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Tale of the Tait

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

It can be a little risky to put a newcomer or unknown player on the list of the 25 most crucial Jayhawks, but occasionally a perfect situation pops up that makes it easy to do.

That's the case with No. 20 on the list, a soon-to-be transfer from Arkansas, who, if all goes well, will bring the depth that the Jayhawks are used to having back to the backfield in 2016.

For the past several years, KU has been stacked with running back depth and been able to lean on various backs at various times, both throughout a game and throughout a season.

But after losing DeAndre Mann and Taylor Cox to graduation, KU all of a sudden was staring a pretty thin running back corps in the face, which made this pick up huge.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Former Arkansas RB Denzell Evans

Former Arkansas RB Denzell Evans by Matt Tait

20. Denzell Evans, Jr. Running Back

He’s not yet on the roster because he still has to finish up a couple of classes at Arkansas before transferring to KU. But, just by talking to him, you get the sense that those classes and that transfer are not going to be a problem.

That’s a good thing for the Jayhawks, who enter 2016 a little thin at running back and certainly could use the extra body, especially when it comes in the form of a 5-foot-11, 217-pound veteran who spent the past few seasons playing and experiencing football in the SEC.

Evans is far from a sure thing. He played only sparingly at Arkansas and will have competition at Kansas to be the primary back-up to returning starter Ke’aun Kinner. Sophomore Taylor Martin, a year older and more comfortable, also figures to factor into the backfield situation rather prominently and freshman Khalil Herbert also will get his shot at playing time.

But Evans, who grew up 10 minutes from the University of Houston campus and chose KU because of the coaching staff and the fact that Lawrence was “real laid back and reminded me of home,” may be the most hungry of that bunch, desperate for an opportunity to get back on the field with some regularity to show that he can still run the ball.

“It was hard freshman year coming out of high school,” Evans said of standing on the sideline instead of lining up in the backfield. “But I always worked regardless and it was never looked at as a bad thing. I had been here a while and I just felt that, getting close to graduating, it would be time for me to step out and go somewhere else where I could get some more playing time and get some more carries.”

How many carries that winds up being depends purely on how quickly Evans buys into both David Beaty’s offense and the second-year KU coach’s philosophy of earning your keep every day.

Unlike most graduate transfers, Evans, provided he makes it, will have two years of eligibility remaining at KU, making the likelihood of him buying into what Kansas football is all about even greater given that his time in Lawrence won’t be just a one-year detour.

Even if Kinner and Martin use the head start they have on Evans to land at the top of the depth chart, there’s still a place for one of the newest KU commitments, who calls himself a balanced back with a good blend of size, speed and pass-catching ability. The Jayhawks are used to having depth in the backfield and using multiple backs throughout the season. With Evans, the beat goes on. Without him, the pressure on Kinner to stay healthy and Martin to develop turns up.

That’s what makes the Evans pick-up so important and puts him in a situation to finally be relevant on Saturdays again.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

Reply 1 comment from Brett McCabe

KU football coach David Beaty shows off recruiting game

By now, you've surely heard, read or been told about second-year Kansas football coach David Beaty's reputation as a recruiter.

With strong ties throughout the state of Texas and an energetic, enthusiastic and infectious personality, Beaty, throughout his career, has made building relationships with players, coaches, recruits, fans and administrators one of the most important aspects of his style.

Now, thanks to a Twitter video posted by Class of 2017 wide receiver Reggie Roberson, who committed to KU in mid-May, we get to see a small glimpse into what it's like to be on the receiving end of some of Beaty's recruiting attention.

While the video has blown up on Twitter and received feedback from all over the place, I'd be willing to bet that it actually is pretty tame compared to some of the tactics Beaty has used in the past or will use in the future.

That said, it's a clear sign that he understands today's young athletes and seeks to relate to them on their terms not his. Roberson loved it and I'd bet the rest of the team and KU's targets did, as well.

Reply 9 comments from Michael Maris Navyhawk Texashawk10_2 Carter Patterson Greg Ledom Jim Woodward Dirk Medema Roger Gilbertson

Draft night snub sets up perfect storm for Wayne Selden

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) roars at the Jayhawks' bench after hitting a three against Iowa State during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) roars at the Jayhawks' bench after hitting a three against Iowa State during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Jump with me, for a minute, into the mind of Wayne Selden to see why not getting drafted might actually wind up being the best thing that could have happened to the former Jayhawk’s chances at a pro career.

Here’s why.

Selden, as you know, has always been the type of player who seemed to perform best when he had something to prove, someone to prove wrong or a chip of any size on either of his shoulders.

Occasionally, things got so heavy during his KU career that Selden found himself carrying rather large chips on both shoulders. Almost without fail, every time that happened, Selden performed his best.

Think about the Kentucky game at home. Think about the entire three weeks the Jayhawks spent in Korea. Think about Selden responding to a sub-par sophomore season with a solid junior year.

Although the former KU guard started 108 of the 109 games Kansas played during his three seasons as a Jayhawk, consistency often was an issue for Selden. He would take us to the mountain top and show elite-level skills, but rarely hang around long enough to enjoy the view and often found himself near the base again, climbing back to the top almost as quickly as he arrived in the first place.

Case in point: Selden responded to his stellar 33-point, 12-of-20 shooting game against Kentucky by hitting for just 10 made field goals in his next four games combined. Rarely did this hurt KU’s chances at victory — a credit to the rest of the talent Bill Self put around Selden — but it did certainly hurt Selden’s chances at becoming a true standout whom NBA teams would want, perhaps even need, to draft.

So here we are, one day after the biggest day of Selden’s life and he’s looking for a team to play for. Sixty picks came and went without Selden hearing his name called on Thursday night, and now, in order to live out his NBA dream, the former KU guard is going to have to go the free agent route, impress a team or two during summer league play and make a roster the hard way.

He must be so happy.

See, Selden has all of the physical tools necessary to play in the NBA. He’s a damn good shooter, he’s got great size, good quickness, he’s strong and he’s athletic. Put him in the right situation and he’s a ready-made rotation guy off the bench.

NBA teams might not know it yet, but, by not drafting him, they did exactly that, as the right situation for Selden is way more dependent upon what’s between his ears than it is the style of play of this team or the personnel of that one.

Today, Selden is pissed. Not just because he didn’t get drafted, but also because of some of the other players who did. Throw out the Europeans because they’re here to stay and college players are just going to have to get used to that group eating up 15-20 of the 60 available draft spots year after year. Heck, it’s already been happening for years.

But there were at least a few players taken near the end of the draft who I know Selden believes he’s better than. Think Iowa State’s Abdel Nader or even his former AAU buddy Georges Niang. Think UConn’s Daniel Hamilton, Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins, Carolina’s Marcus Paige or Maryland’s Jake Layman.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Selden respects all of those guys, but I also would bet a pretty penny that he believes he’s better than every one of them.

So to give him that kind of fuel to go along with that undrafted tag seems to be a perfect storm of sorts.

It should be fun to watch him in summer league games this month. I’m guessing we’ll see the Selden that more closely resembles the South Korea version than the one who occasionally disappeared during the other portions of his Kansas career.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr., throws down a slam dunk in the second-half of a Team USA 81-72 win over against Brazil Sunday, July 5, in Gwangju, South Korea.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr., throws down a slam dunk in the second-half of a Team USA 81-72 win over against Brazil Sunday, July 5, in Gwangju, South Korea. by Mike Yoder

Reply 7 comments from Brian Skelly Mallory Briggans Stupidmichael Creg Bohrer Joseph Bullock John Randall Harlan Hobbs

NBA Draft delivers latest reasons NBA, NCAA should tweak draft rules

One day, who knows how long from now, we’ll be talking about the NBA/NCAA 2-year rule like it was always in place.

That rule, which would require any player who chooses to attend college to stay a minimum of two years, does not exist yet, of course, but after watching Thursday’s NBA Draft, during which one of four eligible former Jayhawks was selected, I could not help but think how badly a rule like this is needed.

And I’m not simply saying this because of the long looks on the faces of athletes like Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis (31), KU’s Cheick Diallo (33) and Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere (28), all freshmen during the 2015-16 college season who thought they would go much higher in this year’s draft than they did.

I’m saying it because this draft, perhaps better than any in recent memory, showed that sometimes these one-and-done players who hear for a couple of years that they’re going to be lottery picks but wind up slipping after their lone season of college ball, need something in place to help them make better decisions.

I’m not saying Diallo was crazy for going pro. In fact, even though he fell out of the first round, I still think it was the right move for him to leave. Based on what we saw during his freshman season and how raw and young he still is in the game of basketball, I’m not sure Year 2 at Kansas under coach Bill Self would have been all that different for Diallo than Year 1 was. So if they’re telling you you’re a first rounder, where guaranteed money awaits, I totally get why you’d go.

I’m sure Davis, Labissiere, Maryland’s Diamond Stone (40) and others were hearing the same thing.

But when it came down to it, all of them had to sweat it out on Thursday night, when they should not have had to. Here’s how it could have been avoided:

  1. They could have been allowed to go pro right away. I still don’t understand how it’s legal to prevent this from happening. Diallo and Labissiere almost certainly would have been first-round picks in last year’s draft had they been allowed to enter early. It worked out for Labissiere and Diallo just missed. But think back to a couple of years ago, when former Jayhawk Wayne Selden was a projected lottery pick before his freshman season and now he leaves as an undrafted junior. That’s not to say Selden would have been better off as a basketball player had he entered the draft at 18, but he certainly would be richer.

  2. They could have been required to return for a second season of college ball. This would help not only the players but also the coaches and programs that spend so much time, effort and money recruiting these athletes, sometimes for as few as nine months worth of time with them.

If you’re a college hoops fan and you’ve been paying attention at all, none of this is new information. I get that. Baseball has it figured out, several other sports get it right. You’ve heard all of that. And you’ll keep hearing it until the NBA and college basketball fix their system, too.

I heard a lot of talk last night from analysts saying that players who go undrafted or even those who are unhappy with where they went in the draft should be able to return to school after the fact. That, too, would fix things, although I’m not sure I truly like that system much better and think it could bring with it as many problems as solutions.

The bottom line is this: Those of us hoping for a rule change to fix this mess may wind up waiting in vain, or at least waiting for a long, long time. What it’s more likely to come down to is these athletes making better, more informed decisions so that the Diallos and Davises of the world don’t have to experience what they experienced Thursday in New York City.

Draft night should be fun. It should be life changing. It should be a celebration. And it was for so many players, a few of whom I did not expect to get drafted — Georges Niang, Abdel Nader, Marcus Paige. Wow. All three were four-year players who had great college careers and can really play but may not be your prototypical NBA guys.

Here’s hoping the rest of college basketball was paying attention to those names being called and other one-time, can’t-miss stars falling, so that instead of seeing long faces on supremely talented players, we’ll see second — maybe even third — seasons of college basketball from some of them, therein making the college game even better than it already is.

Time will tell. And I’m not holding my breath. Merely hopeful.

Reply 24 comments from Dirk Medema Patricia Davis Texashawk10_2 Jay Scott Kyle Sybesma Yolanda Gay Mvjayhawk Matt Tait Harlan Hobbs Pius Waldman and 3 others

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

The end of the first week of our summer series brings us to our first defensive veteran, Anthony Olobia.

Although Olobia has played just one season in a KU uniform, he has been in Lawrence for two seasons and is heading into his third after two standout seasons at junior college.

He might not carry with him the same type of familiarity as a four- or even five-year program guy, but he is older and more experienced than many of his peers and is physically mature and in better shape than ever.

His name figures to be called a lot this season and, after a strong spring, he looks to be running with KU's first string defense heading into the summer.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas defensive end Anthony Olobia (56) delivers a hit to Oklahoma State running back Raymond Taylor (30) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.

Kansas defensive end Anthony Olobia (56) delivers a hit to Oklahoma State running back Raymond Taylor (30) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla. by Nick Krug

21. Anthony Olobia., Sr. Defensive End

It’s been long enough that some may have forgotten, but Olobia actually was one of those hyped-up Charlie Weis transfer recruits way back in 2014.

Ranked the second best juco defensive end in the country that year, and the 55th best juco prospect overall, Olobia came to KU with a fair amount of hype but saw that die down quickly after an immediate injury cost him the 2014 season.

Looking back, that may have been the best thing that could have happened to him because (a) it allowed him to better acclimate to college and Division I football, and (b) it gave him another year to develop his body in the weight room and learn in the meeting and film rooms.

Although he has yet to become the force that some hoped and expected he might, Olobia is trending toward being a solid rotation-type guy at D-End.

Battling with Damani Mosby — a player with a similar past and path to KU — at KU’s defensive end spots opposite promising sophomore Dorance Armstrong, the opportunity is there for Olobia to become a big part of the KU defense in 2016.

At 6-5, 239, Olobia is long and lean and has some noticeable strength to his style. He’s less of a speed rusher than Mosby and typically uses a variety of moves along with his strength to get to the quarterback.

In 12 games last season, including 4 starts, Olobia finished with 23 tackles, 4 for loss, 1.5 sacks and 2 quarterback hurries. Given his continual growth and development, along with what figures to be even great opportunity, doubling those backfield tackle numbers should not be considered out of reach for Olobia.

With Ben Goodman gone and Armstrong still learning and coming into his own, KU will be counting on the veteran status of Olobia both in terms of leadership at the position and performance on the field.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

Reply 3 comments from Dirk Medema Matt Tait

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

It took a few days, but we've reached our first play maker on offense in this year's summer series that lists the 25 most crucial Jayhawks for 2016.

It's no secret that scoring points, snagging first downs and producing on offense has been a challenge for the Jayhawks during recent years, but it's athletes like sophomore wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., who have the Jayhawks hoping those days soon will be gone.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (16) throws up his arms after falling into the end zone for a touchdown during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (16) throws up his arms after falling into the end zone for a touchdown during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

22. Steven Sims Jr., Soph. Wide Receiver

One of the few offensive bright spots from last season, Sims enters his sophomore year with even more confidence than he arrived with and experience to go with it.

At 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, Sims can give the impression that he’s one of those slot receiver types. But this is an athlete who can make plays all over the field, run all kinds of routes and go up and get the ball in traffic if needed.

Sims finished the 2015 season with 349 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 receptions, all of which ranked second on the team. He played in 11 of 12 games, starting six, and really seemed to find his stride when fellow freshman Ryan Willis and his big arm and ability and willingness to take shots down the field took over under center for the Jayhawks.

Two of his biggest games of the season, in terms of receptions, came in two of Willis’ first four starts, when he caught nine balls over two games, and he capped the season with a career-high 58 yards in KU’s loss to K-State.

While none of those numbers will blow you away, the fact that Sims stood out as a player with longterm potential, especially against bigger, faster Big 12 defenses, paints those numbers in a different light.

Heading into 2016, with the freshman tag no longer buying him time, Sims will be counted on to increase those numbers and make even more of an impact. A big factor in whether that will be possible will be the performance of KU’s offensive line and quarterback(s?). But if those two units hold up, there’s no reason to think that Sims can’t take a significant step in his development.

Add to that the fact that the Jayhawks are expected to run more of a true Air Raid offense with David Beaty calling the plays — think more opportunities to make plays in space — and that Sims should benefit from the presence of former Texas A&M receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez drawing attention from opposing defenses, and it’s easy to see Sims improving upon all three of those major statistical numbers and becoming a bona fide weapon for the Kansas offense.

In order to do it, though, he’ll have to remain consistent. With so many receivers on the roster and Beaty proving that he’s willing to play whichever player “earns it” week in and week out, Sims’ numbers will only rise if he puts in the work during the week to get those opportunities on Saturdays.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

Reply 1 comment from Randy Maxwell Dale Rogers

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

It's time for the second installment of this summer's Most Crucial Jayhawks list and, after starting off on the offensive side of the ball at arguably the most important position on the team on Monday, we hop over to defense for No. 24.

When you're coming off of an 0-12 season, every position is important. And while KU's defense should feature an improved group of players with decent experience, the KU coaching staff (and fan base) is always looking for ways to add top-tier talent to the roster.

That, regardless of how it arrives, would expedite KU's battle to rebuild the program and, also would give the Jayhawks and their fans something to get excited about.

That brings us to No. 24 on the list, a true freshman from Oklahoma, who promises to excite and plans to deliver, not just during his Kansas career, but as soon as he steps onto the field for Game 1 as a Jayhawk on Sept. 3.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

New KU cornerback Kyle "Money" Mayberry.

New KU cornerback Kyle "Money" Mayberry. by Matt Tait

24. Kyle Mayberry, Fr. Cornerback

When it comes to playing cornerback in the Big 12 Conference, the target is always on your back, there are no down times and all eyes are on you from start to finish of most conference games.

That’s what makes the addition of Kyle Mayberry so important to this Kansas squad and why so many people in the program and in Mayberry’s camp believe the top-rated cornerback in Oklahoma in the prep class of 2016 may be a star in the making with the Jayhawks.

Tall, physical, long and athletic, Mayberry’s skill set transfers well to the Big 12, where he will face world-class athletes week after week disguised as wide receivers.

However, while Mayberry is gifted in all of those physical areas, his biggest strength might be his confidence. This young man believes he can cover anybody at any time and, upon meeting fellow-Oklahoman and former Jayhawk Chris Harris at Harris’ camp a couple of summers ago, Mayberry told him, point blank, that he was the best CB in the state.

“He asked who I was,” Mayberry told the Journal-World earlier this year. “And I told him I was the best cornerback in the state of Oklahoma. He said, ‘Oh, really.’ And then that season I had a great year, and he found out I really was.”

Mayberry, who goes by the nickname "Money," has the talent and skills to challenge for a starting spot immediately. The big question surrounding how successful that quest will be comes in the form of how quickly Mayberry will adjust to college life, the speed of the college game and KU’s defensive schemes and game plan.

If that comes as naturally as making plays did during his high school career, Mayberry could make a big early splash and that could pay big time dividends for the team. Even if he doesn’t, it’s easy to see Mayberry playing a significant number of snaps in a reserve role, rotating into the cornerback mix with Brandon Stewart, Marnez Ogletree and Stephan Robinson among others.

Although he won’t be in the spotlight off the field because of KU’s policy against freshmen talking to the media, Mayberry easily could find the spotlight on the field and could quickly develop into a fan favorite if his play holds up.

He has one of the brightest long term futures in the program and if he can get off to a solid start in Year 1, it would go a long way toward helping KU field a much more competitive team in 2016.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

Reply 2 comments from Matt Tait Brett McCabe

Is KU football facing a favorable schedule?

KU football coach David Beaty instructs his players during spring football practice on Thursday, March 26, 2015.

KU football coach David Beaty instructs his players during spring football practice on Thursday, March 26, 2015. by Richard Gwin

Finally, the Kansas football team may be catching a break.

It’s been a rough six seasons for the Jayhawks, who have piled up losses at a record pace since enjoying wild success under former head coach Mark Mangino. And there’s no doubting that in order to crawl out from under the mess the Jayhawks could benefit from a helping hand.

That’s exactly what they’ll get in 2016, according to FOX Sports writer Bruce Feldman, who ranks the Jayhawks’ 2016 non-conference schedule as the second easiest among Power 5 Conference football programs.

Here’s the criteria Feldman used...

"I've based this on my evaluation of opponents' merits for 2016 based on the following points system: 5 points for a Top 5 caliber team; 4.5 for a Top 15; 4 for a Top 25; 3.5 for a Top 40; 3 for a Top 60; 2.5 for a Top 80; 2 for a Top 100; 1.5 for a fringe FBS program or strong FCS team; a 1 for a complete cupcake. Also, I've added bonus points for a road game (0.5) or a neutral site game (0.25)."

After tallying it all up, KU’s non-con schedule strength index number came in at 1.83, tied with Washington for second lowest and just .02 behind Boston College, which claimed the No. 1 spot.

Feldman likes the way things set up for KU during its first three games before the grueling Big 12 schedule, with a pair of home games against Rhode Island and Ohio and a trip to Memphis that became a little bit easier to swallow this offseason, when former Memphis coach Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech and several seniors exhausted their eligibility and followed him out the door.

Here’s Feldman’s take...

"The Jayhawks have a great chance to start the season with a win by opening at home against woeful URI, which was 1-10 in 2015. After that, Ohio, which has only 11 starters back, visits, followed by a trip to play a rebuilding Memphis team that not only lost its star QB but also its head coach and has only 12 starters returning."

Earlier this summer, though not as high, I also saw ESPN ranked KU's non-conference schedule as the eighth easiest among Power 5 programs.

ESPN's Power Football Index ranks KU's 2016 non-conference schedule as the 8th easiest among Power 5 programs.

ESPN's Power Football Index ranks KU's 2016 non-conference schedule as the 8th easiest among Power 5 programs. by Matt Tait

Clearly, the mere thought that KU may have a couple of easy games in the early going qualifies as good news for the Jayhawks. But if there's one thing KU fans have learned during one of the roughest stretches in college football history it's that nothing comes easy and easy definitely is a relative term.

Still, having a schedule that people don't deem one of the most difficult in the country, which has been the case during a couple of the past few seasons, should give KU hope that the turnaround could begin sooner rather than later.

Really, though, this fact qualifies as both good and bad news. Good because it gives KU a chance. Bad because if the Jayhawks stumble against this group, they won't really have any excuses.

That's not to say anybody should expect Kansas to be 3-0 after the non-con portion of the schedule passes on Sept. 17 — 2-1 would certainly register as a fantastic start and, according to Vegas and many college football analysts, 1-2 is the more likely result.

But momentum can be a funny thing. And if KU can get that first one against a woeful Rhode Island team, the Ohio game the following week looks a little more attainable and things can build from there.

The whole thing adds intrigue to something that KU fans already are keeping a close eye on anyway — how quickly can second-year coach David Beaty get things back on the right track and when will Saturdays at Memorial Stadium start to be fun again?

Reply 26 comments from Matt Tait John Smith Michael Lorraine Michael Maris Jay Scott Jim Stauffer Jmfitz85 Brett McCabe Catsandwich Randy Maxwell

Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

Each summer, across the country, football fans spend time watching, waiting and anticipating the arrival of another college football season. And while that might not always be a favorite pastime of KU fans, many still get sucked in to the journey.

Will this be a better season? Is this the year that things finally get going in the right direction? Will Kansas at least be competitive therein making Memorial Stadium on Saturdays in the fall the place to be instead of a place to avoid? All are common questions KU fans wrestle with every year.

So in order to help you predict the answers to those questions and more, we set out to pinpoint the 25 players that could make the biggest impact for the Jayhawks this fall.

Big seasons from these guys — be them in the form of yards and touchdowns or just consistency and perhaps overachieving — could go a long way toward increasing KU's chances at success during the upcoming season.

This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Remember, this is not an exercise designed to identify KU's best players but an attempt to pinpoint which players, with strong seasons, could have the biggest impact for Kansas this fall.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order.

Kansas offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) picks himself off the ground after falling down laughing while fellow lineman field kickoffs during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) picks himself off the ground after falling down laughing while fellow lineman field kickoffs during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

25. Jayson Rhodes, Jr. Offensive Lineman

Rhodes is a good one to kick off this summer’s series with because he represents a couple of key aspects of the KU football program at this point in time. One, through hard work in the weight room and with the strength coaches, Rhodes has reworked his body and is in the best shape of his career, a move that allowed him to slide into the starting left guard spot throughout the spring.

Two, Rhodes plays offensive line and there’s no question that the most important position for the Jayhawks this fall will be the big bodies up front. Not only will they need to keep carving out holes for the Kansas running backs, but they also, and more desperately, have to keep opposing defenders off of KU’s quarterback if the Jayhawks hope to be competitive in 2016.

The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Rhodes is well equipped to do just that. Even with his former physique, which featured more fat, less muscle mass and more bad weight, he showed good feet and solid athleticism, especially for a man his size. Now, with a more efficient frame and a new home at guard instead of on the outside against speed rushers, Rhodes can use those feet and his newfound strength to move bodies and get up the field.

The communications major who is minoring in sociology played in just three games a season ago but, all of a sudden, has the look of a guy who believes he will be a 12-game starter.

That kind of swagger can become contagious and, on an offensive line that is starting to develop some depth and could benefit from positional competition as much as any spot on the roster, that attitude carried by Rhodes and others can only mean good things for the Jayhawks in 2016 and beyond.

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Addition of Thornton, Newman would improve Jayhawks even during red-shirt seasons

Blue Team guard Josh Jackson looks to strip the ball from Red Team guard Devonte' Graham on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center.

Blue Team guard Josh Jackson looks to strip the ball from Red Team guard Devonte' Graham on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center. by Nick Krug

Watching Kansas guards Frank Mason (blue) and Devonte’ Graham (red) get after each other again during Wednesday’s camp scrimmage took my mind to a wild place that I think KU fans would love to go.

We all know by now — and have for some time — that both Graham and Mason will start in the backcourt again in 2016-17 the way they did so successfully last season. Having those two on the floor at the same time makes up KU’s best lineup and having the luxury of having at least one of them out there at all times, in case one needs a breather or the other is in foul trouble, gives KU coach Bill Self a sense of security.

As much as it’s a great thing for them to push each other in practice the way they showed at moments during Wednesday’s scrimmage is critical to KU’s success but they also have to spend the bulk of their time in practice playing together. That leaves the challenge of pushing them, both offensively and defensively, to the rest of the roster and, though the effort from the reserves is always equal to what Mason and Graham put out, the talent and skill is not.

Imagine for a minute, though, if it were. Imagine for a minute that KU had a couple of guys on its roster that were elite-level prospects who, every day, could push Mason and Graham in every way and get the most out of them while preparing them daily for what they’ll encounter during the upcoming season.

Believe it or not, such a scenario may actually be possible thanks to Duke transfer Derryck Thornton and Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman both seriously considering coming to KU.

If both players — or either — joined the Jayhawks, they would have to sit out the 2016-17 season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. But they would be able to practice and they would make up a heck of a “red team” backcourt that would push Mason, Graham, Josh Jackson, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and the rest of the KU regulars on a regular basis.

The idea that Newman and Thornton are considering Kansas obviously is exciting for the future of Bill Self’s basketball team. Both would challenge for starting spots immediately upon gaining eligibility and, depending on how long they stuck around, each could wind up being a huge part of future Kansas teams.

If they do come to KU, even while waiting to play, their impact could be just as important during Year 1 as it could in Years 2 and 3 because they would elevate practice to a higher level and give Mason and Graham Big 12 and NCAA-Tournament-style competition on a daily basis.

Decisions from either player could come any day now and I saw at least one report on Twitter today that indicated that both really liked Kansas but had not reached the point where they were a packaged deal.

From what I've heard, KU has a great shot at getting both of them and while they would certainly push the current Jayhawks throughout the upcoming season, the opportunity to be challenged by players like Mason, Graham and Jackson also would improve their games a great deal while they waited for the 2017-18 season to roll around.

Stay in touch with KUsports.com for the latest information on both decisions.

Reply 10 comments from Texashawk10_2 Dirk Medema Dale Rogers Matt Tait Pius Waldman Steve Corder Josh Galler Jacob Zutterman

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