The old saying surrounding Kansas football and the coach who is in charge went something like this: Find a way to win five or six games a year and they’ll build a statue for you.
This, of course, was what people said long before the decade of despair that has tested the patience of even the most loyal Kansas football fans and brought the program to near-historic lows.
Today, after KU’s latest lopsided loss to Sunflower State rival Kansas State, the saying should probably be amended: Just put a competitive and respectable product on the field and they’ll keep you around.
That’s where we’re at these days.
And second-year head coach Les Miles continues to believe that’s what the future holds for him and the Jayhawks.
“This team is going to be a good football team,” Miles said after a 55-14 loss to K-State in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon. “... This is going to make them work harder.”
Therein lies the problem, though. The issues facing this Kansas team through its 0-5 start have nothing to do with how hard the Jayhawks work.
It’s all about execution. And on Saturday, KU’s inability to execute — from the sideline to the playing field — not only hurt the Jayhawks but also helped the Wildcats.
That’s something that cannot happen for a program in KU’s position. It’s one thing to lose a game to a top-20 team. There’s no shame in that. It’s another to help them blow you out.
All of the optimism in the world isn’t going to correct that. But, right now, that appears to be all Miles and the Jayhawks have. Optimism that better days are ahead. Hope for the future. The belief that all of these young guys playing today are going to be better for it years down the road.
Time will tell if that proves true. It certainly might. But just saying it over and over doesn’t will it into existence.
At some point, if you want the fans and the community to remain supportive and buy into to your vision, there has to be something they can get behind.
Whether that’s production on the field, decent numbers on the scoreboard or the head coach standing up and saying “This ain’t good enough,” you have to give them something.
No one’s asking for Miles to flip over a table or break a white board with his fist. But something other than the same old song and dance that this is a good football team and it’s going to be even better in the very near future needs to surface.
Miles saying he's had enough is a start. Putting starters on special teams is another tangible act. Even communicating a clear and detailed plan for improvement, though still just words, qualifies as action considering the current state of the program.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of good moments on Saturday. There always are.
17-year-old freshman Jalon Daniels getting the start at quarterback and playing the full game — therein getting another opportunity to learn and lead — was a terrific sight.
Daniels really has a chance to be this team’s QB of the future, and there’s a lot to like about his game. Beyond his physical skills, Daniels has what it takes, mentally, to keep grinding through the kind of adversity he has faced and will continue to face the rest of this season.
In addition, several other young players on both sides of the ball played a significant number of snaps along with him.
And the coaching staff, perhaps prodded by injuries at the punter position, showed early in the game its willingness to set the tone with the aggressive mindset of going for it on fourth down a couple of times.
Those are all good things that can help lay the foundation for the future.
In many ways, KU may actually have had more individual talent than its opponent on Saturday. But the Wildcats have a clear and established culture. It was born under Bill Snyder, and current coach Chris Klieman has done well to maintain it while bringing his own flare to it.
Kansas doesn’t have that and may not for a long time.
More important than choosing who to start at QB or deciding what to do on fourth-and-one, building that is the biggest challenge of Miles’ job from here on out. And it will take more than optimism to construct.
We’ll see if he can do it.
For nearly three full quarters of Saturday’s 38-17 loss in Morgantown, W.Va., the Kansas football team did all that its disgruntled fan base has ever asked it to do.
Before Leddie Brown’s 87-yard touchdown run put the Mountaineers up 24-10 with 3:37 to play in the third quarter, the Jayhawks had managed to hang around.
Credit for that goes to D.J. Eliot and the KU defense, which did everything they could to keep Kansas in it, from turnovers and big hits to snapping their chin straps up and running back out there all afternoon.
But the Jayhawks got absolutely no help from their offense and therefore never really had a chance once the Mountaineers (3-1 overall, 2-1 Big 12) took the lead after gifting Kansas a 10-0 head-start to open the game.
Maybe you were surprised that the Jayhawks (0-4, 0-3) were able to hang around as long as they did. Fair.
Maybe you were even encouraged by some of the individual efforts. Good for you. Or maybe you stopped watching a long time ago. Hard to blame ya.
Either way, as the season continues to deliver disappointing results for the Jayhawks, those of us still watching continue to try to learn about this team.
Most of it leads to questions for which there are just no answers.
Here’s what we learned this week.
• Miles Kendrick is not the solution at quarterback. The junior who coaches and teammates laud as a great leader, made his first start of the season and got a full game to show what he could do. The KU offense responded with one of its worst showings of the past two seasons. The blame for that does not fall entirely on Miles. Not by a long shot. But this team needs a quarterback that can spark something when there’s absolutely nothing there. When freshman Jalon Daniels is back from injury, the job should be his. Until then, if needed, Thomas MacVittie can have one more chance.
• KU’s coaching staff and players had two weeks to figure out some kind of fix or fancy new approach for the offensive line and came up with nothing. Guys are trying. Coaches are working. They just do not have the horses. Nothing but time will change that. Moving the pieces around won’t help, and shoddy O-line play means no shot on Saturdays.
• Because of those first two realities, there really is very little hope for Pooka Williams Jr., this season. Give him the ball on every play or don’t. Put him in space or don’t. Let him return kicks or don’t. It doesn’t look like it’s going to matter. Even Williams’ lone highlight on Saturday — a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the final two minutes — came long after the damage had been done. Outside of that, Williams touched the ball 14 times and gained 28 yards.
In his postgame meeting with the media, acting head coach Joshua Eargle — a bundle of positive energy if ever there was one — talked a lot about how close Kansas was in a lot of areas.
That’s all well and good, but at some point the Jayhawks either have to stop doing the little things that are hurting them or admit that the things plaguing this program are bigger.
Even with that positive spin to another rough Saturday, Eargle correctly noted that until the Jayhawks get things down in practice and carry that over to game days, it’s going to take time to get over the hump.
“You can play as hard as you want to, and you can want it really, really bad,” he said. “But it’s going to come down to execution.”
And it’s not going to get any easier to execute in the next month. Next week, the Jayhawks are slated to play at No. 22 Kansas State and they follow that up with a home matchup with No. 20 Iowa State, a road trip to unranked Oklahoma and a home game against unranked Texas in three of the four weeks that follow.
It's been four days since Kansas football coach Les Miles announced he had tested positive for COVID-19, but the second-year KU coach's spirits appear to be in good shape.
Miles shared as much on Sunday in a short video posted to Twitter that updated his condition.
"I am quarantined in my house, my health's pretty good, so I'm very thankful for that," Miles said in the 35-second video.
The plan at the time of KU's announcement about Miles' positive test was for him to be back with the team this coming Saturday when the Jayhawks travel to West Virginia for an 11 a.m. kickoff on Saturday in Morgantown.
There has been no update about whether that's still the plan or if it's even possible, but Miles, who said he has been conducting his business through Zoom meetings since isolating in his Lawrence home, said he was eager to get back to his team and his coaching staff.
Although Miles has been able to meet with his staff via Zoom, he will not do so with the media on Monday in his normal weekly press conference time slot.
Instead, four KU assistant coaches will be made available to the media for brief interviews Monday morning. They include offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon, recruiting coordinator Joshua Eargle, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and special teams coordinator Jonathan Wallace.
Dating back to his days at LSU, it has been a long-standing practice of Miles' teams that coordinators do not speak with the media during the season. But the chance to talk with a few of them on Monday should shed some light on KU's struggles to open the season.
Fresh off of their second bye week of the 10-game season, the Jayhawks sit at 0-3 overall and 0-2 in Big 12 play, with a 50-game conference road losing streak still in tact.
Be sure to check back with KUsports.com throughout the day on Monday for the latest from KU's coordinators and a handful of players who are slated to meet with the media early Monday afternoon.
Despite the fact that Kansas football coach Les Miles announced Thursday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, the plan, at least as of today, is for him to coach the 0-3 Jayhawks in their next game at West Virginia on Sept. 17.
However, considering that we know about as much about COVID-19 as we do the current KU quarterback situation, you have to at least consider that Miles might not be able to make that trip after the Jayhawks’ bye week this weekend.
His condition could worsen. He could still be positive when the Jayhawks take their tests on the Friday before the WVU game (Oct. 16), therein making him unable to get on the plane to leave Kansas. Other roadblocks to a return could surface, as well.
So who would take the reins as KU’s interim head coach if Miles were to miss it?
There are really only two answers — offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon and wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Emmett Jones.
Those two, along with first-year tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Joshua Eargle, are the only members of Miles’ staff with head coaching experience.
Dearmon’s came at his alma mater, Bethel College, and, before that, at B.C. Rain High in Alabama. And Jones was a head coach in the wild world of Texas high school football before joining the college ranks.
Coordinators typically get the first look when programs go searching for an interim coach because they’re already sort of serving as the head coach for one half of the team. But current KU defensive coordinator, D.J. Eliot, despite his 20 years of experience in major college football, has never held the position of head coach at any level, and it’s probably best to let him continue to focus his efforts on getting the KU D up to speed.
In addition to having called the shots at the top before, Dearmon and Jones carry with them the personalities required to lead a team in an emergency situation.
The fact that the two work together to map out KU’s offensive game plans each week would make it even easier to bump one of them up for as long as Miles is sidelined. One could fulfill the head coaching duties, from practices and procedures to meetings and strategies, and the other could remain locked in on his regular role on offense, carrying a little more weight than normal to get through it.
Both would continue to communicate with each other throughout the week, and neither would get much sleep.
If Miles has to miss KU’s next game, one assistant technically would be put in charge. But the reality here is that everyone on the coaching staff would have to step up to handle his absence.
If Dearmon or Jones is running things at the top, both would need additional help from Eargle, offensive line coach Luke Meadows and running backs coach Jonathan Wallace to ensure that things continue to get done in the offensive meeting rooms, during film sessions and on the practice field. Because that’s where the work will really need to get done.
While it might be one heck of an adrenaline rush on Saturday afternoon in Morgantown to have the headset and call the shots, running things in Miles’ absence on game day would probably be the easiest part of filling in.
So which is the better option between the two, Dearmon or Jones? It probably does not matter much, but I would think the answer would be tied to whether or not KU believes one of them could one day be Miles’ successor.
Last season, when the KU offense experienced a major jump in production after Dearmon took over as OC, the talk among the KU fan base was that Dearmon was well on his way to becoming KU’s head coach in waiting.
I haven’t heard anything concrete on that from the KU administration, but if that’s even in the backs of their minds, why not see how Dearmon handles a week as the head honcho?
It might not reveal much. But it could show you a lot.
As for Jones, KU stepped up in the offseason to make sure he stayed in Lawrence, upping his pay and giving him a new title.
In addition to his reputation as KU’s top recruiter, Jones is a master motivator and seems to be universally liked. Those traits can only help you in an interim head coaching position. Just think back to how much the players stepped up while playing for Clint Bowen in 2014.
Because KU Athletic Director Jeff Long said in a statement on Thursday that the plan is for Miles to be back in action by Oct. 17, all of this could wind up being useless information.
There’s one problem, though. Long said in the statement that as long as Miles did not “develop symptoms or have a fever,” they anticipated having him for the WVU game. However, on Wednesday night, during his “Hawk Talk” radio show, Miles said on the air that he had a cold. That might not equate to developing symptoms, but it definitely could.
Either way, given the fact that KU’s next game is just nine days away, it doesn’t hurt anything to start preparing for the very real possibility that Miles might not be there.
In a year when eliminating bowl games would be not only justifiable but also welcomed, the NCAA now sits on the brink of watering them down even further.
The NCAA’s Division I Football Oversight Committee on Thursday recommended waiving the requirements for bowl eligibility during the 2020 college football season.
Nothing will become official until the sport’s Division I Council, which meets in mid-October, approves the plan to eliminate the six-win threshold that typically is used to determine which teams play in a bowl game.
But the move is expected to pass, and if it becomes a reality, it could set up the potential for a bunch of three- and four-win teams to go bowling.
Heck, you could be looking at a winless team in a bowl game in 2020, provided that program can make enough of a case that selecting its squad will help television ratings and ticket sales.
Ugh. Talk about a missed opportunity.
I think we can all agree that there are too many bowl games these days. Following the 2019 season, a whopping 82 teams participated in 41 bowl games. That’s better than 60% of the Division I programs out there and that’s a far cry from the 50 teams that appeared in bowl games in 2000.
And while I understand that the recommendation is for the 2020 season only, it sure seems like the powers that be could have used the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the season to pull back a little instead of paving the way for programs to hoist bowl banners who won’t have earned them.
I have no idea yet what this might mean for the Kansas football program. But given the fact that the Jayhawks have not played in a bowl game in 12 years, I get the feeling that the coaches and administration would look long and hard at the opportunity to get into a bowl game by whatever means necessary if that’s on the table.
Think of the marketing possibilities there and what just saying you’ve been in a bowl game recently could do for recruiting.
Besides, bowl prep almost always means a couple of extra weeks of practice and KU certainly can use all the reps it can get right now as it attempts to climb back to relevance. Especially with the Jayhawks missing out on spring football this year.
But there’s just something a little tacky about a team like Kansas playing in a bowl game after a one- or two-win season. Is that really how anybody wants KU’s latest bowl drought to end?
We’re getting ahead of ourselves a little there. For all we know, KU could still win a few games this season, therein making this whole concept a little easier to stomach. I mean, if the Jayhawks somehow found a way to get to 4-6, they’d probably deserve a bowl berth at that point.
But let’s be real. The Jayhawks haven’t won more than three games in a season or more than one game in Big 12 play in more than a decade. And that’s with two extra cracks at it each year compared to the 10 games they’ll (likely/maybe/hopefully) get this year.
Bowl games aren’t what they used to be, even if they remain one of the biggest markers of success at most schools from year to year.
Attendance is down, ratings are down, players with promising NFL futures are starting to sit them out and there just isn’t enough juice associated with the games anymore.
Pulling back and limiting the number of teams playing in a bowl game this year could have been the start of the climb back to the days where qualifying for a bowl game was something special.
Instead, it appears we’re headed for more of the same from the ho-hum postseason exhibition games, only this time a whole bunch of them will feature asterisks in the history books, too.
Putting a consistently competitive product on the field continues to be the preferred scale of progress for the University of Kansas football program.
And while that means week-to-week improvement in the eyes of head coach Les Miles, his bosses are looking at it from a slightly larger perspective.
“We need to see improvement and see development and see our program moving forward,” KU Athletic Director Jeff Long told the Journal-World when asked this summer, before the season began, how he would evaluate KU’s second season under Miles. “I think most people in football who watch the games intently will say that we improved last year. We competed more and were in many more games than we maybe have been in the past.”
One game into 2020, and with a bye week already behind them, the Jayhawks are off to a slow start.
With nothing but Big 12 games remaining on the schedule and KU almost certain to play as an underdog in its nine remaining games, it’s impossible to envision KU surpassing or even matching last year’s win total. So that will not be the focus.
However, even with his team falling to Coastal Carolina in its season opener two weeks ago, Miles has not abandoned the idea of judging his team’s growth this season by the final scores of KU’s 10 games.
“We want to continue to improve,” Miles said during Monday’s video news conference ahead of Saturday’s Big 12 opener at Baylor. “We want to take the team that we have now and make them better. But I don’t know that I’ve set any markers for improvement. I can tell you that we want to win. And I can tell you that this team will play hard and work to win.”
In order to do that, the Jayhawks have to perform better. Miles knows that. And on Monday he pointed to his team’s need to become more aggressive and more physical. Progress in both areas is tied directly to mindset.
But improvement, by Kansas standards, is not limited to KU committing fewer penalties from one week to the next or delivering better first-half production on offense. It’s also about the big picture. Success in the first area often naturally leads to success in the second. But none of it is automatic in Lawrence.
Few people associated with the program feel that more than Long, who said the Year 2 evaluation would be rooted in improvement but that improvement did not necessarily mean increasing the team’s win total.
Steps forward for the long-suffering program continue to be tied to cultural changes, recruiting victories and momentum on and off the field.
“We’ll be a program that not only recruits its way out of our situation but also develops its way out of our situation,” Long said. “We are a program that is continuing to recruit well. Those recruits are obviously young.”
And they still will be for the next couple of seasons, which is both good and bad news. Twenty of the 42 players listed on KU’s two-deep offensive and defensive depth chart this week are freshmen or sophomores. Thirteen of them are freshmen.
The positive there is those young guys Long spoke of are getting valuable experience. The negative is that they’re already better than a bunch of KU’s upperclassmen.
So grading this team, which is still very much a work in progress, has to be done with that in mind.
That’s where the development part comes into play. And if Miles and his coaching staff can pair strong player development with continued success on the recruiting trail, Kansas may have something.
The word “if” is the most important one in the previous sentence, and it’s still too early to predict how this stretch of Kansas football will play out.
Given all of the chaos created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a tough year to effectively evaluate anything or anyone.
But Kansas is not alone in dealing with those issues. So expecting Miles and company to find a way to take a couple of steps forward is both fair and necessary for the betterment of the program as a whole.
As the Kansas football team puts its bye week in the past and moves into game week for its Big 12 opener at Baylor, one question looms large: Will there even be a game this Saturday?
KU is in fact scheduled to face Baylor at 6:30 p.m. at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas, in what will be the Bears’ third attempt at a season opener in 2020.
But the program’s own issues with the COVID-19 virus cost them last week’s game with Houston, which was scheduled just six days prior, and came after the postponement of Baylor’s original season opener against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 12 that was called off because of a rise in COVID-19 cases within the La. Tech program.
Baylor’s positive COVID-19 results hit a particular, undisclosed position hard and undercut the Bears’ ability to hit the Big 12’s minimum threshold for either offensive linemen (7), interior defensive linemen (4) or quarterback (1), which were announced by the conference before the start of the season.
SI.com’s Ross Dellenger tweeted Friday that the Bears’ issues came on the offensive line.
So here the Bears sit, still waiting to play their first game under first-year head coach Dave Aranda, and they’ll enter the week unsure of whether this will be the week it happens.
Speaking with SicEm365 Radio last Friday, Baylor Athletic Director Mack Rhoades made it clear what the Bears were facing.
“Within this particular position group, we can’t take on any more water,” Rhoades said. “We’ll get some young men back before the Kansas game. Not a week before, not five days before, but shortly before that could be ready. So we’re hopeful.”
As of Friday, Rhoades told SicEm365 that he had not yet had a conversation with KU AD Jeff Long but added that he planned to do that, perhaps over the weekend.
Regardless of what’s discussed when the two talk or talked — and most likely it was a non-update from Rhoades and preliminary discussions about potential contingency plans — the bottom line is that this will be a numbers game and likely will linger throughout the week.
If the Bears have enough players, including walk-ons, to suit up following Friday’s round of testing, the game will be played. If they don’t, it likely won’t and Baylor will move into October still hoping to play its first game of the 2020 season.
With that said, Rhoades said on Friday that he had thought Saturday’s game could be played.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to play the game,” he said.
Rhoades noted the team’s issues were “a combination” of both positive test results and contact tracing issues and that Baylor was following CDC and local health guidelines for how to handle the situation.
“It’s what all of us within the Big 12 are faced with,” he said. “That’s just something that we’re going to have to continue to deal with as we move forward. … Somehow, some way we’ll come out of this better than we were before.”
The initial odds released in Las Vegas on Sunday pegged the Bears as 18.5-point favorites over the Jayhawks.
Twenty-three points and 367 yards, including just a field goal by halftime, was not exactly the offensive explosion Kansas football fans were expecting to see in the debut game of Offensive Coordinator Brent Dearmon’s first full season in charge of the Jayhawks’ offense.
But as unimaginative and ho-hum as the KU offense looked for much of the game on Saturday night, there were a couple of reasons why.
The reasons are not excuses, which you can come with for days. Instead, we’re talking about actual factors that had an impact on the offense’s slow and sluggish night. Here are a few of them.
• No Stephon Robinson – We still don’t know the reason for Robinson not playing in this one, and we may never. But not having him out there made things harder. The senior who was one of the Jayhawks’ most dangerous and reliable threats in the passing game in 2020 definitely would have made impact somewhere on the field had he been in uniform instead of street clothes. Heck, on the first drive alone, it almost certainly would have been Robinson on the field instead of freshman Lawrence Arnold, who allowed a perfectly throw ball from Thomas MacVittie to slip through his hands and into the arms of a Coastal Carolina defender, thus jumpstarting the early onslaught of KU miscues and CCU points.
• That 21-0 hole – Speaking of that early onslaught, Coastal Carolina’s ability to jump out to a 21-0 lead by the 11-minute mark of the second quarter had to impact that way KU’s offense called this one. Sure, there was still plenty of time to settle in and execute, but staring into a 21-0 hole — that eventually grew to 28-0 — does not exactly create a sense of calm for the players or the coaches. KU’s opening drive looked promising and featured a good run/pass blend. But once the deficit grew to three scores, the Jayhawks surely had to adjust their game plan from what they had envisioned throughout August. I get it. If you don't want to play from 21 points behind, don't get down 21 points in the first place. But the offense can only control so much of that, and that specific situation certainly contributed to what they called.
• Neither MacVittie & nor Miles Kendrick is as talented as Carter Stanley – No one knew at this point last year, of course, just how good of a season Stanley was going to have. But it seems a little more certain that neither MacVittie nor Kendrick is in line for that type of season in 2020. And while that’s obviously significant in terms of what it means for the calls Dearmon can make, it also is important to remember when evaluating what happens at the QB position from here. As much as it would be nice to see KU pick one guy and go with him, the fact that the coaches did not do that in Week 1 tells you all you need to know about their confidence in either quarterback.
• The O-line struggled mightily – MacVittie or Kendrick, Pooka Williams or Velton Gardner — it often did not matter who was in the game at either position, as the Coastal Carolina defensive line physically won at the point of attack far too often for the Jayhawks to find any real rhythm or comfort on offense. That was to be expected to some degree, given the fact that KU's O-line featured a few new faces from a year ago. But it also has to get better, and fast, if the Jayhawks hope to enjoy the kind of offensive season that their talented group of weapons at the skill positions could deliver.
• Dearmon’s still relatively new in his role – Sure he has experience calling plays at lower levels and also possesses extensive knowledge about how to coach football and call offenses, but he’s still doing it all at Kansas — and under Les Miles — for the first time. Maybe that means Miles still has some say in how the offense runs. Maybe that means Dearmon still needs a few weeks with this particular group to find his footing. Remember, the Jayhawks, like the rest of college football, got no spring practices and had a limited and spotty preseason camp before kicking things off for real. The hype surrounding Dearmon and his impact on the program has certainly created the expectation for the Jayhawks to be a juggernaut on offense. And they might become that in time. But the personnel is still too limited and Dearmon is still a little too green for Kansas fans to expect their team to light up the scoreboard week in and week out with consistency.
Growing pains are real, and the Jayhawks were always going to experience some of them in the season opener. Especially against a Coastal Carolina team that returned 75% of its production from 2019 and a talented defense.
It’s totally fair to expect more and better, and it’s also fair to criticize the effort that the Jayhawks put forth on Saturday night.
But let’s see how things play out over the next few weeks before making any final judgements about the 2020 season.
Remember, Stanley completed just 13 passes for 107 yards while also tossing two interceptions against these guys a year ago. He followed that up by passing for at least 230 yards and 3 TDs in five of his next six games.
The Jayhawks don’t have Stanley anymore. But they do still have Dearmon. Now’s when he earns his money.
Saturday’s 38-23 loss to Coastal Carolina the latest in a long line of setbacks just like it for Kansas football
One did not need to dissect the scene too intensely to see just how tough Saturday’s 38-23 loss to Coastal Carolina was on the Kansas Jayhawks.
It sucked. It stung. And there was no doubting that these guys saw the 2020 season opener playing out differently than it did.
But there was a strange sense of calm about the way they handled it.
Well versed in dealing with disappointing outcomes, the four players who talked with the media following the season-opening loss early Sunday morning wasted no time talking about looking in the mirror, watching the film, getting back to work and putting their latest flop in the past.
And, really, what else can any of them do?
What’s done is done, and as much as fans might enjoy seeing these guys rage or rant and rave about their performance, that wouldn’t do anything to change the outcome.
Still, you can’t help but wonder how devastating of a blow this latest loss was for the big picture of the program.
When it comes to Kansas football, just about everything is graded on some kind of a curve. Even a lot of the victories come with a disclaimer or explanation attached.
So it’s not as if this latest loss — No. 10 of the Les Miles era and No. 100 since Mark Mangino was sent packing — is really all that different from any of the others. It’s just the most recent, so it no doubt feels that way.
Some fans on Twitter talked about Saturday’s first half and the 28-0 hole that KU fell into as being one of the true low points of the past five years. And far be it from me to argue with them.
But there have been so many low points during the past 11 seasons that I have stopped ranking them or even remembering them.
For perspective, you have to go back and add up parts of the previous 17 seasons, starting with Mangino’s last year (2009), to get to 100 losses for the program prior to this recent 11-season stretch. That’s approaching twice as long. And that has to leave anyone paying attention wondering when — or even if — this thing is ever going to turn.
Every time the program bottoms out, it seems to find a new way to dig just a little deeper. And each time that happens, fans everywhere find themselves asking the million-dollar question — how?
Miles was asked during his postgame session with the media if he thought Saturday’s outcome would slow down the turnaround he’s hoping to execute at KU.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “First of all, I never want to fix a team that has lost games. I would much rather fix teams that have won games. But I think we have a team that’s committed to doing things for the upperclassmen that are significant. I like the commitment the team has together. That’ll make a difference.”
It might. And it might not.
Recent history shows it’s probably the latter.
But Miles still believes in this team. This team still believes in Miles. And as long as that holds true, they’ll all likely stand in there and keep fighting.
After all, how else can they handle it?
“I think you just take it day by day,” said junior quarterback Miles Kendrick who finished Saturday’s game 15-of-24 for 156 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. “You’ve got to hit the film room and see where we need to get better. You’ve got to look in the mirror. And we’ve got to come out in practice and take steps forward. We can't do what we did in the past... We’ve got to get better and move forward.”
Asked why he thought this group could be the one that does that, Kendrick, like his head coach so often does, pointed to the character of the players in the Kansas locker room.
“I think it's a close-knit group,” he said. “I think everybody trusts one another. I think everybody has a pretty good relationship with one another. We trust the coaches. We trust the whole building to put us in a better position each week to move forward.”
Time will tell if that happens. It certainly did not in the season opener.
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.