Don't take this as me being a Montell Cozart or Kansas University football apologist looking for a silver lining during a few dark days.
It's not. Overall, the Jayhawks — and specifically Cozart — have been pretty awful for seven of the eight quarters they've played during this barely begun 2014 season. And there's no apologizing for that.
The Duke debacle was as bad as it's been since head coach Charlie Weis arrived and the more and more you look back at the opener, the more and more you start to realize that the Jayhawks may very well have been lucky to get out of that one alive. Unfortunately for all parties involved, the sluggish finish to the SEMO victory probably should have been viewed as a sign of things to come.
Many people saw that heading into the season. I didn't. In fact, I saw pretty much the exact opposite. I saw a fast start. I saw Cozart sprinting out of the gates with the kind of play that would energize and invigorate the fan base and I expected that on Sept. 16, Jayhawks everywhere would be talking more about the excitement of what's happening instead of dwelling on the uncertainty of what may come and what to do now.
Before we worry too much about the future, be that Central Michigan this weekend, Texas the weekend after that or what the program will look like on Dec. 1, I think it's important to gain a little perspective.
Cozart has been getting killed in the days since the Duke game and, when you're the quarterback, pretty much at any level, that's how it goes. You get the glory in the good days and you're the goat in the bad. That's nothing new and even casual sports fan know that's the way it goes.
So don't hold back on tossing blame at Cozart for the way the KU offense played against Duke. They were bad. He was awful. And Kansas, as we now know, stood no chance.
But do pull back on letting the Duke outing define Cozart as a college quarterback. He's 19 years old. He has started exactly five college football games in his life and barely played in enough to make up half a season. He deserves the chance to redeem himself. He deserves time to grow. He deserves to prove he is both willing to and can get better. Maybe he has it, maybe he doesn't, but a handful of games hardly seems like enough time to make a decision, for better or worse. If nothing else, the hard work and sacrifice he put in during the past 12 months should earn him a fair shake for a few more weeks.
All of this to a point, of course. If his Saturdays continue to look like last week, then the coaches owe it to the rest of the Jayhawks and the program in general to find a better option, perhaps even during the games. But we're not there yet.
If I know Montell at all, I know this is killing him. Weis said Monday morning that Cozart needed a little TLC on Sunday to help get past his poor performance and I've talked to enough people who saw him after the Duke game to know that he took it pretty hard. He's a confident kid. He's had success his entire life. And most of that success has come pretty easy and in pretty exciting fashion. Days like Saturday were not in Cozart's vocabulary.
Maybe that's part of the problem here. During the handful of interviews we did with Cozart throughout the spring and summer, we encountered a confident guy who believed in himself a great deal and believed he was going to hit the ground running and enjoy a solid season. He still might. But too many times his reasoning behind his confidence was that the whole thing reminded him of his path to QB prominence at Bishop Miege High. There's nothing wrong with drawing on past experiences to create confidence, calm the nerves or even fire you up to rise to a challenge. But maybe we should've seen such comments as a little bit of a warning sign that the young man might not quite be ready.
Cozart has all the physical tools you could want. He's fast, long, strong and blessed with incredible quickness and good vision. And he's a likable guy, too, which is important not only for the fan base but also for his teammates. Guys want to follow guys they like.
But simply having the right mind, body and soul for the job does not mean it'll be all aces when you get out there and face a team that's trying to knock your head off. Cozart still has to get used to that. And the only way to do it is by playing more games and succeeding or failing.
This is not high school. The path to him becoming KU's starting quarterback might mirror the path he took to taking the snaps at Miege, but that's where the similarities end. Now's the time for Cozart to pound out a new path, one fraught with potential pitfalls and mirages, good moments and bad.
Senior wide receiver Nick Harwell said after Saturday's game that outings like the one Cozart endured against Duke are part of the deal. “This was one of those games he's gonna have to get under his belt,” was how Harwell put it.
Everybody has 'em. Harwell did at Miami (Ohio). Ben Heeney did during his freshman year. Heck, even KU legend Todd Reesing was sent back to the bench after saving the Jayhawks against Colorado in his first ever appearance in 2006.
The question is, will Cozart learn from his early experiences the way those guys learned from theirs? The only way to find out is to give him time and to remember along the way that the young man is doing all of this for the first time.
The road losing streak hit 28, the final score left Kansas 38 points shy and an unknown number of KU fans were up in arms about it.
It was that kind of day for the KU football team in Durham, North Carolina on Saturday, a time and place that many believed would be a heck of a lot different than the same old, bad blowouts we've seen in the past.
Instead, it was a lot of the same frustrating football that has plagued Kansas for the past five seasons — big plays and easy scores for the opponent, an offense that struggled to get anything going and a room full of players and coaches who had trouble finding answers when it was all over.
The Jayhawks' 41-3 loss to Duke may have merely dropped them to 1-1 on the season, but if ever a 1-1 team felt like 0-10, this is it.
It should be very interesting to see where things go from here with all aspects of the program.
For the first time in the Charlie Weis era, it seems like people have had enough. The KU fan base, as a whole, has not been entirely supportive of Weis and this team throughout his time, but there always had been enough people who backed the program to cancel out those who didn't. Saturday night, though, even the optimists kept quiet and some turned to the dark side. The Jayhawks were not out-talented by Duke, but they were out-played, out-coached and out-manned. This one, to me, seems like the first undeniable step in the wrong direction since Weis took over, and the future of the program, from top to bottom, all of a sudden, has landed in a very dicey position.
Three reasons to smile
1 – Let's be honest; after a game like that, there just aren't many. I thought senior linebacker Ben Heeney was Heeney (but was anyone surprised by that?); I thought senior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd showed he's every bit on the same level as Dexter McDonald and I thought Michael Reynolds played his butt off, particularly in the first half, when he just kept getting close off the right edge but never quite got to Duke QB Anthony Boone. Other than that, there were serious concerns pretty much everywhere else on the field and the Jayhawks left Durham in need of some serious soul-searching just two weeks into the 2014 season.
Three reasons to sigh
1 – Other than the obvious drawbacks of the lopsided final score and the aftermath that followed, there were a few specific aspects of this latest loss that were concerning. The biggest, obviously, was the play of Montell Cozart, who looked incredibly sharp and in control during the opening quarter of the season but has looked anything but that during the seven quarters since. Cozart has the physical tools, but he's young and he's still learning and for every 3-touchdown-no-interception game (like he had vs. SEMO in the opener) there are going to be days like Saturday. The question now just becomes, “How quickly can he pick things up and improve?”
2 – KU's option game was atrocious in this one. I like the option for this offense because it puts Cozart in a position to attack and put pressure on the defense with his best asset. When it's blocked the way it was on Saturday, though, it looks like something you'd see at a Pop Warner game. Because of Duke's penetration on the edge — read: KU's blocking breakdowns up front — Cozart and the KU running backs just had to keep stringing it out and stringing it out all the way down the line until they reached the sideline. At that point, Cozart usually pitched it, but with the sideline so close and so many Blue Devils in pursuit, it looked like Duke had two players there for every one Jayhawk in the area. The option game is as much an attitude as it is about being assignment sound and the Jayhawks failed in both categories against Duke.
3 – The Jayhawks ran more plays (76-71) and won the time of possession battle (32:34-27:26) but had just three points to show for it? That begs the question, “What the heck were they doing when they had the ball?” The answer? Not much. Just five of KU's 14 possessions ended as a three-and-out but only one went over the 4-minute mark and that was the second-to-last drive of the game, when KU drove 72 yards in nine plays and 4:12 but turned it over on downs after doing most of that work against Duke's reserves. Five of KU's drives included seven plays or more — including the 10-play, 58-yard drive that produced the team's only points — but KU found itself facing third-and-long a lot of the time and often failed to take or see the shorter gains that would have set up more manageable third-down scenarios.
One thought for the road
KU's latest lopsided loss...
• Moved the Jayhawks to 577-591-58 all-time.
• Tied the all-time series between the two basketball-blueblood schools at 1 win apiece.
• Was the 28th consecutive loss away from home. KU's next chance to snap its road losing skid comes Oct. 4 at West Virginia, the team the Jayhawks beat last season to snap a 27-game Big 12 Conference losing streak.
• Featured points in the first quarter for the second game in a row. Kansas scored in the first quarter just four times in 12 tries last season.
KU returns home to face Central Michigan, which, two weeks ago popped Purdue, but, last week, was rocked by Syracuse, 40-3. The Chippewas were a bowl team a year ago and certainly will not be an easy out for this struggling KU squad. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to tonight's main event.
In the red corner, standing at 5 feet, 11 inches and weighing in at 195 pounds.... He hails from Mesquite, Texas, and is a senior in his final season at Kansas.... The receiver of the secondary, the king of kindness, the DB with the sweet J, JaCorey "The Protector" Shepherd.
In the blue corner, standing 6 feet, 6 inches and weighing in at 225 pounds.... He hails from Monroe, North Carolina, and is a senior in his fifth season at Duke... The overlooked man, the two-sport standout, Sir Issac Blakeney.
OK, so maybe that won't be exactly the way it's billed on Saturday when we get down to Durham for KU's Week 2 match-up with Duke. But it sure has felt that way in the days leading up to the game.
Shepherd, a Kansas cornerback, and Blakeney, a Duke wide receiver who also ran with the Duke track team last spring, could play huge roles in determining whether their teams win or lose when the Jayhawks and Blue Devils lock horns on Saturday, and Shepherd, a defensive-back who started his career as a wide receiver, could not be more pumped for the showdown.
At 6-6, Blakeney stands seven full inches taller than Shepherd, which not only gives him a huge advantage in terms of reach but also gives him an advantage in terms of his stride while running to the ball.
Shepherd said he's never covered a player as tall as Blakeney and he's worked overtime this week to make sure he's ready with a few tricks, some of which date back to his days as a high school basketball player.
“That's one of the first things my dad said,” Shepherd joked. “'Back to basketball when you had to play (power forward).' That's gonna be a challenge for me, and I'm looking forward to it. I've never had to go up against somebody that big.”
So what's the secret?
“I just feel like I have to be more aware of body control,” Shepherd said. “He definitely can get me in a situation where he can shield me from the ball. And obviously the jump balls. If they throw it up there, I've gotta know where I'm at on the field and know where he's at and feel him out.”
With a receiver who stands 6-6, jump balls are inevitable. If nothing else, they're a great last resort for a quarterback who finds himself in trouble and sees no one else open. That's especially true in the red zone.
Shepherd has a strategy for the high lobs when they come his way and it focuses more on what not to do than what he should do.
“I can't jump too early,” he said. “If anything, I'd rather jump later so he's coming down while I'm going up.”
Shepherd figures to draw a lot of action in this one because of last weekend's standout performance from his partner-in-crime, Dexter McDonald, who swiped two interceptions and broke up two more passes in KU's victory over Southeast Missouri State.
The theory goes that teams may shy away from McDonald after seeing a performance like that — it happened to some degree last season — and be more willing to try their luck with Shepherd. The mere thought brings a smile to Shepherd's face and a sparkle to his eyes.
“I actually like that,” he said. “That's me. Dex did me a favor.”
Of course, Shepherd is also smart enough to know that McDonald's presence on the field will not be enough to keep Duke from using its top weapon in the passing game, senior wideout Jamison Crowder, who stands 5-9, 175.
“He's still gonna get tested,” Shepherd said of McDonald. “They have good receivers. The guy Dex is matched up with, he's a legit receiver. They're not gonna shy away from him. He's one of their best receivers.”
Regardless of who checks who or even how often KU sprinkles in different zone coverage looks to try to match up, both Shepherd and McDonald figure to find themselves in several make-or-break, one-on-one situations on Saturday and it could become a situation where the last man standing brings home a victory for his team.
As famed ring announcer Michael Buffer might say.... Let's get ready to ruuuuummmmmmmmbbbbblllllllllllllle...
Saturday's match-up between 1-0 Kansas and 2-0 Duke no doubt would grab much more attention if it were played in Allen Fieldhouse or Cameroon Indoor Stadium instead of outside on the turf at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.
Let's face it: Duke and Kansas are both basketball schools and there's not a person on the planet who doesn't think that.
That includes KU football coach Charlie Weis, who, on Tuesday, talked about the challenges — and advantages — of coaching the football team, which, in many opinions and at most schools is the king of college athletics, at a school where basketball rules.
"I don't know what (Duke coach) David (Cutcliffe) thinks," Weis said. "He's got Coach K and I've got Bill Self. Does it get any better than that? I mean, you're talking about arguably the two best, two of the best coaches in America. So from my standpoint, I hope basketball wins every game every year regardless of how we do. I appreciate the support I get from Coach Self and our basketball team, but most importantly, I can utilize their success to help use that as something to shoot for and definitely use as a recruiting tool.
"You can do one of two things: You can feel like a second‑class citizen or you can play into it, and I totally play into it. Totally. I don't look at it like that at all. I'm more than content with our basketball team competing for a national championship every year. I just want to get our team to where we're winning more than we're losing on an annual basis. That's what I want to do. I want to be winning more than we're losing on an annual basis. When we get to that point, you can ship me out of here. I don't want to do it once. I want to make sure we've got that set. Once we get that set, you can pack me up and send me out if that's what you want to do."
That last part was said with no bitterness or poor-me mentality. It merely was Weis re-emphasizing what he came to Kansas to accomplish, which was to get the KU football program to the point where it's considered a perennial winner.
The general rule of thumb used to be that new coaches would — or at least should — get five years to make that happen. Weis' contract with Kansas was for five years. And although he just started Year 3, he pointed to Cutcliffe's path at Duke as proof positive that, if given time, such a transformation is possible — even at a basketball school like Duke or Kansas.
"I know that Years 3 and 4 they won three games," Weis said of Cutcliffe at Duke. "So was he lighting the world on fire at that time? I mean, what he did was he put in a plan, he recruited, recruited, recruited, got guys he can get into Duke, which is not the easiest thing to do, OK, stuck to the plan, had support from the administration, OK, didn't waver. When people were saying, well, where is this heading, and all of a sudden Year 6 they go and win 10. That's the way it happens a lot of times when you walk into a program that just hasn't done too well recently. I have a lot of respect for the job they've done, and hopefully we cannot only emulate that, but hopefully we can speed up that timetable just a tad."
KU and Duke will square off, in football, at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Duke's home stadium.
If you just watched the first quarter of KU's season-opening football victory over Southeast Missouri State, you probably came away pretty impressed.
And with good reason. That quarter, in which KU built a 24-0 lead by scoring on four straight possessions and not giving up a single first down, was without question one of the best quarters we've seen from a Kansas team in the past five years.
After that, however, things weren't as pretty and, if you're judging this team by how it finished the game instead of how it started, you probably came away a little worried. That, too, is understandable.
Regardless of which camp you're in, both sides have solid points and, after a game like that, in which the home team wins by six and is outscored 28-10 after such a blazing start, any and all questions are valid.
However you look at it, KU, which mixed a lot of young guys and newcomers in with a healthy dose of veterans, held on for the victory, improved to 1-0 and has another week of work and preparation in front of it before having to prove what it learned from the opener.
Put another way: Now's when the fun starts.
It wasn't all pretty, but a win's a win and that's the approach the Kansas University football team is taking into next week as it begins preparations for a huge game at Duke. Sophomore QB Montell Cozart turned in a solid debut as the team's starter. The wide receivers he threw to were equally as impressive. And newcomers De'Andre Mann and Corey Avery showed the running game is still in good hands. Surprisingly — especially after a stellar start — it was the KU pass defense that left me scratching my head. No way did I expect to emerge from the opener with a bunch of answers on offense and questions on defense, especially not from the secondary, which turned in a better-than-solid season in 2013 and returned all four starters. It wasn't the ideal opener the way it looked like it might be after the first quarter. Far from it, in fact. But now the Jayhawks know where the issues are and now the rest of us get to see how they go about addressing them.
Three reasons to smile:
1 – The Jayhawks are 1-0. As KU coach Charlie Weis said in his postgame comments, it's not like KU's had a hundred victories in the past few years. It's OK to enjoy them when they come. And that goes for the fans too. You can't get to 2-0 without being 1-0 first and that's where this team stands. Perhaps the best part about that is the reminder it provides that they are still just one week into the season. Plenty of time for improvement, plenty of time to iron out the wrinkles. A bunch of coaches believe teams make their biggest jump from Week 1 to Week 2. If that's the case with this team, that bodes well for KU's chances at Duke next weekend.
2 – Montell Cozart is a real, live college quarterback. KU coach Charlie Weis said it best after the game when he said that Montell bailed out the KU offense with his legs and ability to move out of the pocket and throw on the run. What's more, he looked good doing it. Cozart wasn't perfect, but it was a pretty solid start. He looked confident, spread the ball around well and made some really nice throws. Like everybody except maybe for Dexter McDonald and Trevor Pardula, he'll need to improve on that performance in the coming weeks if KU wants to be competitive with tougher opponents, but, all things considered, you have to feel pretty good about what Cozart showed in Week 1.
3 – These Jayhawks have legit wide receivers. Nick Harwell is as good as advertised. Tony Pierson still has it. And Nigel King and Justin McCay are a couple of big targets who bring a lot in the passing game and running game. It's been a while since KU has had such a good looking crop of receivers and it was wildly entertaining to watch them deliver in the opener. If Cozart and company can tighten things up by an inch or two on those deep balls, this passing attack stands to be pretty explosive all season.
Three reasons to sigh:
1 – What happened in the second half? Things looked so positive in the first quarter. The offense scored on all four possessions. The defense gave up just 42 yards and no first downs. And Kansas led 24-0. For a while, both at the game and on the Internet, the KU fan base actually was impressed by the product on the field. But then KU hit the brakes and managed just 10 points the rest of the way while somehow giving up 28. The crowd thinned out as it always does and several players said that disappointed them. It should. But they should also realize that the only guaranteed way they're going to bring the energy they need to compete is to find it within themselves and then make that the norm regardless if they're under the lights in front of 50,000 or in a driving rain on a dark day in front of 500. There were elements of the late stumble that could be chalked up to Week 1 rust. But there were others that qualify as major concerns if they don't take care of them quickly.
2 – Why does KU let QBs like Snyder get, look and feel comfortable? I've seen it the past couple of seasons and I've never understood it. I realize that these other teams have good athletes, tough kids and competitors, but there's no way that an opposing quarterback at an FCS school should ever get to the point where he's comfortable and controlling the game. SEMO's Kyle Snyder had that look in the fourth quarter and it wasn't good for Kansas. Snyder threw for 269 yards and 3 TDs and was sacked just once. Bottom line: KU has to find a way to get more pressure on these guys so the DBs don't have to cover for as long. Weis said SEMO's unbalanced sets made it tough to bring pressure. And I'm sure that's true. But at some point, pressure can still come from a guy in blue deciding he's going to beat the man standing in front of him on his way to making a play. There were a few of those moments. But not nearly enough.
3 – After going 3-of-4 on third down in the first quarter, KU picked up first downs in just two more such situations in 11 tries. Cozart and the offense looked much improved. But there were still too many times when the offense stalled and forced the defense to go back onto the field. Time of possession was about dead even (29:59-29:58 in favor of KU) but, in a game like this against an opponent like that, KU should have won the TOP battle by a much larger margin and, if they had, SEMO would never have come close to scoring 28 points.
One for the road:
KU's six-point survival against SEMO on Saturday:
• improved the program to 577-589-58 all-time.
• bumped KU's record to 71-47-7 in season openers.
• was the Jayhawks' fourth-straight season-opening win, giving head coach Charlie Weis a 3-0 record in the first week of a season while at Kansas.
• made KU 9-1 in its last 10 home openers.
• gave Kansas win No. 27 in 30 tries against non-conference foes at home dating back to the start of the 2003 season.
Kansas (1-0) will travel to Durham, North Carolina, to take on the Duke Blue Devils (2-0), in the return game of a home-and-home series that started with KU knocking off Duke 44-16 in September of 2009. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m., Central time.
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.
Sunday was KU night at the K, where the Kansas City Royals hosted the Cleveland Indians as part of ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball national broadcast.
Before the Royals and Indians took the field, the Jayhawks held court at Kauffman Stadium, entertaining hundreds of KU fans with autographs, high fives and handshakes prior to game time.
However, the no-brainer highlight of KU's appearance at the K came during the ceremonial first pitch when senior linebacker Ben Heeney threw high and tight on Big Jay and beaned him in the head. KU receiver Nick Harwell was out there to be Heeney's catcher and was the intended target, but Heeney's fastball got away from him and Big Jay went down.
KU put together a nice video of the team's time at Kauffman. Included in the autograph line at the K were: Heeney, Harwell and fellow captain Cassius Sendish along with quarterback Montell Cozart, defensive lineman Keon Stowers and offensive lineman Pat Lewandowski as well as head coach Charlie Weis, defensive coordinator Clint Bowen and offensive coordinator John Reagan.
Here's a look at the video...
And here's a quick look at some of the reaction from the players following KU night at the K...
Felt good to see all the KU fans at the game today! A lot of people excited for #kufball I love it— Keon Stowers (@KeonStowers98) September 1, 2014
A couple of quick notes and newsy items while we continue to wait for the outcome of senior quarterback Jake Heaps' decision whether to stay at Kansas or go play elsewhere...
• It's been pretty quiet on the Heaps front for the past few weeks but the more people I've talked to about the situation, the more I'm believing Heaps will in fact leave KU.
A couple of schools that were rumored to be his next landing spot when reports of his potential transfer first came out have been crossed off the list for various reasons, but at least a couple remain, with the University of Miami, Fla., being, by far, the biggest name and a couple of other smaller schools maybe still in the running.
Heaps, a senior-to-be who is within striking distance of graduating this summer, would be eligible to play immediately at his new school if he chooses to leave Kansas because of the same senior-transfer rule that brought Dayne Crist and others to KU during the past couple of seasons.
Heaps has to graduate before becoming eligible immediately, however, so it's likely that that's the hold-up in this whole deal.
There's still an outside shot that he could remain at KU and battle to be an incredibly valuable back-up to sophomore starter Montell Cozart, but provided some other school and coach out there is willing to give him an opportunity to compete to be a starter, I'd be surprised if he stayed.
• I saw on Twitter last week that former KU wide receiver Ishmael Hyman is transferring to James Madison University and will be eligible to play immediately because of JMU's status as an FCS program.
Its official after deciding to transfer from KU, I will be attending and playing football for JMU this upcoming season! #GoDukes 🐶👑— Ish Hyman (@HollyWood_Ish13) June 3, 2014
Hyman's departure from KU caught many fans by surprise and disappointed several people who had high hopes for the 6-foot, 170-pound receiver from Manalapan, N.J.
Hyman has talent and is sort of a natural play-maker, but it seems like the situation at JMU, which is located in Harrisonburg, Va., fits him much better than KU did. He red-shirted in 2013 and was removed from the Kansas roster just before spring practices a couple of months ago.
• This weekend figures to be a big weekend for KU's Class of 2015 recruiting efforts.
Thus far, KU has just one commitment in the class (Bishop Miege quarterback Ryan Willis) but that could change in a hurry after this weekend.
Somewhere around a half dozen junior-college prospects are expected to make their official visits to KU over the weekend — a move that's allowed under the new recruiting rules — and a couple of them seem to be just waiting to see campus and the football facilities before making their decisions official.
Defensive tackle Jacky Dezir (6-foot-3, 305 pounds from the College of DuPage) and offensive tackle Jarek Smalley (6-6, 315, Garden City C.C.) both are very high on KU and could be in line to pick the Jayhawks by the end of the weekend.
• Speaking of recruiting, there's been plenty of message board activity during recent weeks about KU potentially adding a couple of late pick-ups to the roster in time for the 2014 season. I don't have a clue who those players might be, if they exist at all, but it would not surprise me for a second if KU coach Charlie Weis found a couple of diamonds in the rough somewhere and brought them to Kansas for the upcoming season.
You know the deal with Weis by now.... He's always on the lookout for talent and the bottom line with this kind of thing is this: If Weis believes a guy can help the program and can make a positive impact on the field right away, he'll search high and low for a way to bring that guy to Lawrence.
We'll see if anything materializes, but, if it does, my best guess is that any newcomers might play wide receiver or on the offensive line.
• Former KU wide receivers coach Darrell Wyatt is out at Texas, a coaching casualty of the Mack Brown movement in the offseason.
Wyatt, who enjoyed two stints at KU before spending the past three years at Texas as the Longhorns' wide receivers coach, is rumored to be in line to become a candidate for the offensive coordinator opening at North Carolina. Wyatt previously served as the offensive coordinator for current UNC head coach Larry Fedora, when the two were together at Southern Miss in 2008-09.
• And, finally, in case you missed it yesterday or earlier today, offensive lineman Joe Gibson, a former walk-on from Rockhurst High who red-shirted in 2013, was given a scholarship for the 2014 season on Monday afternoon.
College football analyst and magazine guru Phil Steele released his preseason all-Big 12 teams earlier today and the Jayhawks, believe it or not, were fairly well represented.
Now, it's not as if KU landed as many guys on Steele's four preseason teams as Baylor, K-State or Oklahoma, but Charlie Weis' squad was given a fair amount of respect.
Here's a quick look.
For starters, putting senior Ben Heeney as one of the top linebackers in the conference was pretty obvious and, had Steele not had him, the whole list would have been suspect.
Heeney has been one of the top tacklers and the leader of the KU defense for the past two seasons and there's no reason to think he'll be anything but that in 2014 as well. If anything, seeing how it's his last season at KU, one might make a strong case for Heeney having his best season yet.
Newcomer Nick Harwell earned the nod here, with Steele putting the Miami (Ohio) transfer just behind Baylor's Antwan Goodley, K-State's Tyler Lockett and Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant. Not going to argue with any of those.
Given Harwell's past performance and his importance to KU's offense, it seems to make sense for Steele to put him here. He's got the talent to move into that first tier by season's end but Montell Cozart and the offensive line are going to have to have big seasons for that to happen.
Senior Jimmay Mundine also earned a second-team nod at tight end, a position that is wide open in the Big 12 this season. Iowa State's E.J. Bibbs earned first-team honors, but, again, if that KU offense shows up this season, Mundine could be productive enough to earn a promotion by December.
Senior offensive guard Ngalu Fusimalohi, the lone lineman to start all 12 games at the same position in 2013, landed on Steele's second-team O-Line, largely based on last year's performance and his reputation as KU's most reliable and proven returning lineman.
Two KU defenders also made the second team, with last year's defensive newcomer of the year, Isaiah Johnson, holding down one safety spot and senior Dexter McDonald picked as one of the two second-team cornerbacks. Can't argue with either choice, as both guys have a ton of talent and have proven themselves in Big 12 play before.
Defensive End/Buck Michael Reynolds landed on Steele's third team, a testament to both his performance last season and development and maturity since arriving on campus, and he was joined by senior punter Trevor Pardula, who spent time as one of the top punters in the nation last season before coming back to Earth a little bit toward the end of the season.
All in all, it's a pretty good showing for the Jayhawks, who, if things go well, easily could have a couple of other guys crack the all-Big 12 lists by the end of 2014.
The omitted names most likely to show up on similar lists in the postseason include: senior wide receiver Tony Pierson, defensive backs Kevin Short and JaCorey Shepherd, right tackle Damon Martin and defensive tackle Keon Stowers.
In order for any of them to make the leap, though, they're going to have to turn in monster seasons and, perhaps more importantly, KU is going to have to win games.
Here's a complete look at Phil Steele's 2014 preseason all-Big 12 teams.
Tuesday was head shot day for the Kansas University football program and 81 Jayhawks paraded through the photo shoot decked out in their Sunday best to pose for pictures that will appear in this year's media guide and other promotional materials for the upcoming season.
Most years, it's a snooze fest. Guys show up, throw on a suit jacket and tie, choose whether they want to smile that nice smile that mom would be proud of or give one of those tough, football-player glares and then head back to the basement of the Anderson Family Football Complex to hit the weights.
Generally speaking, it always looks something like this:
However, this year's photo session came with a twist — quite literally.
Instead of regular suits and ties, the Jayhawks donned bow ties and were allowed to wear their choice of five different crimson-and-blue-themed tuxedo toppers.
Most guys were OK with the change, a few were extremely excited, a handful didn't like the idea until they saw themselves in them and a couple started and stayed steadfastly against the whole idea.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly who was responsible for the change-up, but, even though KU coach Charlie Weis almost certainly had to approve the idea, he probably was not the one who came up with it.
After all, Weis maintained throughout the 2013 season that he had absolutely no say in what uniform combination the Jayhawks went with on game days. If he didn't care about that, I can't imagine he cared much about this.
Personally, I think it's a nice touch. It's not something you see every day and it adds something unique to the same old mug shots that show up in the same old media guides. It also adds a hint of what the fun-loving attitude many on this team are known for and, who knows, maybe that whole "look good, feel good, play good" mantra might come into play, as well.
After the session wrapped, several Jayhawks threw their bow-tie looks onto various social media sites, but before we get to the photos, here are a couple more facts I learned about the new endeavor.
• None of the bow ties used in the photo shoot were of the clip-on variety.
• At the same time, not a single Jayhawk actually tied the bow tie himself.
• The most popular choices among the players photographed thus far — more newcomers will get their photos snapped later this summer — were the striped options (shown below on Keon Stowers, Mike Smithburg, Bobby Hartzog and Jimmay Mundine).
• It is believed that of all the thousands and thousands of head shots taken for KU media guides during KU photographer Jeff Jacobsen's time at KU, this was the first time that any KU team has gone with the bow-tie look.
Here's a look at a few of the best dressed Jayhawks from Tuesday's photo day: