As we jump into the Top 10, it's offense that's up first.
In fact, 7 of the final 10 in this summer's list of the Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2016 come from the offensive side of the ball, lending support to the claim that it's the KU offense that has the most room to improve and needs to elevate its production to something that more closely coincides with the rest of the Big 12.
In David Beaty's Air Raid offense, there are plenty of ways to get that done, but few are as important as through the air. The Jayhawks have a deep and talented — but still green in a lot of ways — group of receivers and one of those with the greatest potential comes in at No. 10.
Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year’s team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, although 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.
10. Jeremiah Booker, Soph. Wide Receiver
An injury that kept him out for most of camp and a good chunk of the 2015 season severely limited Booker’s productivity, but there’s no denying the impact he made when he was on the field.
The long, tall, big target who showed up for fellow-freshman Ryan Willis down the field made in some tight spots made a few tough catches and finished his freshman season fourth on the team with 23 receptions and 228 yards in just six starts.
Imagine, then, what Booker could have done had he never been injured and been able to (a) compete at a high level immediately and (b) develop a better rapport with KU’s QBs more quickly instead of having to wait until the midway point of the season to get his legs under him.
It seems safe to say that his numbers easily could have doubled, which would have produced one of the better years by a KU wide receiver in recent years.
Fast forward to 2016, when you find a healthy, leaner and stronger Booker who no longer seems like a freshman trying to figure things out. Even though he looks slightly smaller, Booker said he dropped all of his bad weight this offseason and was moving better than ever. He worked hard this offseason on his route running and footwork and figuring out how to maneuver at his new playing weight.
If that translates into being a little faster — whether that’s straight-line speed or just perceived speed because he’s in and out of breaks quicker — then Booker could be poised for a big sophomore season and could be in line to give the Jayhawks the much-needed second or third weapon in the passing game to ensure that opponents can’t just key on junior transfer LaQuvionte Gonzalez game in and game out.
Whether the results come remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting that Booker will put in the work. He’s a great young man and a great teammate who puts the good of the program above any personal goals and, according to teammates, is easy and fun to be around. Because he is so polite and kind, he often comes across as quiet upon first meeting, but teammates and coaches say he’s one of the funniest guys on the roster and can really get people going when he’s on.
All KU fans need is for Booker to be “on” on Saturdays this fall. If he is, it will go a long way toward helping this offense climb out of the rut it has been in during the past six seasons.
Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:
It's probably just a small number of people out there on Twitter, and I realize that social media sites can be dangerous places to do any kind of real research.
But I'm going to head down that path anyway because I just don't get it.
During the past 24 hours I've seen more than a few dozen KU fans — I think they are, anyway — jump on Twitter and various message boards claiming that KU absolutely should go after former Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who was fired by the Bulldogs this weekend after a 9-3 season that looked much better on paper than it actually was. Georgia beat just one FBS team with a winning record all season and, once again, fell short of the enormous expectations people have for that program.
So Richt, the 55-year-old veteran head coach who compiled an overall record of 145-51 in 15 seasons, including SEC championships in 2002 and 2005 and runner-up trophies three other times, is out of a job and UGA is moving on.
That doesn't mean KU should be.
Whether you're a David Beaty believer or you think he's the latest in a long line of KU coaches who will go down having got his shot and failed, the one thing I think all supporters and followers of KU football can agree on is that this program is in no position to continue changing head coaches.
What in the world about fielding five head coaches in the past eight seasons sounds so appealing that you'd want to make it six in nine?
As long as he shows progress, for better or worse, Beaty is going to and should get the length of his five-year contract. Giving him — or anyone — that kind of time is the only way to really see if something of substance can be built here. And it's the only way to find out, yet again, if, when something substantial is built, it can be sustained for any real length of time.
So while Richt, who would be a fine choice to lead any program, will go on to find another job, there's no reason for anyone around here to think that it will or even should be at Kansas.
For the first time in a long time, it can be said with certainty that KU has its head coach and he's a guy an overwhelming majority of the fan base has gotten behind.
There's just something about Kansas and TCU on the football field that tends to create entertaining and competitive games.
But who would've thought that would be the case this year, when the winless Jayhawks traveled to No. 13 TCU on Saturday?
Not me. I picked a TCU blowout, both because of the strength of that TCU offense and the fact that KU was on the road. But the Jayhawks played what was without question their best defensive game of the season — even when Trevone Boykin was in the game — and almost did enough offensively to pull off the upset.
KU's latest loss, a 23-17 setback at TCU, provided Kansas fans, players and coaches with plenty of reasons to be encouraged, excited, optimistic and hopeful. And this team should feel good about its most recent effort. But the bottom line remains the same — KU is still making too many mistakes to expect to win games. From false starts and other silly penalties to not converting at key times and struggling to score points, David Beaty's team continues to shoot itself in the foot too often and that's costing them a chance to both be in and win games.
Three reasons to smile
1 – The defense looked sensational and played with a ton of fire, passion and toughness. Credit defensive coordinator Clint Bowen for coming up with another solid game plan against the Horned Frogs and credit the KU players for executing that game plan and not giving a damn about who they were playing, what the records of the teams were or where the game was played. This kind of defensive effort in the next two games could make things very interesting.
2 – Led by Ben Goodman, KU's much-maligned defensive line was darn good in this one. There was a reason linebackers Marcquis Roberts and Joe Dineen made so many tackles in this one — because the D-Line got good push and allowed those guys to clean up the mess. But KU's D-Line was not just in a complementary role. Goodman, Corey King, Damani Mosby, Dorance Armstrong and Anthony Olobia also made a bunch of tackles. KU's defense finished with three sacks and eight tackles for loss.
3 – Kansas did a good job on dynamic freshman KaVontae Turpin. In fact, had it not been for Turpin's 49-yard punt return for a TD that got the scoring started, KU would have received an A-plus here. Turpin finished with just 21 yards on four receptions and -8 yards on the three other punts he got his hands on. He also carried once for seven yards, but, for the most part, KU did a great job of keeping him from hurting them.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Wanted: More points. Sure, KU is dealing with a bunch of young guys playing on the offensive side of the ball, but this was the 10th week of the season and the excuses about youth don't carry as much weight. Bottom line: This team is not going to win any time soon if it can't find a way to put up more points. I really thought we'd see more razzle-dazzle out of this offense than we have and it looks like the offensive line's inconsistent play has taken a portion of the playbook out of the equation. After outgaining TCU in the first half, Kansas had just 18 yards of offense on nine plays — three three-and-outs — in the third quarter.
2 – This is pretty specific, but it was a perfect indication of exactly what's keeping this team from breaking through. Early in the game, with Kansas driving into TCU territory, the Jayhawks faced a fourth-and-seven and, believe it or not, head coach David Beaty called to go for it. Before the fourth-down snap, however, Jacob Bragg was called for a false start. That turned a manageable fourth-and-seven into a fourth-and-12, yet Beaty waved to his offense and said go for it anyway. It seemed as if the same play they called to gain seven yards was available to gain 12. One problem. Before the fourth-down snap could come a second time, right tackle Larry Holmes was whistled for a false start, as well. That turned it into a fourth-and-17 and forced Beaty's hand. The punt team trotted onto the field and an opportunity was lost.
3 – Freshman QB Ryan Willis took another beating. Already playing at less than 100 percent, Willis was beat up in this one and that significantly impacted his effectiveness. Last week, we talked about giving Willis major credit for his toughness. And that still applies. But at some point KU is going to have to do a better job of keeping him clean or else the exciting young quarterback is not going to be able to finish the season.
One for the road
KU's close call at TCU...
• Dropped Kansas’ all-time record dropped to 579-608-58.
• Meant the Jayhawks now have lost 38-straight games played outside of Lawrence. Kansas has also lost 32 straight league games away from Lawrence. A Kansas team hasn’t won a true conference road game in 28 tries. The last Big 12 road win occurred Oct. 4, 2008, in Ames, Iowa.
• Made Kansas 0 for its last 24 against opponents ranked in the top 25. The last time KU won a game against a Top-25 team, the Jayhawks defeated No. 15 Georgia Tech on Sept. 11, 2010. The last time KU beat a Top 25 opponent in a true road contest occurred on Oct. 6, 2007, when the Jayhawks beat No. 24 Kansas State 30-24 in Manhattan.
• Featured the first time in the David Beaty era that the Jayhawks were tied with an opponent after the first 30 minutes. In fact, the last time a Kansas team didn’t trail at halftime was in 2014 when the Jayhawks held a 13-10 lead against TCU in Lawrence.
KU will return home to Memorial Stadium to take on the West Virginia Mountaineers at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, before closing the 2015 season with a home game on Nov. 28 against Kansas State.
The scoreboard shows another beating suffered by the overmatched and outmanned Kansas University football team. But those who witnessed Saturday's 59-20 loss at Texas — including the 90,000 UT fans in attendance — know that things got pretty intense there for the Longhorns in the second quarter.
After racing out to a 17-0 lead, UT hit cruise control and KU hit back. Had it not been for a couple of bad mistakes and two empty trips that ended inside the Texas 10 yard line, Kansas might have been winning at halftime.
Had that been the case, I talked to plenty of Texas media folks who said the Longhorns very well might have folded. And wouldn't THAT have been interesting.
As it turned out, KU fell short, made far too many mistakes and the Longhorns easily ran away from the Jayhawks with a strong second half.
KU continues to stay the course. And, at this point, it's really all they can do. The players prepare hard and play harder. Head coach David Beaty has stayed consistent with regard to the expectations in the program and the opponents, like Texas did Saturday, have continued to find areas to exploit the Kansas defense and make life tough for the young KU offense. Many wondered if KU's match-up with the Longhorns would give the Jayhawks a better chance to compete, given the fact that UT did not feature one of those nasty, break-neck offenses like Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. And, for a little more than a half, compete they did. Maybe that gives reasonable cause for KU backers to think the same thing can happen against West Virginia and K-State. Then again, maybe not.
Three reasons to smile
1 – It's worth something to point out that the KU defense did respond to that awful start. For a group that has been brutalized most of the season, it would've been real easy for those guys to lay down after Texas got up 17-0. But they didn't. They stayed strong against the run, got good pressure on UT QB Jerrod Heard and forced a huge turnover, all of which gave the offense time to crawl back into the game. The D wore down severely in the second half, but that first-half bounce-back is notable.
2 – Forget about Ryan Willis' skills and ability to throw the football. It's time we applaud the young man for his toughness. Willis, making his fifth consecutive start, took big hit after big hit and kept getting up. Beaty pointed out after the loss that a lot of the punishment was Willis' fault, but he also said he admired the heck out of the young man's toughness. It's that kind of showing, especially from a quarterback, that can get a whole team playing harder.
3 – It's debatable whether this is good news or bad, but I'm going to side with good news because of the message it sends. Wideouts Tre' Parmalee and Steven Sims Jr., were suspended for this game and did not travel to Austin after violating a team rule. Beaty did not disclose the violation and, from the sound of things, it was pretty minor. But the first-year KU coach realizes that when you're in Year 1 of a major rebuilding project, nothing can be considered minor and he clearly is willing to take advantage of every opportunity to send a message, prove a point and make it clear what is expected of the players in this program.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – I'm sure he's a great dude but I think we've reached the point where David Beaty can't trot place kicker Nick Bartolotta onto the field any more. The missed 26-yard field goal was a devastating blow to this team's momentum and chances on Saturday and Bartolotta, after starting the season strong, has been woeful for the past several games. His confidence appears shot and even though it's a lot to put on Matthew Wyman, he's the guy that should be handling all of KU's kicking duties right now.
2 – Texas did not enter the game known as a passing team, but the UT coaching staff clearly saw enough holes in KU's secondary on film to design their game plan around exploiting the Jayhawks' pass D. It worked. Both Texas QBs who played hit the KU defense with big passes and the KU cornerbacks struggled to both stay on top of UT's wide receivers in coverage and to offer much help in the running game.
3 – With Sims and Parmalee sitting in Lawrence, the Jayhawks needed a couple of wide receivers to step up. No one really did. Darious Crawley led the team with 63 yards and a TD on three catches, but the touchdown catch, a 19-yarder, came with 1:07 to play. Parmalee has been by far KU's most reliable receiver this season and Sims also has stood out as one of the top options. Without them, the KU passing game struggled. Tight end Kent Taylor was more involved — and should be the rest of the way — but KU's version of the Air Raid offense is far less potent with Parmalee and Sims sitting in street clothes.
One for the road
KU's loss at Texas on Saturday night:
•Kansas’ all-time record dropped to 579-607-58.
•The Jayhawks have lost 37-straight games played outside of Lawrence, the last win occurring Sept. 12, 2009 at UTEP. Kansas has also lost 31-straight league games away from Lawrence. A Kansas team hasn’t won a true conference road game in 28 tries. The last occurred Oct. 4, 2008, a 35-33, win in Ames, Iowa.
•After a rushing touchdown with 8:49 to play in the second quarter, bringing the score to, 24-14, in favor of Texas, Kansas tied its season-high for points scored in the first half of a game. The Jayhawks also scored 14 points against South Dakota State in the season opener.
•KU’s 236 yards of total offense, compared to Texas’ 190, marked the first time Kansas out gained an opponent in the opening half of play since putting up 333 yards and allowing Iowa State just 89 yards in the opening 30 minutes in 2014.
•KU’s four fumbles in the first half were the most in an opening period since putting the ball on the ground a total of five times against Texas A&M in the first portion of the game in 2011.
Falling under the category of awful timing, the way KU's meeting with Oklahoma came one week after OU lost to Texas, the Jayhawks next week will have to travel to TCU to take on the Horned Frogs who likely just saw their national title and Trevone Boykin's Heisman Trophy hopes go out the window with a loss at Oklahoma State.
Before leaving Austin, Texas, I spoke with one of the Big 12 officials who worked Saturday's KU-Texas game to see if I could get a clarification on the situation surrounding the punt that was muffed by Derrick Neal in the first half of KU's 59-20 loss.
The ruling on the field was that Neal touched the ball and a Texas player recovered it at the KU 17. Replay during the game confirmed as much — according to the official, the camera angle showed Neal's fingers bend back after making contact with the ball — but KU coach David Beaty continued to have discussions with the referees for several minutes after the replay confirmation.
Beaty said after the game that he was arguing that the UT player who recovered the ball "clearly went out of bounds" and was the first one to touch it after returning to the field of play. By rule, that would be deemed illegal touching and possession would be given to Kansas.
The official this morning told me that the refs on the field missed the call during live action and that replay could not get involved after the fact. It falls in the same category as a play in which a team challenges the spot of the football and on replay officials see a facemask penalty. Because the penalty was missed on the field — and penalties are not reviewable — the infraction cannot be flagged after being discovered by replay.
In short, the missed call on the field cost Kansas because the rules were on the Jayhawks' side.
These things happen, though, and the officials had nothing to do with Neal's poor decision and inability to execute the fielding of the punt.
The official, who said he was impressed with how hard the Jayhawks played, added that Beaty was very calm and respectful during his discussions and "asked his questions in the right way."
The first thing I saw when I woke up Monday morning was a text from a friend informing me that someone had quite literally broken into Memorial Stadium, torn the goalpost down in the south end zone and dumped the broken metal in Potter Lake, as is the custom when the KU football team pulls off a victory that sets off a rockin' celebration.
I get the whole kids-will-be-kids narrative and the lighten-up-what's-wrong-with-having-a-little-fun mindset. But I gotta tell ya: The whole schtick did not sit right with me from Minute 1.
I'm not going to judge you or even call you crazy if you choose to applaud the way a few dozen fans — whether they're Royals fans, KU fans, both or neither remains unknown — celebrated Kansas City's first major sports title in 30 years.
But can we at least agree on one thing? You have to admit it looks a little foolish.
I mean, did supporters of Stanford tear into the school's football stadium and do more than $10,000 worth of damage to celebrate the Golden State Warriors NBA title last summer?
Did anybody hear about a bunch of UMass students breaking into the gymnasium and cutting down the nets last winter when the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl?
Of course not. And if they had, it would have made each of those schools look stupid the way this made KU look lame.
And that's to say nothing of the automatic and unnecessary shots that people across the country since have fired at KU football over this whole mess. What do those guys do? All they're trying to do is find a way to climb out from underneath one hell of a mess created by the past two football coaches and going about it rather quietly and respectably.
Kansas football has got enough problems without the rest of the country being given a gift-wrapped reason to make fun of the struggling program.
Look, I'm not so old that I can't remember what it was like to be a kid, to celebrate with wild abandon or even to do dumb things that I now look back on and scratch my head about. I'm not sure you ever actually get old enough to lose sight of those things. But you do grow up. And I'm pretty sure I never thought it would be OK to represent my school or town by damaging property, trespassing and putting myself and a bunch of others in harm's way while celebrating the accomplishments of a team in another city.
Sure, a huge chunk of KU's enrollment is made up of Kansas City kids. And good for them. Whether they've been pulling for the Royals since their mothers and fathers first introduced them to baseball at age 5 or just jumped on the bandwagon and only have been Royals fans for the past 18 months, their team winning the World Series is good reason for a great celebration.
And to the credit of hundreds of KU students and Lawrence residents, celebrate is what they did. Downtown, with chants and screams, high-fives and hugs. Not vandalism. Thousands more did the same thing across Kansas City.
So to let the action of a few hardcore party people — many of whom might actually be decent people — ruin what otherwise was a pretty cool scene, would be unfair. That's not what this is. Instead, this is the voice of logic and reason, something that was clearly missing when these guys and gals blew their own minds by deciding to wreck Memorial Stadium because a baseball team from a city 40 miles away won the World Series.
It was another rough day for the overmatched Kansas football team, which was drubbed, on Homecoming weekend no less, 62-7 by an Oklahoma team that probably could have scored a lot more.
OU's Baker Mayfield and Sterling Shepard did all kinds of damage through the air and the three-headed monster of Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Alex Ross bullied the Jayhawks on the ground.
Saturday's 52-point spread was the second worst of the season, trailing only Baylor's 66-7 beating earlier this year.
At this point, we're kind of facing the old it-is-what-it-is deal with this football team. The Jayhawks are overmatched every week and despite preparing hard and playing to the final whistle, there really isn't much you can point to that, if done right or better, would make that much of a difference. Of course this team still wants to get a win this season. And, yeah, three of KU's final four opponents combine to be four games under .500. So maybe there is an outside shot at finding a little hope. But I wouldn't bet on it. This season has taken on the feel of one that KU will close out with the goal being to get as many young guys as much positive experience as they can get so there's at least some reason for optimism heading into 2016.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Matthew Wyman continues to make a difference in the punting game and appears to have solved KU's issues there. Beaty said the kicking game was one of the few highlights from Saturday and Wyman's 42.8-yard average, with two downed inside the OU 20, has definitely made a noticeable difference for this team. If nothing else, it's at least forcing KU opponents to have to put together longer drives to pile up the points.
2 – It doesn't matter much on the scoreboard or in the stats, but it's pretty impressive to watch these guys never get down. Now, I'm not saying that the Jayhawks enjoy these beatings, but you really don't see guys hanging their heads or sulking on the sideline any longer. They stay up and they keep playing. That's not easy. And they should be applauded for that if nothing else.
3 – Let's be honest. It was Halloween and I was surprised there were as many people there as there were. With that in mind, KU made sure everyone got out of there in plenty of time to get ready for Halloween and trick-or-treating. Can you imagine the conflict if this game had gone down to the wire?
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Oklahoma was not forced to punt one time during Saturday's victory over Kansas, and the defense that, just a couple of weeks ago appeared to be making significant strides, struggled big-time against a pretty dominant offense.
2 – In-game coaching issues still seem to be popping up at a regular rate. Whether you're talking about strange timeouts, slow adjustments or general uncertainty, it still seems that this group of players and coaches working together for the first time are figuring things out on the fly a little bit. That's to be expected in the first year of a new coaching regime, but it makes for a few head scratchers.
3 – KU's running game continues to struggle big time. In this one, Kansas managed just 35 yards on 36 carries. Seniors De'Andre Mann and Taylor Cox run hard when they get the ball and usually gain every yard available. That's the problem. There just isn't much there. Instead of getting better, it seems to be getting worse. But KU has faced two of the Big 12's best defenses during the past couple of weeks. So maybe there's hope that the tough sledding the Jayhawks have experienced in the past couple of weeks will lighten up in the final month of the season.
One for the road
KU's 55-point loss to the Sooners on Saturday:
• Dropped KU's all-time record to 579-606-58.
• Prolonged a streak of 21-straight losses to ranked opponents and extended a streak of 10-consecutive losses to a top-25 opponent in Memorial Stadium.
• Featured Kansas starting five true freshman on offense against the Sooners. The total number of freshmen who started offensively can be increased to six with the addition of red-shirt frosh Jacob Bragg.
• Pushed OU's all-time edge in the series to 73-27-6 and 35-15-4 in Lawrence. In the Big 12 Conference era, the Sooners hold a 21-1 advantage (6-1 in Lawrence). KU’s two Big 12 wins over OU came in 1996 and 1997, the first two years of the league. OU is now 6-0 on the road against the Jayhawks under Bob Stoops.
Kansas heads south to Austin, Texas, to take on 3-5 Texas at 7 p.m. Saturday. After back-to-back wins over OU and K-State seemed to right the ship, the Longhorns were blanked by Iowa State on Saturday, 24-0, in Ames, Iowa.
Monday marked a day full of big news for the Big 12 Conference, which learned about a key injury to one of the conference's best players, heard a head coach laugh at the mention that he's a candidate for another high-profile job that came open suddenly and saw the dismissal, at another school, of a former consensus coach of the year.
Here's the scoop:
• Baylor learned over the weekend that starting quarterback Seth Russell, who was putting together a masterful season, would miss the rest of the Bears' run toward a berth in the College Football Playoff because of damage to the cervical vertebra in his neck. Russell will have surgery in the near future and recovery time is expected to be in the six-month range.
The injury leaves the Bears with true freshman Jarrett Stidham under center, but that might not be as scary as it sounds. Stidham has played in every game this season and completed 85.7 percent of his passes for 331 yards and six touchdowns. As you might expect, he was a five-star recruit, and KU coach David Beaty remembered recruiting him to Texas A&M before he took the job at Kansas.
"Jarrett and (A&M freshman) Kyler Murray were two of the best high school quarterback evaluations I've ever seen," Beaty said. "Both of those kids, we've seen throw since they were young guys, and this kid, Stidham, from a fundamental standpoint and a quarterback mechanics standpoint, man, he's as good as I've seen. He's very efficient, I love his motion and the guy makes great decisions. You can tell he's a bright kid. Baylor is in really good hands."
• Speaking of Kansas head coaches, one former KU boss got his walking papers on Monday, when it was revealed that Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads had fired offensive coordinator Mark Mangino in his second year with the Cyclones. Mangino's firing, which Rhoads said was the result of the two not being able to "get on the same page on a couple of important items," created an abrupt end to Mangino's return to the Big 12.
"We tried to talk that through again this morning in an effort to get us moving in a different direction," Rhoads said during a news conference. "In the end, Mark was not interested in that. I wish that wasn't the case, but I respect and understand his conviction."
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, citing sources, reported that the differences between Rhoads and Mangino had been building for some time over play selection and personnel usage, and that the parting wasn't related to a single or isolated incident.
It will be interesting to see where Mangino lands from here, but don't expect it to be at Kansas in any capacity. If KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger had any interest in bringing Mangino back to Lawrence — even in a supporting role — he has had a couple of opportunities in the recent past to do it and passed both times.
• Isn't it funny how quickly things can turn. Just a few weeks after feeling his seat catch fire, Texas coach Charlie Strong is now laughing off rumors of his name being tossed around as the replacement for Al Golden at the University of Miami, Florida. Golden was fired this week, creating the opening, and Strong, whose Longhorns have won back-to-back games — including a huge upset over Red River rival Oklahoma — after starting the season losing four of five, suddenly looks like he has things rolling in Austin. If that's the case, you can bet the second-year UT coach is going to stay right there. "I have the best job in the country," Strong said on Monday morning's teleconference.
Call it false hope, fool's gold or the this is why we can't have nice things syndrome.
Whatever you dub it, it has become a heck of a pattern for Kansas University football during the past five-plus seasons.
Despite KU's dismal 12-53 record in the post-Mark Mangino era (2010-present), there have been a few memorable victories and even more close calls against some of the Big 12's best.
But while it's easy to remember last year's near upset of TCU or the Texas game at home that KU lost in the final 17 seconds a couple of years earlier, it's much harder to remember what happened in the week's that followed those close calls. The reason? Most of those results are ones the Jayhawks would rather forget.
Here's a quick look at the 10 most notable face plants since the start of the 2010 season, which, you could argue, actually began with KU following up a 5-0 start to the 2009 season with an 0-7 finish.
• Sept. 17, 2010 — Southern Miss 31, Kansas 16: After upsetting 15th-ranked Georgia Tech, following a disappointing loss to North Dakota State in the season opener, the Jayhawks traveled to Southern Miss and were outclassed from start to finish. Turner Gill's first road game featured a handful of clock management issues and penalties that all but guaranteed a Kansas loss. Just before halftime, the Eagles returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and took a 21-3 into halftime. KU never recovered and never threatened in the second half.
• Nov. 13, 2010 — Nebraska 20, Kansas 3: One week after a ridiculous fourth-quarter comeback at home beat Colorado, 52-45, the Jayhawks' suddenly-high-powered offense went to Gill's alma mater to face an offensively-challenged NU team playing with an injured quarterback. It didn't matter. The Kansas offense, led by QB Quinn Mecham, managed just 87 yards on 47 plays, and the defense, though tough all night, just did not get enough rest to hold the Huskers down.
• Sept. 17, 2011 — Georgia Tech 66, Kansas 24: One Saturday, the Jayhawks picked up a huge victory over bowl-bound Northern Illinois on their final offensive play of the game. The next, the Kansas defense was trounced by a Georgia Tech team that shattered several school records and wound up printing T-Shirts to commemorate the occasion. Kansas' offense did a decent job in the first quarter in Atlanta, but, with the defense looking like swiss cheese, KU simply could not keep up on the scoreboard.
• Nov. 19, 2011 — Texas A&M 61, Kansas 7: For three quarters at home against Baylor, the Kansas defense had future Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III completely bottled up. But then someone tapped RGIII on the shoulder and he led a fourth-quarter comeback that led to a 31-30 overtime victory for the Bears. Perhaps deflated by coming so close to such a huge upset, the Jayhawks barely even showed up the following week in College Station, where Ryan Tannehill torched the KU defense and the KU offense did not crack the scoreboard until the game's final minute.
• Oct. 20, 2012 — Oklahoma 52, Kansas 7: After a hard-fought 20-14 loss to Oklahoma State in miserably wet conditions, which featured James Sims unofficially laying claim to the title of the Big 12's best running back, the Jayhawks traveled to the Sooner State to take on OU the following week and never had a chance. Led by Landry Jones and an unstoppable aerial attack, OU ran the Jayhawks out of the building early. KU had a chance to keep things interesting early, but a simple pass to the flat by QB Dayne Crist that might have been an easy touchdown was woefully behind Tre' Parmalee and Crist did not throw another pass all game.
• Nov. 3, 2012 — Baylor 41, Kansas 14: One week after coming within a couple of plays of knocking off Texas — the UT comeback included a must-have fourth-down conversion and the winning TD in the final 20 seconds — Kansas no-showed against Baylor, yet again, in Waco, Texas. The Bears didn't even play all that well in this one, they just steamrolled their way to a 21-0 second half that left Kansas looking for answers as both Michael Cummings and Dayne Crist played under center for the struggling Jayhawks in this one.
• Nov. 17, 2012 — Iowa State 51, Kansas 23: One week after nearly ending their Big 12 AND road losing streak in the form of a double-overtime loss at Texas Tech, the Jayhawks returned home for what was supposed to be a huge opportunity at a win on Senior Night in front of a fired up home crowd. Just before the game started, the Jayhawks changed out of their traditional blue uniforms and came back out wearing all black. It might as well have been all white, as in “we surrender.” Third-string ISU QB Sam Richardson, whom KU did not even have film on heading into the game, torched the Jayhawks to the tune of 23-of-27 passing for 250 yards, four touchdowns, another on the ground and an easy ISU victory. The game went down as Richardson's coming-out party and yet another huge disappointment for Kansas.
• Oct. 5, 2013 — Texas Tech 54, Kansas 16: It probably should've been looked at as a sign of trouble at the time, but there was no disputing the excitement that came after Matthew Wyman drilled a 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech (13-10) after an improbable stop by the KU defense in the game's final minutes. Rather than capitalizing on the momentum of that big kick and a 2-1 start, the Jayhawks returned to the very same field the next week and let Texas Tech have its way with them. This one was made worse by the fact that the Jayhawks raced out to a 10-0 first quarter lead and then, in a little over a half, were outscored 47-0 to set the final margin.
• Nov. 23, 2013 — Iowa State 34, Kansas 0: Behind the hard running of James Sims and the spark ignited by the play of true-freshman quarterback Montell Cozart, the Jayhawks ended their Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 home victory over West Virginia on Nov. 16. The win, in which KU thoroughly dominated, was supposed to be the springboard for a strong finish and some momentum heading into 2014. But instead, the very next week, on a bitterly cold night in Ames, Iowa, the Jayhawks were blanked by one-win Iowa State, which embarrassed the Jayhawks by running wild on an icy field.
• Nov. 22, 2014 — Oklahoma 44, Kansas 7: After nearly shocking the college football world by putting a heck of a scare into national-title-contending TCU, the Jayhawks traveled south to take on an average Oklahoma team and walked away a part of history. OU running back Samaje Perine ran over, through and around the Kansas defense all afternoon on his way to an NCAA record 427 rushing yards that came against little resistance. The Jayhawks never put up a fight in this one and appeared to miss more tackles than they made.
To be fair, during that same time frame, there have been a handful of positive responses to close calls or KU victories. And those, which have been few and far between, include: KU responding to a season-opening loss to North Dakota State in 2010 with win over Georgia Tech; KU responding to its Iowa State win in 2014 with a near-upset of TCU; KU responding to a season-opening 42-24 victory over McNeese State in 2011 with a 45-42 win over Northern Illinois the following week. Those back-to-back wins still are the only consecutive victories at Kansas in the post-Mangino era.
On the heels of last week's close call against Texas Tech and with KU headed to Oklahoma State on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff at Boone Pickens Stadium, the Jayhawks now have their next opportunity to add a game to one of the two categories above.
The Kansas University players and coaches said they sensed something a little different in the hours leading up to Saturday's loss to Texas Tech.
And, judging by the way things looked on the field, they certainly were on to something.
The winless Jayhawks and their outmanned and overmatched defense entered Saturday as a 32-point underdog against one of the nation's most potent offenses.
But instead of being steamrolled for the second week in a row, the Jayhawks battled. Led by true freshman QB Ryan Willis, the offense clicked like rarely had been seen in recent years and the defense played its heart out to keep the Red Raiders to less than half of their season scoring average.
One of the most common phrases in sports is the one that says “there are no moral victories.” But for a team like Kansas, which is undersized, understaffed and in a serious rebuilding mode, I don't think there's anything wrong with latching on to every moral victory you can find. And Saturday certainly was one, perhaps even two or three.
It's easy to look at Saturday's outcome and feel pretty encouraged. Kansas played with a lot of heart and some of the youngest, most inexperienced guys on the team looked awfully sharp and played beyond their years. But there were still a ton of mistakes — silly mistakes that might have cost KU the chance to win — and this game, perhaps better than any other to this point, illustrated exactly where this program is right now. There will be progress. It will show up at unexpected times and in unexpected places, but the talent gap and lack of quality depth means the Jayhawks are going to have to play a nearly flawless game to have a shot at a victory. Had they done that against Texas Tech, the first win of the season might have been the result. But they didn't. And now it's on to the next one, with new lessons learned and more growing pains ahead.
Three reasons to smile
1 – KU's postgame notes featured 12 different entries regarding true freshman quarterback Ryan Willis, who set freshman records for completions (35), attempts (50) and yards (330) during Saturday's loss. It was not just Willis' numbers that were impressive, though. For the second week in a row, the Bishop Miege High grad led the offense, played with a perfect blend of poise and confidence and, this time, led the offense to 20 points and a near upset. Willis has a strong arm, makes quick decisions and can put the ball wherever he needs to and right where his receivers like it. It's early in his career, but Willis definitely appears to be KU's QB of the future. And, what's more, that doesn't look or sound all that bad.
2 – This offense is a lot of fun. Offensive coordinator Rob Likens and head coach David Beaty sure have put in an entertaining and exciting offense. The Jayhawks rolled to 475 yards, put the ball in the air 50 times and did it while not completely abandoning the running game. The passes get out quickly and allow the KU play-makers to make moves in space. When the line holds up and Willis gets time to set and read, a four- or five-yard gain is almost automatic. The best part about this offense is I think we've only scratched the surface on what it can do and what these coaches want to do with it.
3 – The Jayhawks may have fixed their punting issues. It seems like a small thing, but not being able to kick the ball well and flip the field puts the Kansas defense at an even greater disadvantage on a weekly basis. Give Matthew Wyman a little more time to fine-tune his approach and I think the Jayhawks will realize they have found their punter. Wyman has a big leg, he's a heck of a competitor and he's a perfectionist. He'll work at it and only get better from here.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Wide receiver drops were a problem again. Willis completed 70 percent of his throws and that number could have been and should have been closer to 80 percent if the KU receivers had caught everything thrown to them. We're not talking about tough drops, either. We're talking about easy catches that hit wide open guys in the hands. Can't have that when you're already at a huge disadvantage in every game you play.
2 – Matthew Wyman may have saved the punt team, but there appears to be a significant issue with the kicking game. Both Wyman and Nick Bartolotta missed a pair of kicks — one was even an extra point — and KU is in no position to be worried about a 22- or 34-yard field goal should it ever find itself in a game where a field goal of that length, particularly late in a game, perhaps to tie or win, could mean the difference between a win or a loss.
3 – I guess it's always better to be safe than sorry, but in each of the past few games — and a couple of times in this one — there have been some interesting timeouts called from the KU sideline. This goes in line with some of Beaty's curious fourth-down decisions and makes you wonder if the first-year head coach still has a ways to go in the area of game management. As is the case with his young team, the only way to improve in that area is to log games and go through it.
One for the road
KU's 30-20 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday...
• Dropped the Jayhawks' all-time record to 579-604-58.
• Included 475 yards of total offense by the Jayhawks. KU's season-high was 576 against South Dakota State on Sept. 5.
• Featured the most passing yards (330) by the Jayhawks this season. Kansas last threw for more yards in a 342-yard performance against TCU in 2014.
The Jayhawks head back out on the road next weekend, when they'll look to snap their 35-game losing streak away from Lawrence with a 2:30 p.m. meeting with Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The game will end a stretch of four straight 11 a.m. games for Kansas.