles said was right,” Feaster offered.
Adapting common approaches to various aspects of life has become routine in the time of COVID-19.
No one likes the new normal, but most of us grin and bear it as best we can while following guidelines that hopefully make this all go away before long.
One very minor consequence of the pandemic in the grand scheme of life is the fact that Kansas football preseason practices are completely closed to the media.
In other Augusts — in the long, long ago, also known as those years that took place before 2020 — local journalists would get some peeks inside the Jayhawks’ closed practices. Nothing huge, just 15 to 30 minutes here and there, depending on the paranoia level of the head coach at the time.
Because those opportunities for insight haven’t been possible this summer, let’s use some of the images captured by the KU football program’s social media team as a jumping off point for some preseason camp thoughts.
• Oh, hey. Running backs.
It was totally appropriate the first images from camp that showed up back on July 31 included not only Les Miles, the man KU diehards hope can turn this program around, but the most talented skill player on the roster, Pooka Williams.
The offense could very well go only as far as Pooka can carry it. But this photo also reminded me that the junior back who is a known commodity also could have some huge help in his position group.
Just behind Williams in that Day 1 drill stood Velton Gardner — I also kind of love that he’s wearing No. 0 this year. There could be a nice stable of backs for offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon to feature with Williams. Gardner had some promising moments as a freshman in 2019. I’m also interested to see who emerges as the third back. Torry Locklin, Amauri Pesek-Hickson and Daniel Hishaw Jr. all could be candidates.
• Will a freshman receiver become a key target?
Seeing in person how big and fast new players are always is one of the most intriguing parts of viewing camp periods in person.
A guy I would have had my eyes on is freshman receiver Lawrence Arnold (No. 2). KU receivers coach Emmett Jones raved about the young wideouts he’s adding to his room via the 2020 recruiting class, and Arnold seems to have the body and athleticism to make it easier to crack the rotation early.
Arnold is 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds and could become an important target, especially when KU’s talented veteran receivers need a breather.
• Speaking of receivers …
KU should have some real burners at its disposal in the passing game.
Dearmon and whomever wins the quarterback battle should enjoy finding different ways to get the ball to seniors Andrew Parchment, Stephon Robinson Jr. and Kwamie Lassiter II in space.
If the offense is clicking, watching those three run away from defensive backs will be commonplace.
There was no mention of quarterbacks, position battles or depth charts, but Kansas football coach Les Miles finally spoke publicly about the Jayhawks’ preseason camp on Monday night.
The Jayhawks, now with an official season-opening date and opponent, resumed practicing in pads and prepping for a season during a pandemic.
It felt like all of college football was sitting in a holding pattern just a week ago, Miles told KU’s in-house reporting outfit after Monday’s practice. Miles has yet to be made available for interviews with local media outlets this summer, though that is expected to change later this week.
“We know that the decisions ... are being made our on our behalf and for us,” Miles said, referring to the schedule changes and pauses as the Big 12 prepared to try for a 10-game season during the COVID-19 pandemic. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I promise you this: I would want to play football. And I like the idea that somebody with a doctoral degree (medical advisers to the conference) is making decisions for us in light of how much everybody in this field likes football.”
Miles said that these days, there are a lot of things to worry about that administrators and teams can't control. But he also said the Jayhawks have managed to maintain a good attitude through it all, including the start and stop of the preseason, and he thinks that’s something they can hold onto.
KU had its spring football schedule canceled because of the pandemic and also had to pause summer workouts after positive COVID-19 tests within the program. And that was before the Jayhawks opened camp July 31 with plans to open the season on Aug. 29, only to see that date pushed back to Sept. 12 and the opponent changed to Coastal Carolina.
Miles said players powered through a crisis over the course of the past several months and had to deal with “a series of decisions that are made on your behalf that you have no way to affect.”
When the Jayhawks have practiced — they spent much of the previous week doing walkthroughs and some drills without pads — KU’s second-year coach said the players have made the sessions productive.
“You have to have that consistency of wanting to fight and dig deep,” Miles said.
The coach said the Jayhawks will have some scrimmage periods later this week that will allow them to go through a lot of situations and get players important reps.
“If we can get that done and maintain some health,” Miles said, “we’re going to like where we’re at.”
While planning a college football schedule the Big 12 hopes to play to completion during a pandemic, the conference tried to build in a little wiggle room.
The Big 12’s programs might need some flexibility after all, if a team or two have to suspend play in the middle of the season due to a COVID-19 outbreak (see: MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals).
As of this point there is no specific figure in terms of a number of infected players threshold that the Big 12 has established as a tipping point for removing a team from competition, even though commissioner Bob Bowlsby said during his media teleconference earlier in the week that the league basically expects positive cases.
Whether a team dealing with infected players is able to take the field on a given Saturday could have more to do with circumstances than a specific number of cases.
“If all your quarterbacks live together and they’re all in the same conference room and they all are all the sudden infected, it’s hard to go forward,” Bowlsby provided as an example.
So what happens exactly when a Big 12 team doesn’t have enough healthy bodies to compete?
KU Athletic Director Jeff Long said the schedule is laid out in a way the league’s administrators hope will provide some solutions.
“If a team is has an outbreak and can't play, there are options to move those games later in the season and hopefully make them up,” Long said, “and that's how they built some spacing into the season to be able to do that.”
Each Big 12 team has two bye weeks during its regular season calendar, which starts Sept. 26 and is supposed to wrap up Dec. 5.
The Jayhawks are scheduled to play at Baylor Sept. 26 and in Lawrence versus Oklahoma State on Oct. 3. Then comes KU’s first bye, on Oct. 10. It’s an open date for Baylor and Oklahoma State, too. So If one of those games couldn’t happen during the first couple weeks of league play, it could potentially be rescheduled.
“A game can be canceled both because of an outbreak we have or the opposing team we're getting ready to play,” Long said. “But either way, we would try to make that up within the confines of the Big 12 football season.”
Doing so could prove more difficult the deeper into the season these teams get. KU plays four consecutive weeks after its first Big 12 bye. If everything doesn’t go perfectly for both KU and those opponents during that time, you only have the Nov. 14 bye date, which is open for KU and its four opponents from Oct. 17-Nov. 7 (West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma), to make it up.
If a team does have an outbreak that forces it to miss one game, what is the likelihood of the timing working out for it not to miss the following game, too?
“As we get later in the season,” Bowlsby admitted, “there may not be an opportunity for (rescheduling).”
The Big 12 wisely gave itself some potential for modification by slapping an “or” on its Big 12 Championship Game, which could be Dec. 12 or Dec. 19.
So if some teams still needed — or wanted — to make up a game late in the year, they could possibly make it happen on Dec. 12 if the Big 12 so desires to push back the title game a week.
The conference is miles away from pulling off its plan, but the administrators hope these built in open weeks for rescheduling could help make it possible.
KU’s 2020 Big 12 schedule
Sept. 26 — at Baylor
Oct. 3 — Oklahoma State
Oct. 10 — open
Oct. 17 — at West Virginia
Oct. 24 — at Kansas State
Oct. 31 — Iowa State
Nov. 7 — at Oklahoma
Nov. 14 — open
Nov. 21 — Texas
Nov. 28 — TCU
Dec. 5 — at Texas Tech