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
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.”
On a busy Wednesday in the Big 12, University of Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long spent a portion of his afternoon over at the football team’s indoor practice facility addressing the Jayhawks.
Hours after the conference officially announced its plans to try and play fall sports during the COVID-19 pandemic, Long gave the players an update of sorts while his audience sat spread out 10 feet apart and wearing masks.
Long told reporters during a video conference he left the session certain of one thing: the Jayhawks are eager to get back to practice.
Originally scheduled to open the season Aug. 29 versus Southern Illinois, KU was able to start its preseason camp earlier than many FBS programs throughout the country this summer. But a week into those preparations head coach Les Miles and his staff had to press pause because it became clear the Jayhawks wouldn’t be able to play that soon, with the Big 12 adopting a 10-game schedule and conference games starting later in September.
While all the possibilities got sorted out and the Big 12 ultimately decided to keep playing football after the Big Ten and Pac-12 opted out, the Jayhawks weren’t able to practice.
“They've been doing walkthroughs for the last several days. I don't think they've had their uniforms on,” Long shared. “When that date got moved back there was no reason to move forward with all the padded practices and such. So now we'll get back more to — Coach Miles will put together a plan, and I haven't seen it, but I'm sure he's got a dozen different plans of when they'll come back and when they start practicing in shells and then pads and getting ready for the start of the season.”
As of Thursday the Jayhawks still had five-plus weeks to go before their new season opener, set for Sept. 12 (reportedly versus Coastal Carolina).
NCAA rules limit how many times teams can practice during preseason camp, so KU took the necessary measures to avoid any missteps.
Long said KU football didn’t have to abandon preseason camp, Miles and his staff just had to adjust.
“They went with much more time with walkthroughs and non-padded practices. But again, as we get back to closer to a normal fall camp situation — which I don't know if it's today, tomorrow, this weekend — he'll start that progression of getting into pads and padded practices,” Long said.
Miles has yet to be made available for interviews this summer.
“We had already done the five-day acclimatization period long before. We don't have to start that again,” Long pointed out, regarding a map teams have to follow before going into full-blown practices in the preseason. “We've already passed through that. So really, Coach Miles has some flexibility. And candidly looking in, I think he's given our players a good break, and we'll build them to be ready for that first game.”
On Thursday afternoon, as seen on KU football's social media accounts, the Jayhawks were going through drills without pads.
Long joked that the Jayhawks were more interested in getting back to regular camp practices than listening to him. Still, he said speaking with the team lifted his spirits.
“It made all the work behind the scenes here even that much more worthwhile,” Long said.
KU’s AD considered it a good starting point for a revised season, too.
“It feels good to be able to provide what we believe is a safe path forward for the young men to get to play college football,” he said.
If the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are correct, the second season of the Les Miles era at the University of Kansas won’t be that much more successful than his debut run with the Jayhawks in 2019.
Consider the key players KU has lost from last season’s 3-9 team and you quickly realize why Caesars Entertainment placed the Jayhawks’ over/under at 3.5 wins for the 2020 season.
Miles and his staff will have to replace such key contributors as quarterback Carter Stanley, left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, receiver Daylon Charlot, defensive backs Hasan Defense, Mike Lee, Jeremiah McCullough and Bryce Torneden, linebacker Azur Kamara and center Andru Tovi. And because the COVID-19 crisis wiped out spring practices, Miles and his assistants won’t have their typical assessment and development periods this offseason to get all those and other roster decisions figured out.
Let’s assume that the college football season starts on time and features its normal 12-game schedule. What’s KU’s path to a better record in Year 2 for Miles?
Here’s a ranking of KU’s games, from most to least winnable, to provide a clearer picture:
• New Hampshire (Sept. 5): Season openers tend to provide KU football with its best chances at victories and this year is no different. UNH is the Jayhawks’ lone FCS opponent on the calendar, and KU has actually won three of its last four openers thanks to that scheduling — KU beat Rhode Island in 2016, Southeast Missouri State in 2017 and Indiana State in 2019, but lost to Nicholls in overtime in 2018.
• At Coastal Carolina (Sept. 26): No, the Jayhawks still don’t win Big 12 road games, but they have proven the past couple of years they can actually travel and head home with a victory in nonconference play. They will look to make it three years in a row of winning on the road in September when they head to Conway, S.C., for their nonconference finale versus the Chanticleers. Throw in the revenge factor for the KU veterans who lost at home to Coastal Carolina last season and you’re looking at a very winnable road game.
• Boston College (Sept. 19): The Jayhawks delivered one of their signature performances in Boston last year, and while that 48-24 trouncing will be difficult to duplicate, any type of win against a Power Five opponent will suffice for Kansas. As usual, KU will need as many wins as possible out of conference, because the Big 12 has proven brutal for the program the past 11 seasons.
• TCU (Nov. 28): The Horned Frogs dismantled the Jayhawks in 2019, but it’s just hard to put any road game higher on this list considering KU hasn’t won a Big 12 game in an opponent’s venue since 2008. Kansas gets TCU on Senior Day in Lawrence this season. And for whatever reason, the Frogs’ trips to KU have been accompanied by drama in recent years.
• Iowa State (Oct. 3): Kansas actually led late in the fourth quarter at ISU last season in one of the the Jayhawks’ better Big 12 showings. But, according to Caesars, coach Matt Campbell’s Cyclones project as an eight-win team in 2020, so this looks like no easy matchup.
• Oklahoma State (Oct. 17): Is this game actually all that winnable? It’s hard to say so far out from the season. But with KU’s defense a major question mark and the Cowboys bringing back star running back Chuba Hubbard, it seems like the Jayhawks could be significant underdogs in this one.
• At West Virginia (Oct. 24): The way the schedule broke this year, KU actually has to face all of what Caesars projects as the seventh- through ninth-best teams in the Big 12 on the road. The longest trip KU makes in conference looks like the most winnable, though. WVU coach Neal Brown didn’t take on as massive of a rebuilding project as Miles did at KU, but the Mountaineers went 5-7 in 2019, including a 29-24 win in Lawrence. Vegas set WVU’s over/under at 5.5
• At Texas Tech (Nov. 14): The Red Raiders were the only Big 12 team to lose to KU in 2019, Matt Wells’ first year as Tech’s head coach. But the Jayhawks would have to win in Lubbock for the first time since 2001 to make it two in a row in the series. Tech’s over/under is 6.
• Texas (Nov. 7): Last year’s 50-48 shootout between KU and Texas in Austin was epic. It was also the Jayhawks’ first game with offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon and the UT defense was dealing with a number of injury issues, so going toe to toe with a program that is in such better position than KU would be quite a feat in 2020. UT is projected as the league’s second-best team, with 9 wins.
• At Baylor (Sept. 12): The Bears won’t be as impressive this year as they were in Matt Rhule’s third and final season. But it’s difficult to think of KU facing the Bears and dismiss the way BU eviscerated the Jayhawks in the 2019 finale, 61-6. Plus, this one — in Week 2 oddly enough — is on the road and KU never has won in Waco. The Bears’ over/under was set at 8.
• At Kansas State (Oct. 10): Bill Snyder finally retired in late 2018, but the Wildcats’ emphasis on beating KU didn’t depart with the legendary head coach. K-State’s new leader, Chris Klieman, and his staff showed they plan to keep that trend alive. The final score for the first Sunflower Showdown between Miles and Klieman read K-State 38, KU 10, but the game wasn’t even that close. The Jayhawks haven’t won in this rivalry series since 2008. K-State’s over/under is 6.
• At Oklahoma (Nov. 21): The Sooners, as usual, should be the class of the Big 12, even in what would qualify as a down year for OU if it hits Caesars projection of 10 wins. Kansas hasn’t defeated the Sooners since 1997 and it will probably be a long time before anyone enters a season expecting the Jayhawks will have much of a chance of knocking off the Sooners.
The most crucial portion of the Kansas football team’s offseason was just days away from starting up when the entire sports world came to a breakneck halt.
The Jayhawks were scheduled to start their first spring practice of 2020 at 3:40 p.m. on St. Patrick’s Day. That was before the threat of the novel coronavirus began shutting down athletic competitions of all sorts worldwide.
Once word came down from the conference offices Friday night that all forms of team activities in the Big 12 were suspended, exactly when KU football players will be allowed to reconvene and start practicing became unclear.
Currently, uncertainty is the new status quo. On-campus classes are canceled at KU through March 22. After that, all classes will move online, and the university laid out a plan that anticipates the need for classes to remain in an online platform “for several weeks.” So KU football coaches at this point don’t even know when the players will be allowed back on campus and be able to go about their normal lives.
The Big 12, in announcing the suspension of both organized and voluntary team activities, including team and individual practices, meetings and other such gatherings, said the situation will be reevaluated March 29. On KU football’s original spring schedule, the Jayhawks were supposed to have six of their allotted 15 spring practices behind them by then.
In an absolute best-case scenario, KU and other football teams would get the go-ahead to get back to some normalcy and start spring practices by early April. The way this COVID-19 threat has developed over the past week, though, such an outcome reads like fantasy.
At the other end of this speculative spectrum is the worst-case scenario: no spring football. Coaches and players everywhere would despise that result. But it would feel like an especially fierce blow for the Jayhawks.
This is just the second offseason since Les Miles came in to try and revamp the program. Spring practices are a critical component of such an extensive renovation project.
Sure, the Jayhawks showed some flashes of advancement during their 3-9 2019 season. But improving upon that mark in Year 2 of the Miles regime is not a foregone conclusion. Seniors from 2019 — such as left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, receiver Daylon Charlot, defensive backs Hasan Defense, Mike Lee, Jeremiah McCullough and Bryce Torneden, linebacker Azur Kamara, center Andru Tovi and quarterback Carter Stanley — played important roles on that team. Spring football practices are generally the time when coaches start to get a true sense of which players can step up and fill in vacated jobs on the depth chart.
What’s more, there is no clear favorite to take the place of Stanley as KU’s starting quarterback. Maybe Thomas MacVittie ends up winning the job. Perhaps it will be Miles Kendrick. The presumptive start of the 2020 season is still months away, so conceivably at least, it’s possible that some dark horse candidate would have time to emerge as well. Every aspiring starter — regardless of position — needs the 15 spring practices to go prove himself.
Plus, it’s likely no one was looking forward to this spring practice time as much as offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon. Miles promoted him to OC in the middle of the 2019 season, so Dearmon didn’t really get to run the full-blown version of the RPO offense he loves. KU’s spring practices and the meetings that accompanied them are going to be pivotal for Dearmon and KU’s offensive players, because that’s when the coach will be able to install his system and get the Jayhawks familiar with all of his play calls and cues.
College football is such a moneymaker for FBS programs that it’s hard to fathom spring practices getting completely wiped out. Then again, who would have been able to grasp just a week ago that the NCAA Tournament would be canceled. These are unprecedented times for everyone, let alone college athletics administrators.
As far as spring practices go, all anyone can do is remain optimistic. One would think the Big 12 and other conferences could come up with ways to salvage the spring schedule, even if that means pushing it into the summer.
At KU, the last day of classes is scheduled for May 7, and May 15 is the last day of finals, before a May 17 commencement. If life is back to normal at some point between now and then, maybe teams could at least get the spring practice schedule started late in the semester. And given these unique circumstances, one would figure NCAA and conference decision-makers would be flexible enough to allow practices to take place during summer classes, too, if necessary.
The Jayhawks need those 15 offseason practices before preseason camp gets started in August. KU football is not yet on strong enough ground to withstand the loss of that much preparation time as well as the more established programs in the Big 12 could.
For the time being, all any football player or coach can do is wait. And hope the best.
For the first time this season, Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley didn’t turn the ball over once.
Still, the fifth start of Stanley’s senior year proved even more arduous than his touchdown-less Week 2 showing against Coastal Carolina, as the Jayhawks’ offense bottomed out at TCU this past Saturday.
KU suffered, by far, its largest margin of defeat under head coach Les Miles, 51-14, with a season-low 159 yards of total offense.
Stanley threw for just 84 yards on 29 pass attempts, completing only 12 of them. His completion percentage of 41.4% marked the worst in a start for Stanley in his college career. He only dipped below 50% in one other of his 14 starts at KU: Stanley went 23-for-48 in 2017, in his first start of that season, against Kansas State.
Against TCU, Stanley never found a rhythm, as the Horned Frogs were credited with five pass breakups and four QB hurries to go with two sacks. Stanley missed on three consecutive passes during two stretches in the loss and had five straight incompletions later on, in the second half. At no point in the game did Stanley complete more than two passes in a row.
All of that from a QB in his fifth year at KU who entered the game completing 72% of his passes this season.
What Stanley learned from the taxing outing isn’t public knowledge at this point. Typically, Stanley speaks with media members each week, a couple days after KU’s game, and fields questions about a number of topics, including what he saw — positive or negative — out of KU’s passing game after watching the game footage on video.
However, Stanley was not at the Jayhawks’ interview session Tuesday night after being requested. A KU spokesperson said Stanley had an academic commitment that conflicted with the timing of the media availability.
Immediately after the loss at TCU, in Fort Worth, Texas, Stanley told a small group of reporters that the Frogs’ athleticism on defense and coach Gary Patterson’s game plan led to the issues with the passing game.
“As players, we didn’t execute and make adjustments,” Stanley said. “It was a tough one.”
Six of his 17 incompletions came on 3rd down and 6 to go or longer. Stanley was 3-for-10 overall on 3rd downs, with one 1st down gained on a completion —late in the fourth quarter, when Stanley found freshman tight end Mason Fairchild for 23 yards.
Along with those 3rd down spots, another troubling development proved to be KU’s inability to get leading receiver Andrew Parchment involved at TCU. Stanley threw Parchment’s way 10 times. However, Parchment finished with only four catches and 10 receiving yards.
Head coach Les Miles spoke vaguely on his “Hawk Talk” radio show this week about how the Jayhawks (2-3 overall, 0-2 Big 12) could get Parchment more involved this coming Saturday, with No. 6 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0) visiting Lawrence.
“Parchment is in the plan every week. And he will have an opportunity at balls and we will target him routinely,” Miles said. “But sometimes they can take you away. Sometimes they play two over one and that gives — and it should give — the opportunity to another player. We like our, really top three or four receivers. So I’d like to give it to Parchment, but we have players that catch it and run and can help us win.”
Parchment and Daylon Charlot (two receptions, minus-one yard) were the only KU receivers with a catch at TCU. Two of Stanley’s 12 completions went to tight ends and his four others went to running backs.
As optimistic as Les Miles has professed to be regarding the talent level of his first team at the University of Kansas, the one-time national championship winning coach undoubtedly is undertaking as massive of a rebuilding project as exists in college football.
In Miles’ 15 full seasons as a head coach — four at Oklahoma State and 11 at LSU — he averaged 9.3 wins a year and 3.5 losses. The KU football program has experienced nine or more wins in a season six times since its inception in 1890.
Every year administrators who run some Power Five programs attempt to reboot by firing the current head football coach and finding a replacement they envision turning the team’s fortunes around. Among the men hired to do so since the end of the 2018 season, Miles’ task might be more daunting than most.
While discussing recently on the “AP Top 25 College Football” podcast which head coaches entering their first year in new situations have their work cut out for them, Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports and The Athletic painted a darker picture of what may await the Jayhawks this coming fall than many of the program’s supporters would like to see.
“David Beaty won three games last year,” Feldman began, referencing KU’s 3-9 finish in 2018, its best mark in four years. “I think Les Miles is going to struggle to win three games.”
Why the pessimism for Miles in Year 1 of what The Mad Hatter hopes will be a successful longterm renovation?
“He’s not working with anything close to what he’s used to from his LSU days,” Feldman said. “I mean, it’s the complete opposite.”
Outside of KU’s nine Big 12 games on the schedule the Jayhawks will face Indiana State (Aug. 31) and Coastal Carolina (Sept. 7) at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium before playing their nonconference finale at Boston College (Sept. 13) on a short week.
“I think they’re going to beat Indiana State and Coastal Carolina,” Feldman predicted. “But then they’ve got to go to BC, who’s not great, but they’re not terrible. And it’s on the road, so I think they’ll probably struggle.”
This past season, Boston College finished 7-5 and spent four weeks ranked in the AP Top 25. The Eagles went 5-2 at Alumni Stadium, in Chestnut Hill, Mass., with their home defeats coming to eventual national champion Clemson and a nationally ranked Syracuse team.
So if KU were to open Miles’ debut season 2-1, there must be some victory for the Jayhawks in Big 12 play if they’re going to add a third win. Who might they beat?
“To me probably their best bet to get to three wins is probably their opener in the Big 12,” Feldman projected. “They have West Virginia visiting.”
The way Feldman sees it, new head coach Neal Brown’s first year at WVU won’t be easy, either. While the Mountaineers won seven or more games in eight of the nine seasons that Dana Holgorsen was in charge, Feldman pointed out Holgorsen left for Houston just when the WVU program was losing some of its most talented players.
Other than KU and WVU, Feldman went on, he doesn’t think there will be any other teams in the Big 12 this year that are “really, really bad.”
Feldman and the podcast’s host, Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press, speculated that Scott Satterfield at Louisville and Mike Locksley at Maryland have challenging rebuilds on their hands, as well.
Though while discussing the Terrapins’ situation, Feldman opined that Locksley is inheriting better players than Brown at WVU and “way better” players than what Miles has inherited at KU.
2019 KU Football Schedule
Aug. 31 — Indiana State
Sept. 7 — Coastal Carolina
Sept. 13 — at Boston College
Sept. 21 — West Virginia
Sept. 28 — at TCU
Oct. 5 — Oklahoma
Oct. 12 — bye
Oct. 19 — at Texas
Oct. 26 — Texas Tech
Nov. 2 — Kansas State
Nov. 9 — bye
Nov. 16 — at Oklahoma State
Nov. 23 — at Iowa State
Nov. 30 — Baylor
Thomas MacVittie was only two-thirds of the way through spring football when he plopped down in one of Mrkonic Auditorium’s numerous seats inside Anderson Family Football Complex.
The University of Kansas quarterback and his teammates had just wrapped up their 10th practice and MacVittie had yet to take off the wristband he uses not to wipe sweat away from his forehead, but as a convenient reminder of the offense’s available play calls.
“These are pretty long,” MacVittie told the Journal-World at the time, glancing down at two laminated notecard-sized lists attached to his wristband, with the name of a different play call printed out on each line.
Although the Jayhawks kept much of the offensive details for Year 1 of the Les Miles era under wraps during media sessions this spring, MacVittie was glad to at least shed some light on the process of learning it all.
KU quarterbacks, MacVittie explained, often reference their wristbands when they’re lined up under center. But the usefulness of the uniform accessory isn’t limited to that situation. The wristbands are most useful for what MacVittie, a junior who joined the program this year as a transfer, described as “the long plays.”
In some situations, the KU offense has two possible plays to run when they line up and the one they choose before the snap depends on what they see from the defense in front of them.
“And we’ve got to check to the right play,” MacVittie explained. “That is what the wristband is for. Those are pretty long.”
How many plays were on there at the moment, with 10 of KU’s 15 spring practices completed?
MacVittie flipped the top flap of plays out of the way and eyed the second card beneath it.
“Umm. Let’s see. We’ve got 34,” the QB replied. “Adding to it every day.”
Throughout the spring, KU’s offensive coaches installed new plays for every practice. And for the Jayhawks who relay those calls to the rest of their teammates before every single snap, that meant huddling up in the QBs room before each of those practices to learn the details.
“This is what we’re gonna go do on the field in an hour,” MacVittie related of offensive coordinator and QBs coach Les Koenning’s typical message during those pre-practice meetings.
“It makes you learn fast, adapt fast and really kind of play on your feet,” MacVittie said of why he appreciated the process. “You can’t be back there thinking. You’ve just kind of got to do. And that comes with preparation, as well.”
Of course, MacVittie took other necessary steps to familiarize himself with the offense, through reviewing practice footage and other measures.
“Every day I come in,” the 6-foot-5, 215-pound QB shared of his spring football study routine. “I think I’m at the facility for probably five hours outside of needing to be. Asking coach to quiz me. Pulling up the film from practice. Kind of getting an edge on any new plays coming in.”
According to MacVittie, quizzes proved to be a valuable factor in his progress. What felt like almost every day throughout the spring, he said, Koenning provided the quarterbacks with brief tests of their playbook knowledge, with the help of senior offensive consultant Brent Dearmon.
Every KU quarterback would be handed a sheet of paper with specific play calls listed. The QBs then had to show off their X’s and O’s abilities by drawing up the plays correctly.
A former reserve QB at Pittsburgh and a starter in 2018 at Mesa Community College (Ariz.), the potential KU starter for Miles’ first season with the Jayhawks, MacVittie said he took pride in doing well on the quizzes, preparing for them by studying the playbook every night.
“They’re random,” MacVittie said of the plays that would show up at test time. “They could be from Day 1, they could be from Day 6. So you’ve really got to know it all.”
By the time the Jayhawks finished up spring football, Miles said they had gone through “at minimum” 50 percent of the offensive playbook. Obviously much more will be installed during preseason camp in August.
Just as he did throughout March and April, MacVittie expects to memorize it all, and prove his knowledge on quizzes and the practice fields. The expectation, he said, is to master the assignments for all 11 offensive players on every play call.
“The reads, the steps, what everybody’s doing,” he said, “to a ’T.’”
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.