The goal for many of the players who come through the Kansas football program, and others throughout the country, is to one day wind up playing snaps in the NFL.
Getting there is no easy task, though, and can require as much good luck and timing as talent.
There are ways for players to help position themselves in the best possible situation, of course, and KU offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki has made sure to emphasize that with every group he’s coached in the past 10-15 years.
“I show all the offensive skill players a graph, a chart, every year to start camp,” Kotelnicki said. “And it’s the highest played players in the NFL.”
The non-quarterbacks on the list include players like Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Las Vegas Raiders wideout Davante Adams, New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara and dozens more. But it’s not their names or even the stats they produce that landed them on the list. Each year, Kotelnicki explains why and shows his players how those superstars got there.
The chart, which features some serious dollar values, also includes the number of times each player was targeted and the number of times each player touched the football during the most recent season.
“It’s usually between 80 to 90% (of the time) that those guys aren’t getting targeted or touching the ball,” Kotelnicki said. “So I explain to them (that) there's some individuals that are making 30-some-million dollars a year to play this game and they were only getting the ball 10 to 15% of the time.”
While that sounds like a pretty good way to make a living, the reality behind it also carries a message that Kotelnicki believes is critical to both building a program and sustaining success.
“Everyone has to learn how to play football when they don’t have the ball,” he said.
And while he stopped short of calling this collection of skill players the best he’s been around, Kotelnicki did say that KU’s crew has a chance to be “a special group.”
“I think we have a lot of unselfish guys,” he said. “You’ll see downfield blocking from the receivers, you see the running backs block or pass protecting. You’ll see them block for each other. You see the tight ends doing both.
“For them to understand that football’s as much about what happens when you don’t have the ball is a big deal.”
This concept is another one of those culture-defining moments. It’s not highly publicized, there’s not a lot of glory or glamour in it. But without players who are willing to buy into it, programs generally don’t get very far.
The 1-0 Jayhawks will travel to West Virginia this weekend to take on the 0-1 Mountaineers at 5 p.m. Saturday on ESPN+ in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
With Big 12 Conference play starting this weekend and the Kansas football team likely to be an underdog in nearly all of its remaining games, it’s time to shift the focus to what the Jayhawks can do to stay in games and compete into the fourth quarter.
The easiest way to do that is by controlling the clock through running the football and KU Offensive Coordinator Andy Kotelnicki said this week that he viewed that to be a “critically important” part of any game plan, underdog or not.
But while the old concept of Kansas keeping its offense on the field to keep the high-powered opponent off it still holds water, Kotelnicki said the Jayhawks have bigger goals this season.
“Our evolution needs to be to make sure we’re finishing those drives however they look,” he said Wednesday. “The most important metric in football is your points per possession. When you’re on the field, you need to finish with points. If it takes 20 plays to go do that, fantastic. If it takes one, great. But we want to be able to end those things with touchdowns.”
KU did just that last Friday night in its 56-10 win in the season opener. The Jayhawks had the ball 11 times against Tennessee Tech and converted that into seven touchdowns. Kansas actually scored eight TDs in the win but one came via a blocked field goal on special teams.
Still, a 64% success rate with the football is pretty darn good. It also came against an FCS opponent that was overmatched physically. West Virginia will not be. But that doesn’t concern Kotelnicki all that much.
“I’m excited about the test that we’re about to take,” he said of Saturday's 5 p.m. showdown in Morgantown on ESPN+.
The biggest reason is it gives KU another opportunity to establish the type of offensive identity it wants to have both this season and well into the future.
“There’s still a really physical element to football and we want to embrace that,” Kotelnicki said. “We want to thrive in that environment. That’s who we want to be.”
Having five running backs capable of carrying out that mission certainly does not hurt. The Jayhawks’ deep and talented stable of running backs made its presence felt in limited opportunities last week. The lopsided nature of the game kept KU from running up the rushing totals for Devin Neal, Daniel Hishaw and Ky Thomas. Sevion Morrison and Tory Locklin also played meaningful snaps in the opener, and Morrison and Kotelnicki both said they would like to see that continue, as well.
“I think our coordinator loves that because if we need to we can get a running back in the game that fits that situation and does what needs to be done,” Morrison said on Wednesday. “And we can stay pretty fresh with all those backs.”
Kotelnicki made Morrison’s words sound awfully smart a little later in the day Wednesday.
“Fantastic,” he said of the idea of using multiple backs on a regular basis. “Because, in theory, everyone should be still pretty fresh. If you can go on one of these long drives and, all of a sudden, fresh legs come in every three carries, that’s good. That can be tough on a defense. Real tough.”
Regardless of whether you view it as KU trying to shorten the game to stay in it as long as possible or as a staple of the Jayhawks’ offensive philosophy, Kotelnicki emphasized this week that the running game was going to remain a key part of KU’s attack week in and week out.
“I don’t know that I’d ever say you move past that,” he said. “Because (when you look at) how an offense controls a game, time management is one metric that someone would use to do that — staying on the field, keeping your defense off the field.
“For anyone’s success, I think you have to establish a run game. For us to do that, (would be) a good first step in our journey.”
It’s been years since Kansas football fans looked ahead at the Jayhawks’ schedule with any kind of optimism and anticipation, so let’s take advantage of it while it’s here.
Who knows how long it will last?
Week 1 was kind to the Jayhawks, who blasted visiting Tennessee Tech the way they should have and looked good doing it.
But there was more to the Week 1 schedule than just that 56-10 final score in Lawrence that caught the attention of KU fans. Kansas’ next two opponents also put up noteworthy efforts in the 2022 season’s opening week, one of them a loss and the other a triple-overtime squeaker.
The loss belonged to West Virginia, which traveled to Pitt to renew The Backyard Brawl rivalry and wound up losing in the final minutes.
WVU played well at times and looked particularly good running the ball, but the Mountaineers also showed they were capable of beating themselves. Mistakes and missed opportunities were a big part of the game, which WVU lost by a touchdown.
There are two ways to look at the outcome if you’re a Kansas fan. The first is that West Virginia is vulnerable and they’ve proven they can be beaten and may be dealing with a lack of confidence entering Week 2. The second is that the Mountaineers are pissed. And who better to take out all of that opening-week anger and frustration on than the Kansas Jayhawks in your home opener.
Either is entirely possible, but neither makes this game an easy challenge for Kansas. Oddsmakers in Las Vegas put the point spread at West Virginia -13 when the Week 2 lines came out, and the line moved up from there.
It seems fair to say this is a game in which Kansas can compete but we don’t know yet if it’s fair to call it a game Kansas can win. If the Jayhawks do pull off the upset, that in itself will change a ton about the way we look at the rest of the season.
For now, though, even with the loss at Pitt in WVU’s rearview mirror, it seems like a situation where we have to see KU pull off a win like this to believe it’s possible.
The other Week 1 result that was interesting to say the least came in Houston and with the 24th-ranked Cougars, who needed three overtimes to hold off UT-San Antonio, 37-35, in their season opener at the Alamodome.
KU travels to Houston in Week 3 and many have pegged that one as a potential blowout win for Houston. It still might be. But there’s no doubt that UH’s Week 1 struggle at least raised some eyebrows.
Before you get too excited about UTSA’s near upset, let’s take a closer look at the Roadrunners.
They were coming off of a 12-2 season in 2021 during which they won a Conference-USA title. In addition to that, they received one vote in the 2022 preseason coaches poll, making them “ranked” higher than either KU or West Virginia.
There’s more. UTSA was the preseason favorite to win Conference-USA and seniors Frank Harris and Rashad Wisdom were voted as the C-USA Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.
So, it’s not as if Houston was playing some chump last week. The Roadrunners, which have Jalen Wilson’s younger brother Jace, a freshman, on the 2022 roster this season have talent and are a pretty veteran team with a culture of winning.
Judge Houston by its Week 1 barnburner at your own risk.
KU will play at West Virginia at 5 p.m. Saturday and will travel to Houston on Sept. 17 to face the Cougars at 3 p.m.
Just for fun, here’s a quick look at how KU’s nine other 2022 opponents fared in Week 1:
Duke – Blanked Temple 30-0 at home, cruising to a 24-0 halftime leading and coasting from there.
Iowa State – Rolled to an efficient and methodical 42-10 win over Southeast Missouri at home.
TCU – Traveled to Colorado and used a big second half to hammer the Buffs, 38-13. TCU led just 7-6 at halftime but outscored CU 31-7 in the final two quarters.
Oklahoma – Rocked UTEP 45-13 at home, winning the first and third quarters by the combined score of 35-0.
Baylor – Pounded Albany 69-10 in Waco, Texas.
Oklahoma State – Topped Central Michigan 58-44 at home after building a 44-15 halftime lead and getting outscored 29-14 in the second half.
Texas Tech – Rolled past Murray State at home, 63-10, behind the firepower of first-year coach Joey McGuire’s high-octane offense.
Texas – Cruised to an easy home win over Louisiana Monroe, 52-10.
Kansas State – Blanked South Dakota 34-0, scoring 20 points in the first quarter to set the tone for the easy victory.
There have been 12 season opening home football games at the University of Kansas since Mark Mangino left town and the attendance at each one told some kind of story.
That includes the 2020 opener, which hosted no fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Friday night, as the Jayhawks take the field for season opener No. 13 of the post-Mangino era — lucky 13? — Kansas fans will have the opportunity to make the biggest statement yet about the state of this football program and the direction they want it to go.
All they have to do to make it is show up to David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for the 2022 opener against Tennessee Tech.
And don’t think for a second that people won’t be watching. Whether you’re talking future conference affiliation or the hopes and dreams of a stadium project that’s woefully overdue, the stakes are as high for those in the stands and in the suites as they are for the players and coaches on the field.
In case you’ve forgotten, this place does know how to show up for football games. But it’s more important now than it’s ever been.
The first four season openers that came after Mangino’s departure attracted attendance numbers north of 40,000, including a high of 48,417 fans for Turner Gill’s first game in 2010 and the 46,601 fans who came out to see Charlie Weis take the field for the first time as a Jayhawk in 2012.
Sure, those seasons were still close enough to the program’s glory days under Mangino for apathy, aggravation and downright anger to not have entered the picture yet.
But neither of those crowds had the backing of the vibe that currently surrounds the program to entice them to come out.
In 2010, no one knew what was coming and going to football games at Memorial Stadium was still considered cool and something KU fans did without giving it a second thought.
In 2012, the pain of the failed Gill experiment was gone and the big-name coach with his Super Bowl rings and Tom Brady ties was enough to get that crowd excited. Even then, no one quite knew what was coming.
That led to the stretch between 2015 (David Beaty’s first year) and 2021 (Lance Leipold’s first year) where the average attendance for the home opener dropped to 29,026, including a crowd of 26,103 last season.
It’s hard to blame anyone for contributing to the number being nearly cut in half since the final three years under Mangino, who inspired an average 50,486 to come out for the three season openers from 2007 to 2009.
But for the first time since then, there is a sincere feeling of optimism around the program again, and it’s not one that is rooted in hope. It’s based on tangible evidence of something solid and sustainable being built and backed by a strong finish to 2021 that was unlike any KU fans had seen in years.
KU running back Devin Neal, a Lawrence native, mentioned it to me the other day in the simplest terms. Neal said he feels like people are “curious” again. And he added that it was a great feeling to be in control of providing the answer to that curiosity.
“There’s a different aura surrounding the building, surrounding the city almost,” Neal said. “I think people want to support us so bad and they’re so curious to see what we can do this year. I think all of the work that we’ve done so far is leading up to this moment.”
The players have done their part to get to this point. But they can’t go it alone. The only way Kansas football becomes relevant again is if everyone joins together, from the stands to the sideline, to push this thing forward.
It won’t happen quickly. It won’t come easy. And it will be uncomfortable at times.
But others are watching. And if they don’t see something worth remembering, that could be bad news for the program in ways far worse than what shows up on the scoreboard.
I get it; Kansas football fans need something worth cheering for and should not be held responsible for the hard times of the past decade.
But the past is irrelevant now. College football is entering a completely new era and KU needs both its football program and its fan base buzzing to remain relevant in the sport.
So, forget the program’s 23-118 record since 2010. The record is 0-0 right now and Kansas sits on the brink of moving to 1-0.
That part we’ve seen before, but maybe not quite like this.
Kansas 49, Tennessee Tech 14.
15 years of season-opener attendance totals
2007 – 46,815
2008 – 52,112
2009 – 52,530
2010 – 48,417
2011 – 41,068
2012 – 46,601
2013 – 41,920
2014 – 36,574
2015 – 30,144
2016 – 28,864
2017 – 32,134
2018 – 24,305
2019 – 32,611
2020 – N/A, COVID-19
2021 – 26,103
2022 – ?????
The Big 12 Conference has agreed to engage in discussions with its primary television partners, ESPN and FOX, more than 18 months earlier than expected, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Pete Thamel.
Shortly after Thamel's report surfaced Wednesday morning, the Big 12 Conference confirmed its position through a statement from first-year commissioner Brett Yormark.
“It is an exciting time for college athletics and given the changing landscape we welcome the opportunity to engage with our partners to determine if an early extension is in the best interest of all parties,” Yormark said in the statement. “The Big 12 has enjoyed a fantastic relationship with its multi-media rights holders, and I look forward to having these conversations.”
Officially, the conference said the Big 12 "will be entering into discussions with its multi-media partners to explore an accelerated extension of its current agreements."
Later in the day, Jon Wilner, who covers the Pac-12, reported that ESPN provided a statement telling him, “We regularly engage in conversation around the future with all of our partners, but to be clear, we have not opened the contractual negotiation window with the Big 12 at this time.”
The confusion there is likely a matter of semantics, with the Big 12 saying it "will be" entering into discussions with its television partners and ESPN saying the contractual negotiation window had not opened.
Both statements can be true and the two parties can still be moving forward into a period of discussion about the contracts.
The news is significant because it puts the Big 12 on equal ground with the Pac-12, which also is negotiating a new deal with the two television networks.
That, it would seem, negates whatever perceived advantage the Pac-12 had in terms of conference realignment and potential expansion. And it could open the door to the Big 12 being in a stronger position to entice potential additions should the league look to expand beyond the 12 members that will be in the Big 12 after the departure of Oklahoma and Texas and the arrival of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF.
Both conferences have been active in projecting future revenue from their TV deals. But until this news, only the Pac-12 was in a position to present real data to its current members and potential new members.
Now, with the Big 12 opening that door, both conferences may be able to show actual numbers to their own members and any other schools that may be interested in joining.
While survival is an important objective of both conferences, the race really appears to be about positioning for the third slot among college football’s power conferences. The Big Ten and SEC have the top two spots locked up — and neither can be touched — and the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC are battling to be No. 3.
Landing in the bronze medal position will not only be financially beneficial, but it also will present a significant amount of stability.
Yormark said during his introduction in July that the conference would be proactive and aggressive in its approach to all things, including potential expansion, and this news is certainly an indication of Yormark’s ability to put action behind those words.
None of this means the Big 12 is definitely expanding, of course. But many who cover and follow realignment have speculated that the Big 12 may be in a better position than the Pac-12 when it comes to projecting long-range television dollars for its new media rights deals. We may soon see if that was accurate.
The Big 12’s current TV deals expire after the 2024 football season and the negotiations were expected to begin in February of 2024.
Now, with the negotiation window open early, the conference essentially has two chances to strike the best deal possible, both for current members and potentially to entice new schools to join. The first could happen any time and could be a long-term deal or a short-term extension to buy some more time. The second opportunity would come in 2024 if the upcoming talks do not lead to anything that both sides like.
The most popular expansion chatter tied to the Big 12 has included Pac-12 schools Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. Reports about the interest, or lack thereof, regarding all four schools have been all over the map, but there are obvious reasons that all four would make sense for the Big 12. Most notable is the addition of BYU and how adding those four along with BYU would give the Big 12 a stronger footprint out west.
If that foursome, or even just one or two of them, were to be invited to the Big 12 and elect to join, it could be a significant blow to the Pac-12’s future as a power conference.
The race has been under way for a while now, but it appears as if the two conferences have passed the settling in point and are actually starting to run.
Latest Memorial Stadium facelift features giant images of Kansas greats from the past next to current Jayhawks
As Kansas football fans wait for the start of a new stadium project of some kind in the future, they’ll have to settle for a new look to the current stadium for now.
The outside walls of the north bowl at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium received a new look on Tuesday, when 21 new photos of current or former Kansas players and coaches were plastered to the outside in the arches on the concrete above the gates.
The list of current players to have their photo go up on the outside of Memorial Stadium this season included: Caleb Sampson, Mike Novitzki, Devin Neal, Rich Miller, Kenny Logan, Mason Fairchild, Earl Bostick Jr. and Jalon Daniels.
The list of old-timers honored on the outside of the stadium included: Daniel Wise, Tony Sands, Nick Reid, David Jaynes, Gale Sayers, John Hadl, Ray Evans, Homer Floyd, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Hakeem Adeniji and former coaches Mark Mangino and Glen Mason.
Each photo went up in four sections and measured roughly 15-16 feet tall by 7-8 feet wide. Some of the former players added this week were already up there in past versions of the display. But all of the current players were new to the wall.
When asked about the honor during Tuesday’s media availability, some of the current Jayhawks had only heard about the pictures and were on their way to see them.
Senior safety Kenny Logan Jr. was one of them and he said he had been told his photo was going up.
“It’s definitely exciting and cool to see,” Logan said. “Hopefully I can get it where it’s permanent one day.”
Novitzki, a senior center who is now in his second season with the program, said he was appreciative of the gesture and that it was by far the biggest photo he had ever seen of himself. Until this one, the biggest in the past was a 6-foot by 3-foot banner they stuck to the stadium during his senior season of high school.
“It’s a great honor,” Novitzki said. “I’m so thankful for it and it’s just really cool that they decided to do that. With all the history with this program throughout the years, to be associated with that is just a great honor.”
Neal shared that sentiment and said it was even more special because he had grown up in Lawrence and passed by the stadium so many times in his life.
“That’s kind of one of those blessed feelings,” he said. “You can’t make stuff up like that. Being able to drive around and see that and have my family and friends see that, it’s a pretty cool feeling.”
Miller, another Buffalo transplant like Novitzki who is in Year 2 with the program, said he hoped he one day would be able to keep the giant image.
“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “That was the first time I’ve ever really felt myself getting excited. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a surprise.’ They didn’t tell me nothing. I’m like, “What did I do to get on this building?’”
While some notable names from past KU teams appear to be missing, don’t freak out just yet. There’s been chatter of another collage of former players that may go above the entrance to the stadium on the west side, below the press box, where a dozen or more other former KU greats may soon appear.
Don’t be surprised if that’s up in time for Friday’s season opener.
While I haven’t heard yet who will be included there, I think it may be tied to KU’s ring of honor, which would mean players like Todd Reesing, Darrell Stuckey, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, Bobby Douglass, Anthony Collins, Curtis McClinton, Willie Pless, John Riggins and more could also so be going up.
It may not be a shiny new stadium, but it does provide the old stadium with a fresh look while paying homage to some of the great names from KU’s past.
Still without a team for the 2022-23 basketball season, former Kansas guard Frank Mason III at least knows where he’ll be playing next month.
USA Basketball recently announced that Mason was one of 12 players named to Team USA for the upcoming FIBA AmeriCup tournament in Recife, Brazil. The event features 12 teams from North and South America competing in both group play and a tournament at the end.
Mason, who has international experience dating back to his time with the Jayhawks, will be joined on the team by Zylan Cheatham, Gary Clark Jr., Norris Cole, Will Davis II, Anthony Lamb, Patrick McCaw, Jodie Meeks, Jeremy Pargo, Elijah Pemberton, Craig Sword and Stephen Zimmerman.
The team will be coached by Alex Jensen (Utah Jazz). His assistants will be Mike Williams (Capital City Go-Go of G League) and Steve Wojciechowski (former Marquette coach).
Held every four years, the FIBA AmeriCup tournament was supposed to take place in 2021 but was pushed back a year because of the pandemic. This year’s event — the 11th of its kind — is slated for Sept. 2 through Sept. 11, and the United States squad is the defending champion after going 5-0 in 2017, defeating Argentina in the gold medal game.
Team USA will compete in Group C, which also includes Mexico, Panama and Venezuela. Mason’s first game will come Sept. 2 vs. Mexico.
Mason, college basketball’s national player of the year for the 2016-17 season, was drafted by Sacramento in the second round of the 2017 NBA draft. He played two seasons in Sacramento and also played with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Bucks’ G League team during the 2019-20 season.
Mason, 28, played four games with Orlando during the 2020-21 season and is looking to catch on with another team for the upcoming season. If he does not land a deal in the NBA, it appears as if the 5-foot-10 native of Petersburg, Virginia, has options overseas.
An early August report from EuroBasket.com indicated that AEK Athens, a pro team in Greece, was “targeting” Mason for the 2022-23 season.
The search for that one stat or tiny reason that Kansas football could win on any given week in 2022
If you look at the numbers from ESPN’s Football Power Index, KU’s chances of winning a bunch of football games this fall aren’t great.
According to the index, KU has a better than 50% chance of winning just two games — 97.1% vs. Tennessee Tech and 57.5% vs. Duke — and a 14.3% chance or less of winning nine games.
That includes three games where KU’s win percentage probability is in single digits and two more at 10.8% and 11.1%.
If you’ve been paying attention, either to the KU program or the league it plays in, none of this surprises you.
And I’m certainly not going to be the guy who tells you they’re going to win more. Judging by its opponents' records from the 2021 season, KU is facing the 21st toughest schedule among FBS teams in 2022.
But as I sat around contemplating exactly what I was going to predict for the Jayhawks’ win-loss record in 2022 — at this point, I’m still debating between two or three wins — I found myself intrigued by the challenge of providing one, single, solitary reason why Kansas could win each of its games during the 2022 season.
Again, I’m not saying it will happen. Heck, I’m not even saying it’ll be close. But it’s easy to say that. It’s harder to dig in, do a little research and find one stat or fact that might — MIGHT — inspire you to think a win is possible.
Here is the result of that work:
Week 1 – vs. Tennessee Tech. A layup out of the gate. The Golden Eagles were 3-8 last season and surrendered 42 points or more five times in 2021. KU’s talent level and coaching are good enough now for this to be a comfortable victory.
Week 2 – at West Virginia. It gets noticeably tougher in Week 2, but the Jayhawks could catch a break from the schedule makers. WVU opens with longtime, bitter rival Pitt and then plays at Virginia Tech in Week 3. The matchup with Pitt, dubbed The Backyard Brawl, will be the first since 2011. And with two tough and emotional tests like that lighting up WVU’s schedule, KU could reap the benefits of simply being overlooked by the Mountaineers.
Week 3 – at Houston. It’s been nearly a decade and things have changed a lot since then, but even a bad Kansas football team has defeated Houston coach Dana Holgorsen. That came back in 2013, when KU knocked off Holgorsen and West Virginia 31-19 in the second-to-last game of the season in Lawrence. The Mountaineers went 4-8 that season and Holgorsen started 4-8 and 3-5 during his first two seasons at Houston after leaving WVU. The Cougars were 12-2 last year and are a preseason Top 25 team this year. But their head coach has lost to the Jayhawks before.
Week 4 – vs. Duke. This is the other game that ESPN’s Football Power Index gives KU the nod in, with a 57.5% win probability at this point. It’s also one of the rare games in which Kansas could be — and likely should be — favored. Confidence could be a concern if the Jayhawks are coming off of back-to-back road losses. But that also could work in their favor. After tough games at WVU and Houston, this one could be easier to look forward to and get excited about.
Week 5 – vs. Iowa State. Back home for the second week in a row, the Jayhawks will look to take down an Iowa State team that will be looking to replace its starting quarterback (Brock Purdy), running back (Breece Hall) and tight end (Charlie Kolar) from last season’s offense. All three were among the best players to ever play their positions at ISU, and it remains to be seen whether four weeks is enough time for the Cyclones’ new-look offense to find its groove. KU’s offense has weapons and depth, but this feels like a game that could be on the defense.
Week 6 – vs. TCU. Let’s talk fresh memories here. Last season, KU took the Horned Frogs down to the wire, losing 31-28 on the road in the second-to-last game of the 2021 season. Many of the players who played in that game are back with the Jayhawks this year and, depending on how the first five weeks go, they should have a fair amount of confidence going into this matchup at home. Add to that the fact that Gary Patterson is no longer leading the Horned Frogs and new TCU coach Sonny Dykes is in his first year leading the program and there’s an added wrinkle that could favor the more experienced team and settled program.
Week 7 – at Oklahoma. This one really isn’t that hard. It may have been 26 years since Kansas last won at Oklahoma, but the Sooners are in a bit of disarray entering the 2022 season. New head coach Brent Venables is a heck of a football coach, but he’s doing the head job for the first time and with the Sooners transitioning to a new style, system and philosophy, there could be growing pains. They might not be enough to keep Kansas in the game, but Kansas had OU on the ropes last year in Lawrence, so it's not entirely crazy to think KU could be competitive again in 2022.
Week 8 – at Baylor. Fresh off of their Big 12 championship, the Bears figure to be riding high under third-year coach Dave Aranda, who led the team to a 12-2 record in 2021. There’s little doubt that the BU offensive and defensive lines will be stout this season, but it’s the contributions of those around them that could be a question. According to ESPN’s Bill Connelly, the Bears return just 46% of their statistical production from last season, ranking them 126th out of 131 FBS teams in that department. KU, by comparison, returns 84% of its production.
Week 9 – Bye.
Week 10 – vs. Oklahoma State. This was the toughest one on the list. OSU thoroughly dominated KU, 55-3, in last year’s meeting and, with OU and Texas leaving the Big 12 soon, Mike Gundy’s program may just be the class of the conference. So let’s go with the old “trap game” answer here. The Cowboys will be coming off of what figures to be a massive game at K-State the week before and also will be playing host to Iowa State a week later, with their Bedlam battle with OU looming two weeks after traveling to KU. That’s not much, but we’re talking November here, and if this is one of those 11 a.m. kickoffs with next to no atmosphere in Lawrence, we’ve all seen what that can do to KU’s opponents from time to time.
Week 11 – at Texas Tech. If you’re looking for a game where KU’s air attack and wide receivers could make the difference, this might be it. The Red Raiders ranked dead last in the Big 12 in pass defense in 2021, giving up 271 yards per game through the air and a whopping 34 touchdowns. For context, KU’s pass D surrendered 237 yards per game and 27 TDs via the pass. Sure, it’s a new coaching staff in Lubbock, Texas, this year, but that could add to the equation here. Several KU wideouts will be facing off against their old KU position coach, Emmett Jones, who's now coaching the receivers for TTU boss Joey McGuire, and it’s more than possible that they’ll be a little extra motivated to show him what he’s missing.
Week 12 – vs. Texas. It can’t happen again. Can it?
Week 13 – at Kansas State. The Wildcats have won 13 in a row in this series, by an average margin of victory of 27 points per win, no less. K-State is clearly the better program right now and there’s talk about the Wildcats being a sleeper pick to win the Big 12 this year. But you all know the saying about rivalries. You also know the concept of a team being due. It’ll take more than that for Kansas to win this one, but you have to wonder how much longer the longest winning streak by either program in the 120-year history of the Sunflower Showdown can last.
Earlier this month, I was asked what the Kansas football team would have to do during the upcoming season to capitalize on the momentum it captured down the stretch in 2021, Lance Leipold’s first season in charge of the program.
Most fans want to point to a win total when asked this question. But, for me, the answer is tied to everything but the number of wins KU has at the end of the season.
There’s no question that the players have bought in fully and are putting in the work it takes to actually enjoy the fall for a change.
Beyond that, the talent level is up, depth exists at most positions and the vibe within the program is one of confidence, hope and optimism.
There’s a lot to like about this Kansas football and a lot of questions, too. But all of those things above are signs of a program headed in the right direction.
Here are three things the Jayhawks need to accomplish during the upcoming season to keep it that way, win or lose.
The early portion of KU’s schedule is far from ideal, but it does still feature the two most winnable games of the season — on paper — in the first four weeks.
If the Jayhawks hope to convince their fans that things have changed, a 2-2 start or better is absolutely crucial.
Winning at either West Virginia or Houston in Weeks 2 and 3 is a big ask. But handling business at home in Week 1 against Tennessee Tech and Week 4 against Duke isn’t. Taking that one step further, the Jayhawks need to open with a bang, putting a big win on the board in the season opener to drum up excitement and capitalize on the good vibe that already seems to exist with the fan base.
Beyond that, a 56-10 drubbing of Tennessee Tech in the opener also would do wonders for this team’s confidence before it heads up to Mountaineer country in Week 2.
West Virginia has talent and the Mountaineers are in their fourth season under head coach Neal Brown, so there is a bit of stability there. But Brown has yet to win more than six games with WVU and his team was picked to finish eighth in the preseason coaches poll, so it’s not impossible to think KU, if riding high, could go up there and make it a game.
Doing so, win or lose, would be huge for the rest of the Jayhawks’ season, just like a strong start will for the program’s overall momentum.
ESTABLISH AN IDENTITY
For years now, Kansas football has been one giant mishmash of guesswork, failed attempts and bad football. Whether that was the result changing offensive philosophies or continually turning over the head coaching position and faces on the field, it’s been hard to identify one thing the Jayhawks are about and try to hang their hats on.
If nothing else, this group can set that bar, and Leipold said recently what he would like it to look like.
“I think you want to be physical on both sides of the ball, especially in the trenches,” he began. “You want to be a team that is disciplined and executes in a way that we showed flashes of last year, one that’s not going to beat itself. And play consistently and consistently hard through the game, giving (yourself) a chance to win in the fourth quarter.”
Leipold admitted that the approach outlined above is one that’s not that different from what most teams try to use and not all that complicated or original. But it’s exactly what Kansas needs.
Much in the way KU basketball coach Bill Self has created a culture that’s about defense above everything, Leipold and this football program need to find their calling card.
Consistency is the one-word answer Leipold uses when asked that question, and if this team can at least be consistent in 2022, that will be viewed as another positive step.
With expectations still in check and the building process still ongoing, this is the perfect year to establish what Kansas football is about and is known for and to do it in a way that the players and fans believe in and the rest of the country can see clearly.
PLAY YOUR BEST FOOTBALL LATE
Last year, KU’s strong three-game stretch to close out the season, which included that wild win over Texas, came against teams that finished sixth, seventh and eighth in the final conference standings.
The signs of life were welcome and the progress was real and easy to see, but just one of the three teams (West Virginia) went to a bowl game and none of the three finished 2021 with a winning record.
In that way, the schedule set up pretty well for the Jayhawks to have that kind of finish. If they turn in a similar finish this season and play some of their best football on the back end of their schedule, I think we’ll have a better grasp on just how much progress has been made.
The month of November includes home games against Oklahoma State and Texas and road trips to Texas Tech and Kansas State. Winning any of those games would be massive. But even just being competitive in all of them could be just as big, given the strength of the teams on that list. Oklahoma State was picked third in the preseason poll, Texas fourth and K-State fifth.
Actually competing with those types of teams to close out the season — K-State, most notably — would be a huge lift heading into the offseason and would set the bar and expectations way high entering 2023.
This story was updated on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022, to reflect Kwamie Lassiter II's performance in the Bengals' second preseason game of 2022.
For most of their childhood, brothers Kwamie Lassiter II and Kwinton Lassiter dreamed of one day playing in the NFL and following in the footsteps of their late father, Kwamie, a former standout safety at Kansas and with the Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Rams.
And then the other day, Kwinton saw a short video clip on Twitter of his older brother catching a pass from Joe Burrow at training camp with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I didn’t even realize it was him at first,” Kwinton said during KU’s annual media day session at the team’s indoor facility on Wednesday.
The catch was like so many the middle Lassiter made at Kansas. It came after a perfect route, was caught in traffic and helped Burrow’s offense move the sticks.
There remains a long way to go for the undrafted wideout who led the Jayhawks in receiving last season to earn a spot on the Bengals’ 53-man roster or even the practice squad, but Kwinton believes his brother is right where he belongs.
So does Kansas coach Lance Leipold, who is friends with Burrow’s dad, Jim.
“He sent me a text that Kwamie was doing really well and he said Joe likes him and that’ll be good,” Leipold said Wednesday of Jim’s recent message.
Although none of his catches came from Burrow, who did not play, the older Lassiter brother led the Bengals in receiving during their second preseason game of the season on Sunday night. He hauled in seven receptions on seven targets for 91 yards in the Bengals' 25-22 loss at the New York Giants in the team's second-to-last tune-up before the regular season.
Regardless of how much he and his family believed that Kwamie would get his chance in the NFL, Kwinton admitted that hearing things like that and seeing his brother catch a perfect pass from a Heisman Trophy winner who led the Bengals to the Super Bowl last season was still something to celebrate.
“I talk to him every day and knowing that he’s catching balls from Joe Burrow is real cool,” Kwinton said. “He’s working hard. He was meant to be there, though. Everything he’s doing right now he worked for. That’s just part of his story. I think it’s very cool that he’s playing in the league and working hard to earn a spot on the team, but it’s nothing that surprised me.”
As for his own plans at Kansas and beyond, Kwinton, who wears the same number his brother and father wore (8), said he, too, is just trying to earn the opportunity to contribute in some way.
Whether that’s in the secondary or on special teams — Kwamie continues to emphasize the opportunity that exists on special teams — he’ll be happy with whatever comes his way. The chance to represent his family and the Jayhawks simultaneously is already a dream come true.
“It means a lot,” Kwinton said. “It’s just the legacy. The Lassiter legacy. Knowing that my dad was here, my brother was here and now I’m here, it’s amazing.”