Why Les Miles gets a free pass in 2020 and season predictions from the KUsports.com staff
Recent history indicates that the second year of a head football coach’s career at Kansas has been critical to his staying power.
Turner Gill was fired after going 2-10 in his second season. Charlie Weis made it just four games into his third season after posting a 4-20 mark with two last-place Big 12 finishes during his first two years.
And David Beaty made it through four seasons as a sort of dead man walking after starting his KU career with a 2-22 record and inching it to 3-33 after Year 3.
But it sure doesn’t feel like Les Miles, win or lose this fall, is in line to follow in their footsteps.
For one, Kansas appears to be completely committed to Miles for the full rebuild. And, for two, there’s just no way that anyone in their right mind can hold anything that happens during the 2020 season against the head coaches who will be tasked with the impossible challenge of coaching a season under a global pandemic.
The way this offseason has gone, just playing is a victory in and of itself. And Miles will be preparing his team in unusual circumstances, to play in empty stadiums, while facing possible week-to-week delays and the potential for any of his players, at any point, to be taken out of action because of COVID-19.
So, like a shot to the end zone after the defense jumps offsides, Miles will get a free pass this season and it’ll be the 2021 season when the true evaluation begins.
By then, Miles will have brought in three recruiting classes and be well on his way to building the roster with his own players. The fact that most of those have and likely will come from the high school ranks only enhances his chances at success. It won’t guarantee it. Remember, this is still Kansas football we’re talking about.
But Miles’ plan of building with high school prospects and developing them with the help of redshirts and patience certainly increases KU’s chances of putting a better product on the field in the not-too-distant future.
Doing that this year will be a much greater challenge. And the fact that Miles is attempting it with nearly 50% of his assistant coaches being brand new only adds to the challenge.
And then there’s the fact that the quarterback position, several key spots on defense and a decent amount of KU’s depth will be filled by new faces. Oh, and those faces not only had a strange and shortened summer to get prepared, but they also missed out on spring ball, too.
Add to that the fact that KU’s 2020 schedule — assuming all goes well — will feature 10 games instead of 12 and just one contest outside of the Big 12 Conference.
Point me to the guy who judges a head coach on wins and losses in that climate and I’ll quickly point out the guy who is far too harsh of a critic.
Don’t get me wrong, Miles and his staff still deserve to be held accountable for the smaller decisions and moments that happen along the way. But none of them will carry their normal weight in the big picture that is the 2020 season.
Kansas fans still will want the Jayhawks to win — read: compete — as often as possible. Fourth-down calls will be questioned, playing time will be dissected and any successes will be celebrated.
But all of that will be secondary to the Jayhawks simply playing in the first place.
Having said all of that, it’s time to make our predictions for the 2020 season.
It’s hard to tell if these would have been different had the Jayhawks been able to run through a complete and normal offseason.
Let’s face it; the amount of talent and production they’re replacing from last year is a daunting challenge and it comes in some pretty key areas. So who knows if this team is where it needs to be heading into the 10-game 2020 season — or if it’ll ever even get there?
That’s the main reason that I’m picking a 1-9 finish for the Jayhawks this season.
There are just too many questions that we don’t have answers to yet, and I think the absence of two nonconference games is a real blow to KU’s chances of racking up some wins this season. Not only because New Hampshire and Boston College at home would both have been winnable games, but also because playing three games before jumping into Big 12 play would have allowed more time for some of those answers to surface and for the wrinkles to be ironed out.
Because of that, and because of what they lost from last year, I thought all along that the Jayhawks would have a worse record in 2020 than they did in 2019. But that does not necessarily mean that progress cannot be made.
If Miles’ bunch is more competitive on a consistent basis and if they’re able to further establish the culture of what a Les Miles football team looks like, that will go down as progress, regardless of what the final record reads.
I won’t be shocked if the Jayhawks find a way to get to two or even three wins if COVID really goes crazy. But I just can’t head into the season expecting that.
Benton Smith prediction: 2-8
It seems like every year before the season starts we talk about how crucial it will be for KU to get two or three (depending on the year and the competition) wins during nonconference play.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, they only get one crack at that in this pandemic-shortened season. So, yes, KU better open the season against Coastal Carolina with a late-night win. Because that nine-game Big 12 slate could start to feel very long in a hurry.
The Big 12 schedule isn’t very favorable for KU either, with five road games this year. Plus, the two teams expected to be near the bottom of the standings with KU — West Virginia and Texas Tech — both get to play the Jayhawks at home.
I’m guessing the KU offense gets hot enough one week at home to put up enough points and pull off an upset and get that second win. Maybe against TCU in late November?
Shane Jackson prediction: 2-8
Despite technically recording fewer wins in 2020, the Kansas football program will make positive strides in Year 2 of the Les Miles era. For starters, the Jayhawks will avenge last year’s dud performance by defeating Coastal Carolina in the season opener on Saturday night. That’s one for the win column.
Finding the second victory is obviously more difficult, especially with a pandemic-adjusted schedule that forces KU to face a Big 12 foe in the other nine remaining games. But crazier things have happened. Why can’t Kansas luck into a victory during a year that figures to be unlike any other?
Mostly, my prediction comes from confidence in the offense.
Kansas has weapons that should actually force opposing defenses to come prepared every weekend. The quarterback controversy isn’t actually that concerning. If Brent Dearmon’s offense is as good as it looked at times in 2019, which brought something out of Carter Stanley that nobody had ever really seen before, then the identity of the guy taking the snaps shouldn’t matter all that much.
This year will go a long way toward demonstrating just how much Dearmon’s offense can get out of KU’s signal callers.
If it goes well, KU’s offense should keep this team in plenty of games even in a tough conference. And perhaps another Big 12 win could give the Jayhawks all the momentum they would need to take a real leap in Miles’ third year in charge in 2021.