The mystery that is Turner Gill’s Kansas University football team goes public for the first time at 6:10 p.m. today, so it’s last-chance time to guess how this team will perform on offense and defense.
So here goes, unit-by-unit:
Offensive line: Has the most experience of any group, but the offseason was not without its unsettling developments.
Jeff Spikes’ knee injury sidelined him for the season. Spikes might not have started, but would have contributed. Injuries are unavoidable, conditioning problems are not. Enter Jeremiah Hatch. Given the instant success he had at KU at both tackle and center, Hatch projected as a player who by now would be in consideration for All-Big 12 honors at center. Instead, he’s a second-string blocker. He’s grown too heavy, which restricts his mobility. It raises the question of whether Hatch could have done a better job of staying in playing shape under the tutelage of former strength coach Chris Dawson, now at Kansas State. Dawson’s program demanded more running than that of his replacement, John Williams. It will be interesting to track which state school will fare better in the fourth quarter.
Receivers: Since Chuck Long’s offense is expected to use the tight end as a receiver more than Ed Warinner’s, we’ll include junior Tim Biere in this group. Biere has NFL potential and will get a chance to show off a terrific ability to adjust to the ball and a sure pair of hands. Slot receivers Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears have big-play potential, as does red-shirt freshman wideout Chris Omigie. Senior Johnathan Wilson has shown flashes in the past and needs to deliver with more consistency. Bradley McDougald could lead the team in reception yardage.
Running backs: Talented freshmen James Sims and Brandon Bourbon have been shielded from the press while making adjustments to life as college student-athletes, so they remain the biggest mysteries. Based on teammates’ takes, Sims is shiftier, Bourbon faster. Trying to guess who will lead this team in rushing makes for an interesting exercise. My guesses, in order: 1. Sims, 2. Kale Pick, 3. Angus Quigley, 4. Deshaun Sands, 5. Bourbon.
Quarterback: Since naming Pick as the starter, KU’s coaches have gone out of their way to say Jordan Webb remains in the mix, which creates suspicion, right or wrong, they aren’t completely sold on Pick. He certainly presents interesting options, such as running the option, for example.
Defensive Line: Since James McClinton exhausted his eligibility, KU hasn’t had an explosive D-tackle capable of collapsing the pocket. If undersized Patrick Dorsey falls short, it certainly won’t be for lack of effort. He brings an aggressive spirit to the line.
Linebackers: Look for a huge year from middle linebacker Justin Springer, who was coming on big-time as a sophomore before suffering a serious knee injury.
Secondary: Departed coach Mark Mangino had way too quick a trigger with cornerbacks, which didn’t help their confidence, such a key ingredient for the difficult position. More confidence should translate to better performance.
What does it all mean? A 4-8 season, give or take.