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My picks for the 2014 KU football season

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Kansas head coach Charlies Weis watches warmups from a golf cart during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas head coach Charlies Weis watches warmups from a golf cart during Fan Appreciation Day, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

I like this Kansas football team. And I'm not afraid to say it.

I like that it's made up of tough, talented, hungry football players who have a good blend of experience and disappointment driving them, and that, after two seasons of disappointment and misery, it's a team that truly believes the 2014 season will be different than anything we've seen in the past five seasons.

I happen to agree. And throughout the next few scrolls through cyberspace I'll explain why.

Despite its upgrades at several key positions and all that fire to find a way to win, KU is facing another ultra-tough schedule. That makes it hard to see hope on the horizon, but also lends itself to an automatic dose of confidence should things go well early for the Jayhawks.

That's what I'm banking on, and that's why I'm picking the Jayhawks to become bowl eligible and finish the regular season with a 6-6 record.

I could have said four wins to avoid embarrassment. Or I could have gone with the, well-they've-been-so-bad-these-past-few-years approach and picked two or three victories. But doing so would have caused me to go against what I think and I'm not in the habit of doing that. For better or worse, I always jump on here and try to tell you what I think. Sometimes it's flat wrong and my take or optimism is misguided. Other times, it's right and, instead of celebrating that, I simply look at it as a job well done.

In the end, though, it doesn't really matter whether I'm wrong or right. All that matters is that I stay on top of the beat and bring you guys the best information I can about the teams you pull for. The prediction stuff — both yours and mine — is just for fun.

All summer, I was asked, almost daily, how many games KU would win. All summer, I said they'd be better. Any time I did, the automatic question that followed was this: Where are the wins going to come from? Well, here's one scenario and I'm fully aware that it could be woefully wrong. Again, I'm OK with that.

But, crazy or not, I think if you squint hard enough you can see how six wins could be possible.

Here's a look:

• Sept. 6 vs. Southeast Missouri State — Win — I think KU rolls in its opener and sets the stage for a season of good things to come. Montell Cozart gets the offense going and they continue to take steps forward both in terms of confidence and production each week. Be sure to check out our Pick-6 blog for my exact score as well as the predictions of the rest of our staff. (1-0)

• Sept. 13 at Duke — Win — Duke's a good team that had a great season a year ago and offers a stiff challenge for the Jayhawks or any team it faces this year. But this is not 2013 and the Blue Devils will not sneak up on anybody this time around, least of all Kansas. This, to me, is the make-or-break game of the schedule for KU. If they can go win this one — and I can't see any reason why they can't; not won't but can't — then confidence soars and they return home with a chance to improve to 3-0 and really get some momentum going. (2-0)

• Sept. 20 vs. Central Michigan — Win — This is another quality team and the Jayhawks will have to do much more than just show up. But buoyed by the sudden-and-surprising support of the home crowd and their 2-0 start, I've got KU handling CMU to improve to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 and just the sixth time since 1993. (3-0)

• Sept. 27 vs. Texas — Win — It might sound crazy, but if you remember the last time the Jayhawks got the Longhorns at home, they took them down to the wire and should have won. This KU team is better than that version and I'm not sure any of us knows what Texas is yet. The time to play UT is early, while first-year coach Charlie Strong is still settling in. KU gets Strong at home for his first ever Big 12 game and, if the Jayhawks really are 3-0 at that point, this town will be buzzing and I think the Jayhawks will make the Big 12 debut miserable for someone else for a change. (4-0)

• Oct. 4 at West Virginia — Loss — The Mountaineers sure held their own against Alabama during the opening week of the college football season and they certainly won't be surprised by Kansas or Cozart this year. In fact, it's a safe bet that WVU will be gunning for payback for last year's 31-19 loss to the Jayhawks in Lawrence. With the game in Morgantown this year, I think they'll get it. (4-1)

• Oct. 11 vs. Oklahoma State — Loss — Oklahoma State is young and there's not a lot of known commodities on the roster as things stand today. That could change in time and, with quarterback J.W. Walsh running the show, I think the Cowboys will rise up around him and be a tough out for anybody this season. It certainly looked that way in their opener as they hung right there with Florida State and nearly knocked off the nation's No. 1 team. (4-2)

• Oct. 18 at Texas Tech — Loss — After a 4-0 start, you have to figure that KU will come back down to Earth and things will start to even out a little bit. That's what this game is and I give the nod to the Red Raiders simply because they'll be playing at home. If you don't like the UT pick earlier, this could be a decent game to sub in as a victory because I can't see the Jayhawks being intimidated to go play in Lubbock. (4-3)

• Oct. 25 — BYE —

• Nov. 1 at Baylor — Loss — The week off helps but not enough, as the Jayhawks go down to Baylor's new home stadium and experience first-hand why BU coach Art Briles thinks it's as good an environment as any in the nation. The Bears are crazy talented, still, and they'll be in the Big 12 race to the end. KU never has fared that well in Waco and it doesn't look like this is the year that's going to change (4-4)

• Nov. 8 vs. Iowa State — Win — Every year, people say the Jayhawks could or even should beat the Cyclones yet every season for the past four years, the Cyclones have walked away from this match-up with a victory. That streak ends at four, as the Jayhawks and all of those seniors who are still eyeing their first bowl berth, find a way to put a complete game together against ISU and ride their defense to victory. (5-4)

• Nov. 15 vs. TCU — Win — With three cracks at becoming bowl eligible remaining, the Jayhawks don't leave anything to chance or drama and pick up win No. 6 at home on senior day in convincing fashion. Worse KU teams have been right there with TCU since the Horned Frogs joined the Big 12 and this is the season they finally kick the door in and come away with the sweetest football victory Lawrence has seen since the 2008 Orange Bowl. (6-4)

• Nov. 22 at Oklahoma — Loss — The Sooners are damn good and they're even tougher at home. If KU does in fact go into Norman on the heels of gaining a sixth win and bowl eligibility, expect a letdown against a team that outmans Kansas and is still right there in the thick of the national title hunt. (6-5)

• Nov. 29 at Kansas State — Loss — The talent gap has started to close and the rivalry has started to heat up oh so slightly, but the Wildcats still have Bill Snyder and Bill Snyder still refuses to lose to Kansas. I think this could be the best Sunflower Showdown game we've seen in a while, but K-State prevails in a wild one. (6-6).

So there it is. Call me crazy. I'm fine with that. But I also believe that this team and this season really can be different. It's also worth noting that I won't be shocked for a second if it's not.

I made these picks by counting on a few things happening for the Jayhawks this fall: I think quarterback Montell Cozart will be good; I think the players around him will be better than that; I think the defense again will be solid and, more importantly, on the field less; and I think first-year offensive coordinator John Reagan is both sharp enough to call games that put KU in position to succeed and skilled enough to run an offense that masks KU's biggest question mark and that's the offensive line.

If any one of those things breaks down, the Jayhawks and these picks are in trouble. But if all of those factors hold up and KU stays healthy, I don't think it's crazy to say that six wins is within reach.

After all, stranger things have happened.

“If you would have asked me before the 2007 season if I thought we were going to be 12-1 and going to the Orange Bowl, that would have been a tough prediction,” Reagan said earlier this week. “I do think this – I think the first time I talked to Coach Weis about the job and the first time I talked to (DC) Clint (Bowen) about it when the opportunity came up, I think the foundation was set and I think that is what is important. I think our players are willing to work hard and put in the time, they believe in the direction we are headed. When you have that you at least have what you need to get started and hopefully we are going to be a better football team because of that.”

Time will tell. I'm just glad it's here so we can find out.

Enjoy the season. Win, lose or draw, I do think this will be one of the more fun KU football seasons we've seen in a while.

Oh, and in case you haven't seen it yet, check out our debut episode of "KU Sports Extra," our new weekly video show with Tom Keegan and me talking all things KU with a few other wrinkles thrown in.

http://www2.kusports.com/videos/2014/sep/05/35967/?c=2435798

Comments

Jeremy D. Morris 8 years, 3 months ago

I have the same picks at you Matt, but I swapped UT and TTU.

Matt Tait 8 years, 3 months ago

Probably sensible. 4-0 seems a little crazy to predict, but if they can get those non-conference games, I think that UT game becomes very winnable.

Won't mean much without a good showing tomorrow night, though. Should be interesting to follow. Enjoy!

Jay Beakum 8 years, 3 months ago

I think we’ll have a good crack at West Virginia. They played tough against Alabama, but I also think Alabama didn’t play well at all, and they’ve been notoriously bad against spread offenses. They’re trying to replace AJ McCarron and some other key positions too. I think they won that game on raw talent alone. It simply wasn’t the Alabama your used to seeing.

West Virginia didn’t improve that much over a summer.

Chris Bailey 8 years, 3 months ago

This is the same song different season. Let's win game 1. Then see how it goes from there. These predictions just hold no credibility. I know it's your job to be positive. It could happen. I hope it does but judging by the past 4 off seasons of hope I'm gonna continue to inhale and exhale.

Matt Tait 8 years, 3 months ago

Two things...

It's not the same song. I haven't picked KU to be bowl eligible since 2009 or 2010. Last year I picked 4 wins. So there's that first.

Second, it's not my job to be positive. It's my job to cover the team, good, bad or indifferent. This prediction blog (and, really, most of my blogs) is opinion-based and I happen to think this team has a shot. It's not to fire them up. And it's not to fire the fans up. It's because that's what I think could happen. If it doesn't, I'll wear it. If it does, it'll be a fun season to cover.

Nothing more, nothing less. Thanks for checking it out and enjoy the season.

Chris Bailey 8 years, 3 months ago

Ah Matt. Didn't intend to upset you. I just wanna see them on the field. Seeing isn't believing, believing is seeing. I enjoy reading KU sports and especially this time of year. I'm sitting here with butterflies awaiting the start. I hope you're wrong. I hope we win 8. I just can't commit to another prediction. That's your job being close to the program. You get to stick your neck out. But for the record even Keegan was surprised by your pic. If it happens you'll see a bunch of very happy hawk fans. It's possible with the new OC and upgrades at WR. Hopefully Cozart is as good as advertised. Thanks Matt. ROCK CHALK.

Matt Tait 8 years, 3 months ago

Wasn't upset at all... Just wanted to make sure you (and everyone else) knew that my job isn't to be positive. I'm a positive person by nature, so I lean that way a lot, with everything I cover. But it's not my job to do so.

Thanks for the clarification, though, and know that I wasn't upset in the least.

Enjoy the weekend.

David Meredith 8 years, 3 months ago

They need to get the home wins against SEMO, Central Michigan, ISU, and TCU, which would make 4 wins.... the rest will be difficult. KU does have a history of playing Texas pretty well at home.... and Duke maybe as well... if they look a lot better and wind up around 5 wins, I would be happy.

David A. Smith 8 years, 3 months ago

If they're undefeated heading to Morgantown, I think they beat the Mountaineers. And, I think the upset special may very well be OSU.

Curtis Lesher 8 years, 3 months ago

Matt, Since SEMO is an FCS team I don't think a win against them counts for bowl eligibility? If it doesn't then they need to win 7 to go to a bowl. Can you verify?

Matt Tait 8 years, 3 months ago

Teams can count one such win toward bowl eligibility every four years and, well, you know the rest....

Curtis Lesher 8 years, 3 months ago

Matt, I found my answer. The rules changed a year or two ago that allow one FCS win.

Mark Lindrud 8 years, 3 months ago

If we go 2-1 in non conference I think a bowl game will be nearly impossible. 4 wins in conference will be a tough hall. I am being realistic with some hope and saying a 5 win season. Anything else will be icing.

We need to beat either Texas or West Virginia so we can garner some conference momentum. I agree with Iowa State and TCU being winnable so we should win one of those. If we can beat Iowa State then the momentum can carry to beat TCU. I don't see us beating OU or KSU at the moment, but it is a long season and if either team sustains injuries and we happen to be a game away from bowl eligibility or have 6 wins at that point, then crazier things have happened. Ideally they are both losses though so we need to have 6 wins by then. I am not drinking the Kool-Aid, just looking at what it's. Reality is we are a 4-5 win team this year. We will need some breaks to go our way. Let's get the first game here finally and see what we are made of.

Kevin Crook 8 years, 3 months ago

Three wins is a stretch. A road win at Duke might be impossible. Central Michigan is always tough. We'll see who Iowa St is today when KSU comes to town. Iowa State at home is KU's only real opportunity for a conference win unless someone comes in to Lawrence and completely lays an egg expecting an easy win. Of course Iowa State thumped KU last year, so I'm not real sure why there is optimism that KU could beat them this year.

Jim Stauffer 8 years, 3 months ago

Matt, I have the same record as you picked, but I have WVU in place of Texas. I believe we can run the ball against WVU better than 'Bama did in the opener.

Nick Cole 8 years, 2 months ago

Run the ball? With what running backs?

John Myers 8 years, 2 months ago

Hey Matt - watching the ISU/KSU game? Looks like the ISU win may not be as much of a lock as we would have hoped. Either that, or maybe beating KSU is a possibility.

Doug Cramer 8 years, 2 months ago

Matt - you're gonna be one disappointed sports writer by the end of the season.

But I have to commend you for writing what you feel or think.

This team goes 3-9...possibly 2-10 if we don't pick up a Big 12 game...and no that game won't be against Iowa State.

Matt Tait 8 years, 2 months ago

No disappointment. Just part of the job. I'm not a genius and I don't know everything, but, you're right, I do write what I think when I do those types of blogs.

The rest of the time, I just cover what happens and let the players, coaches and results tell the story.

Regardless of what happens — good or bad — I feel very fortunate to get paid to watch, write and talk about sports.

They've got some work to do...

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