Conference realignment has once again reared its ugly and oh-so-lucrative head, but this time the University of Kansas appears to be in better shape than in the past.
That’s not to say there won’t be some restless nights or uneasy times, but thanks to the recent move that triggered this round — UCLA and USC going to the Big Ten of all places — both KU and the Big 12 seem to be on much more solid ground than they were during the chaos of previous rounds of realignment.
As things look today, KU’s two most likely options in the forthcoming Power 2 era of college athletics are, in no particular order, to stay in a suddenly-strengthened Big 12 Conference or become one of the last schools snatched up by the Big Ten.
There are legitimate reasons why each outcome is the more likely outcome for the Jayhawks, and KU still has plenty of work to do to get its house in order (yes, we're talking facilities and football stadium here) to continue to be a strong and attractive partner. But if that’s where KU lands when all of this is finished — if it ever is — then either option winds up being a win.
There’s no disputing that landing in the mega-millions world of the Big Ten is the better option financially. The schools that wind up there or in the SEC — be it with 16 in each conference or as many as 20 or 24 — will essentially be holding a lottery ticket that likely will be worth billions of dollars over the next couple of decades and worth even more in terms of stability.
Those two conferences are where everyone wants to be, and that’s why this thing is only going to get crazier.
But if Kansas stays in the Big 12, and if the Big 12 acts quickly and boldly to expand its membership with the best of the rest in the Pac-12, KU’s current conference suddenly winds up as the clear third-best option. And it’s probably not even close.
The ACC and Pac-12 fall way behind — if they don’t disappear altogether — and being in that third slot with the kind of guaranteed TV money that’s in the ballpark of at least what they’re used to bringing in today is a heck of a lot better than watching those dollars disappear and trying to figure out how to run your athletic department without them.
KU’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is $110 million. Without the $40.6 million haul from the conference’s television rights deals, which is already 17% higher than the Pac-12’s and nearly 20% higher than the ACC’s, you’re looking a mid-major budget in a hurry.
The key to the Big 12 solidifying that No. 3 spot — for both financial gain and continued prime time exposure —is for the conference to act quickly and decisively.
Reports have surfaced that tie Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah to the Big 12. One such report, from Jason Scheer, who covers Arizona for the 247 Sports network, even indicated that that foursome would be meeting with Big 12 officials on Tuesday for “significant discussions.”
That’s acting fast. And smart. And if history has taught us anything with realignment, it’s that these types of conversations can turn into action quickly. The Big 12 moving to add those four programs not only would bolster the conference’s cache, but it also could be a final blow to the Pac-12. And getting rid of the Pac-12 on the power grid eliminates at least one conference from the competition of ESPN's and FOX's football television dollars.
Think of it this way: The Pac-12 just watched USC and UCLA do the equivalent of what Oklahoma and Texas did to the Big 12 just one year ago, but was left without the same kind of nationwide appeal to pick up the pieces and move forward. Pac-12 officials are no doubt looking at all of their options. But, at least as of today, those options appear to be both severely limited and lacking juice.
As for the Big Ten angle here, that conference appears to be locked in on seeing what Notre Dame will do before it makes any other moves.
Who knows when that will come? But it seems as if this latest round of realignment, for better or worse, will force Notre Dame into some kind of long-term and complete conference commitment if for no other reason than the fear of being left out because of its stubborn pride.
The fact remains that if the Big Ten ever decides to extend an invitation to KU, the powers that be at Kansas have to accept it and never look back. The money and stability the Big Ten can offer is just too great to turn down.
However, while many Jayhawks are still holding out hope that a Big Ten invitation is still on the horizon, those same people should be celebrating and supporting whatever moves the Big 12 makes in the meantime because a strong Big 12 merely strengthens KU's chances at survival.
None of this is fun. It all further contributes to the deterioration of college athletics as we once knew it and that’s a drag.
But this is no time for nostalgia or burying one’s head in the stand. This is a time to seek survival, and, as strange as it may seem, the tables finally appear to have turned in the Big 12’s favor — and therefore KU’s, as well — in that department.
Wild times get wilder.
Throw another big name in Kansas Athletics history behind KU alum Mike Harrity as a candidate for the Jayhawks’ open athletic director job.
KU basketball legend Danny Manning, who, himself, has expressed interest in KU’s vacant AD position, has now thrown his support behind Army’s Deputy AD/Chief Operating Officer.
Harrity, you may remember, received a similar endorsement from former KU football coach Mark Mangino last week.
“KU needs a Jayhawk as the new AD who has an elite level of broad experience in college athletics,” Manning tweeted on Turesday. “Mike Harrity is what WE need.”
Manning continued: “As an alum, Mike shares the same pas-sion and will invest the energy to restore Kansas Athletics to what it needs to be – humble/hungry as we strive for excel-lence in all that we do.”
Harrity grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and earned a journalism scholarship to KU, where he became the first person in his entire extended family to graduate from college.
After graduating, Harrity worked in KU’s athletic department for a handful of years and was responsible for developing, co-ordinating and executing the Kansas Athletics staff’s commu-nity involvement, outreach and relationship-building while also heading up relationship-building and outreach to former stu-dent-athletes who have achieved success in professional ath-letics and business. After leaving Kansas, Harrity spent several years as an Asso-ciate AD at Notre Dame, where he started in 2011.
In 2017, Harrity was selected as one of 25 senior-level athlet-ics administrators from across the country to participate in the NCAA Pathway Program.
The year-long program is designed to prepare those currently in senior-level positions to gain insight into every facet of an athletic department, preparing them to become well-rounded leaders who are equipped with the tools an effective athletic director needs.
Hired by Army in February of 2020, Harrity currently oversees several of the day-to-day functions Army’s athletic department, including all external units — fundraising/development, ticket-ing and strategic communication, which includes Army’s ath-letic communications, marketing and fan engagement en-deavors, digital and social strategies and creative video and broadcasting.
He also has been involved with Army’s plans to embark upon a major capital campaign to enhance Michie Stadium and as-sisted with the administration oversight for Army Football in addition to serving as a sport administrator for other varsity sports teams.
Throughout his career, Harrity has worked in college athletics programs in the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Patriot League.
Here's a quick look at some of the latest chatter I've heard about KU's AD search:
• The Journal-World has learned that well-known search firm, TurnkeyZRG, will assist Kansas in its search for a new athletic director.
• Multiple sources have told me the process is moving fast — perhaps even faster than expected — and that KU Chancellor Douglas Girod's March 10 timeline of making a hire "within the next few weeks" is still in play.
• As of last Sunday, it was still too early to consider any candidate the leader.
• A couple of names worth adding to our original list include: Travis Goff, Deputy AD at Northwestern; Missy Conboy, Senior Deputy AD at Notre Dame; Mike Bohn, a KU graduate who is now the AD at USC; and Mark Alnutt, the current AD at Buffalo.
The last time KU had an opening for an athletic director, I received a handful of calls from a few former KU football players touting Mike Harrity, then at Notre Dame, as a guy that Kansas should consider.
Today, with that job open once again, the man who coached a lot of those players who called me is throwing his support behind Harrity, who is now a Deputy AD and COO at Army.
Former KU football coach Mark Mangino took to Twitter on Thursday afternoon to offer up what he dubbed, “My 2 cents” about Harrity.
“KU should approach Army Deputy Ath. Director/COO, Mike Harrity for their AD position,” wrote Mangino. “Mike is a KU grad. He worked in Ath. Administration there as well as Notre Dame. He’s smart, hardworking & well liked. He was my go to guy as HC. #cantmiss.”
According to his bio, Harrity currently leads Army’s daily operations in the areas of Sports Performance (sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and performance nutrition), Strategic Communication (athletic communications, digital and social strategies, creative and video services, and broadcasting) and Licensing and Branding.
Hired in February of 2020, he also has helped oversee the Development area, as Army West Point Athletics has embarked on a major capital campaign, and assisted with the administration oversight for Army Football in addition to serving as a sport administrator for other varsity sport teams.
His connection to Army Football and Army coach Jeff Monken, who has been named on several lists as a potential successor to Les Miles at KU, no doubt would intrigue Kansas fans. Whether Harrity could deliver Monken — or if Monken would even be interested in the job — remain unknowns at this point.
Harrity grew up in Kansas City, Kan., and earned a journalism scholarship to The University of Kansas, where he was the first person in his entire extended family to graduate from college.
Full disclosure: Harrity and I were classmates at the J School, which puts him somewhere around the age of 42, and I remember him being very well liked by everybody he came in contact with.
In addition to his time at KU, Harrity also earned a Master's degree in Education and served in athletics department roles at the University of Minnesota and The University of Kansas before joining the University Notre Dame in December 2011.
At KU, Harrity was responsible for developing, coordinating and executing the Kansas Athletics staff’s community involvement, outreach and relationship-building while also heading up relationship-building and outreach to former student-athletes who have achieved success in professional athletics and business.
Prior to that, Harrity served as an Associate AD for marketing, revenue development and game-day experience, where he worked with KU’s sales, marketing, promotions and game-day experience departments. Harrity also worked KU’s Assistant AD for student-athlete development and community relations from 2004-10.
A few years back, I talked with Harrity about one of his crowning achievements outside of a college athletic department, his 2012 book titled “Coaching Wisdom,” in which he solicited the help of 13 college coaches who had won a combined 103 championships — including Lou Holtz and John Wooden — to examine the creation of cultures of sustained excellence.
The book is definitely worth checking out. And Harrity might be, as well.
His young age and limited experience with hiring coaches are certainly obstacles that could be tough to overcome. And he's probably a long shot to get involved. But even though it's been more than a decade since Mangino left town, his words still mean a lot to the KU fan base, so it's worth passing along.
Now that it worked for Sports Illustrated and the Houston Astros, it seems like everybody is at least considering taking a shot at predicting the future.
The Astros, in case you don’t know, made good on a 2014 SI cover story that proclaimed them the 2017 World Series champs by knocking off the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of this year’s World Series on Wednesday night in L.A.
The win marked the first world championship for the Astros franchise, but, perhaps more notably, sent the rest of the sports world into absolute pandemonium over that 2014 Sports Illustrated cover.
Ebay and other such sites are currently selling that magazine for nearly $300 or more and its legend only figures to grow from here.
So how does this all relate to anything to do with KU Sports?
Well, thanks to Bryce Wood, a Washburn University graduate and Topeka native, we now know. Wood, a talented graphic designer who actually has done some freelance cover work for Sports Illustrated — including designing all four of this year’s NFL preview covers featuring Tom Brady, David Johnson, Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Watt — took to Twitter (@woodymlb4) to release his own mock SI cover featuring none other than the Kansas football team.
Themed exactly like that Astros cover from 2014, with KU quarterback Carter Stanley in the center, it reads, “An unprecedented look at how a dynasty is forming to build the game’s next big thing.... Your 2018 National Champs. P.30”
On the other side of the magazine, below his name and behind Stanley, who has the ball cocked high and ready to throw, reads, “Haha Just Kidding.”
So, obviously, Wood, who considers himself a fan of KU sports, is not actually predicting this accomplishment, nor is he going out on the same kind of limb that Sports Illustrated did three years ago with that Astros prediction.
But it’s pretty funny nonetheless and it shows two things — 1. How some KU fans currently are dealing with the football team’s struggles. And 2. Just how big that SI cover has become.
With KU sitting at 1-7 in David Beaty's third season, it's hard to imagine things turning around so drastically for this cover prediction to become true. Then again, the Astros were coming off of three consecutive seasons with at least 105 losses (in 162 games) and were 36-48 at the time the cover hit newsstands.
Back in 2011, a handful of Kansas State graduates who spent so many of their college days rooting hard against Kansas, came together to do something good for the city of Lawrence.
In honor of their friend, who had passed away after a battle with breast cancer, these K-State grads joined forces with former KU football player Harrison Hill, Lawrence business man Miles Schnaer and others in the weeks leading up to the KU-K-State football showdown to raise money to remodel Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s oncology wing, where their dear friend spent so many days during her treatment.
In just a short time, these women raised well over their goal of $100,000 and sent the money to LMH to honor their friend Jamie Pursley’s wish to make the environment and atmosphere inside the treatment rooms fresh and upbeat.
Today, this same group, now operating behind The Jamie’s Wish Foundation name, is at it again, this time for the benefit of the University of Kansas Cancer Center North, located in Kansa City, Mo.
“JWF has one goal,” the group wrote in a press release. “To make chemotherapy infusion areas more comfortable for cancer patients.”
This time around, dubbed “Together for a Common Cause II,” their efforts are under way in the memory of Andy Tyhurst, who lost his battle with appendix cancer last July.
“JWF bridges a divide between KU and K-State fans,” the group said. “Making cancer care more comfortable for patients is a big win for both teams.”
With that in mind, the Foundation is hosting a tailgate event for this weekend’s Sunflower Showdown at Memorial Stadium from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 11th and Mississippi from Lot 96 to Lot 130 at Memorial Stadium.
The area will be marked by pink balloons and more than 300 KU and K-State fans who have been inspired by JWF and Tyhurst and Pursley plan to put the Rock Chalk Chickenhawk and Little Brother barbs aside — at least before the game — to raise money for this great cause.
To donate or learn more about Saturday's fund-raiser, visit jamieswish.org or contact the Foundation’s head of media relations, Jamie Borgman, at (913)-568-8221 or email@example.com.
KU (1-6 overall, 0-4 Big 12) and K-State (3-4, 1-3) will kick off this year's Sunflower Showdown at 2 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
Last week, while Kansas fans were speculating, dreaming and debating about what the $300 million announced renovation budget for Memorial Stadium could look like and include, Dennis Dodd of CBSsports.com had another thought.
Sure, Kansas fans everywhere would like to know what that money will be used for and how the project will look when completed.
Will Memorial Stadium receive a facelift or a complete overhaul? Are we talking about something like what happened at K-State with Bill Snyder Family Stadium or something like what happened at TCU, where they basically built the entire thing from scratch?
For what it’s worth, both are sharp, modern venues and either direction would go a long way toward improving the Kansas football experience.
But, as Dodd pointed out, there’s much, much more to the story here than the fact that all of that coin can deliver shiny new concession stands, an upgraded wireless experience and a much better looking stadium, inside and out, top to bottom.
There’s also the statement about what this kind of commitment means for the program and the university. And there’s no denying that it means a ton.
One of the more popular groans I’ve heard throughout the years about the Kansas football program is that athletic director Sheahon Zenger and his department are not committed to football. Those who know him and have been paying attention know that could not be farther from the truth. Suggesting otherwise is laughable.
But in the world we live in today, it’s dollars not determination that shows commitment, so all of that behind-the-scenes stuff and all of those hours of sleepless nights or endless meetings don’t mean nearly as much to the general public as the sound of a $300 million commitment to renovating the stadium.
Today you’ve got both, and now the real fun can begin.
While the public won’t know exactly what the plan is until blueprints are released by KU sometime in September, what is known today is that the Jayhawks are serious about positioning the program to be in as good of shape as possible for the near future and beyond.
The reason that’s so important, as Dodd points out, is something we’ve all heard for years now, so much so that it almost has become common knowledge for fans of all ages — it’s football that drives realignment and will shape the college athletics landscape of the future. Not having your shop in order in that area could be devastating.
Zenger knows this. He always has. And he’s spent hundreds of hours contemplating all of the things Kansas can do to get on the right track in the event that realignment rears its ugly head once more sometime in the near future.
While things have been calm and quiet at the Power 5 level for the past few years, those grant of rights agreements are eventually going to expire and, when they do, it’s anybody’s guess as to where things go from there. Better to be prepared well in advance than to be forced to scramble if/when it all goes down.
And so the Jayhawks are doing just that. Forget the $300 million stadium plans for a second. That’s big. Huge, in fact. And it will go a long way toward showing the world — read: television networks and Power 5 conferences — that KU is serious about football again.
But there have been plenty of smaller, less-talked-about signs that say the same thing along the way.
The first was hiring Beaty in the first place. In doing so, Zenger put an end to the idea of dishing out disproportionate salaries to football coaches taking the Jayhawks nowhere and provided the program with the foundation it needed for a true rebuild. As was said when Beaty was hired, the process was going to take time and patience would be important, but as Beaty and company head into Year 3, things definitely appear to be headed in a better direction.
The second came last year, when Zenger extended Beaty’s contract and doubled his salary. While that meant bumping his compensation from $800,000 to $1.6 million, numbers that pale in comparison to the $300 million renovation budget, it also meant that the Jayhawks were serious about providing this guy what he needs to keep the momentum moving.
Don't overlook Zenger's recent extension itself in this whole thing, too. It's much easier for an AD to ask for $300 million in donations if there's an indication that he's going to be around long enough to make sure the money is used the way donors are told it will be.
The third and most overlooked aspect of KU's commitment to football was to Beaty’s coaching staff. Rather than using money to make hires elsewhere in the department — needed or otherwise — Zenger set aside a significant amount of cash for Beaty to use on his staff. While a big chunk of that went to new offensive coordinator Doug Meachem — who, for what it’s worth, absolutely could be a difference-maker right away — it also allowed Beaty to bump up the salaries of several other assistant coaches, most notable of which was Tony Hull, whose ties to Louisiana have been an enormous part of KU’s recruiting success of late.
Those three things were all in place well before any kind of $300 million stadium announcement saw the light of day. And together, those moves, along with a handful of others, (most notably the million-dollar renovation of the football locker room) should put an end, once and for all, to the ridiculous talk about KU and Zenger not being committed to the football program.
They are. It’s as clear as can be. And, if Dodd is right and realignment does hit hard again in the next 5-8 years, it’s moves like these that could keep Kansas — and, therefore, it’s blue blood basketball program — relevant among the rest of the power players in college athletics.
I know you’re out there. I can hear you all the way over here. And I don’t blame you.
But I do think you should take a brief pause from the eye-rolling and exhaling that surely hit most of you after learning about the pair of Alabama football transfers that announced plans to come to Kansas this week.
It’s not your fault that your gut reaction is to be skeptical. Heck, after all of the seemingly-promising transfers that have passed through here and never quite panned out, I would think skepticism would be a gut reaction upon learning that more were on the way.
But there’s something different about Alabama’s Daylon Charlot and Charles Baldwin that you might want to consider before writing them off.
There’s a lot different, actually.
First of all, these are not the Dayne Crists, Mike Ragones, Anthony McDonalds, Jake Heapses and Justin McCays of the world. All of those aforementioned players, and a few others just like them, came to Kansas on the heels of some serious hype because of their previous recruiting buzz and the names of the universities from which they came. Notre Dame. Oklahoma. BYU.
Players good enough to land scholarships at those schools traditionally do not come to Kansas. In each of those instances there were extra circumstances at play that paved the way for them to land in Lawrence. And while each of them had good moments and gave everything they had, none of them really proved to be the caliber of player that KU fans were expecting to get. Because of that, KU fans then built up a wall that prompted them to first laugh and scoff at the news of any transfers coming this way in the years that followed.
As I mentioned above, I get it. I was duped too. And maybe if things were different in some ways or if they had come at a different time, those former transfers would have enjoyed terrific careers at KU and this narrative would be completely different. But that didn’t happen. So those guys and many others who followed in their footsteps immediately were labeled as busts, has-beens or never-would-bes because the guys before them didn’t quite pan out.
In almost every one of those cases, though, we already knew what type of player Kansas was getting. Sure, the idea that they had played at OU or suited up at Notre Dame sounded like a dream scenario for a struggling KU program. But each was deep into his career and had not really shown anything at the previous stop to make people here think things were going to be different. The excitement of the shiny name and the hope of better days blinded many of us to that fact.
That’s on us. Our expectations and preconceived notions created that. Not the players.
But, guess what? These guys who are coming from ’Bama are not proven — good or bad. And we don’t know that they couldn’t cut it in Tuscaloosa. All we know is that they want to try it somewhere else.
In the case of Charlot, that was after one season and, most likely, because he wants a better chance to get on the field or to play in a different style.
In the case of Baldwin, he was dismissed for violation of team rules, so we have to be careful there. And like current Jayhawk Anthony Olobia or former Jayhawk Marquel Combs before him, he was one of the highest rated junior college prospects in the country before heading to Alabama. While that part might sound familiar and surely leaves more than a little to be desired given the way things played out with Combs and Olobia, the big difference is this: Baldwin was a player Ala-freakin-Bama wanted. The best programs on Olobia’s offer list included Texas Tech and Utah.
Besides all of those facts, this is a different era of Kansas football. Much of the failed junior college experiment and transfer route took place under Charlie Weis, who was simply trying to crawl out of the mess made by Turner Gill and wound up creating a different kind of mess because of it.
Had the transfers mentioned above panned out, Weis would’ve looked like a genius and KU would’ve won a bunch more games. Neither happened and that led to the arrival of David Beaty.
Believe me, Beaty does not go into these deals lightly. If he’s taking a transfer, it’s because he thinks — maybe even knows — that adding that player immediately makes KU better. If he doesn’t believe that’s the case, he doesn’t take the player. It’s that simple.
Transfers are tricky and there is no guarantee that any of them are ever going to be what fans and coaches hope they will be. Many of them aren’t.
There’s no doubt that both Charlot and Baldwin will forever be labeled as the former ’Bama guys and, therefore, will both be held to that standard, especially in the eyes of KU fans desperate to see this program return to its winning ways. And the scenario exists that has these two playing good but not great or even being downright busts and becoming the next in a long line of promising transfers who went on to disappoint.
But I’d say the odds that they’ll succeed are at least as good as the odds that they’ll fail and probably better. Better, because they’re coming into a whole different set of circumstances than those players from the past.
So to write these two off just because of the past failures of so many others who came to KU and underperformed is a bit premature.
Things are different now. And maybe this time it will wind up being OK to be excited about this kind of potential good fortune happening to Kansas football.
During the past few decades bigger, taller, meaner, older men and all kinds in between have tried to tackle the job entrusted to second-year Kansas football coach David Beaty.
And very few of them have succeeded.
So just how difficult is the Kansas football job?
Beaty was asked that question — and dozens of others — Monday at Big 12 Media Days in Dallas, and, like with most things, the KU coach gave an honest and enthusiastic answer.
“You know what? It is a difficult job,” Beaty said. “But all these jobs are difficult. But I tell you what, it's a great opportunity. We know where we are headed and our players do as well. I can't wait for you guys to hear from those guys because I think you will hear in their voices, they know where we're headed.”
Unlike a year ago, when Beaty spent a good chunk of his time on the podium subtly pushing the recruiting angle, this year he talked more about concrete proof of progress, the process and what his players have done during his first year in charge.
No one can say Beaty was pleased with the winless season and the final record, but there were elements of that first season that made him happy.
“For us to go through a season that we went through, if you would have come to that last practice before that last game you would have never thought we hadn't won a game,” he said. “That was probably what I was most proud of. Our guys worked and enjoyed everything they did with regard to development. They know where we are heading and they can see the future.
“Is it difficult? Yes, but every job is difficult, doesn't really matter where you're coaching, everything has their own unique set of characteristics that make it difficult, but there is a lot of great things about 'em, too, and there is a lot of tremendous support at KU. They want to win. They give us what we need. We're finishing up a $2 million renovation and our fans want it and they know it's coming and our guys know it's coming, too.”
It's time for the second installment of this summer's Most Crucial Jayhawks list and, after starting off on the offensive side of the ball at arguably the most important position on the team on Monday, we hop over to defense for No. 24.
When you're coming off of an 0-12 season, every position is important. And while KU's defense should feature an improved group of players with decent experience, the KU coaching staff (and fan base) is always looking for ways to add top-tier talent to the roster.
That, regardless of how it arrives, would expedite KU's battle to rebuild the program and, also would give the Jayhawks and their fans something to get excited about.
That brings us to No. 24 on the list, a true freshman from Oklahoma, who promises to excite and plans to deliver, not just during his Kansas career, but as soon as he steps onto the field for Game 1 as a Jayhawk on Sept. 3.
Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.
This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.
Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.
Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.
24. Kyle Mayberry, Fr. Cornerback
When it comes to playing cornerback in the Big 12 Conference, the target is always on your back, there are no down times and all eyes are on you from start to finish of most conference games.
That’s what makes the addition of Kyle Mayberry so important to this Kansas squad and why so many people in the program and in Mayberry’s camp believe the top-rated cornerback in Oklahoma in the prep class of 2016 may be a star in the making with the Jayhawks.
Tall, physical, long and athletic, Mayberry’s skill set transfers well to the Big 12, where he will face world-class athletes week after week disguised as wide receivers.
However, while Mayberry is gifted in all of those physical areas, his biggest strength might be his confidence. This young man believes he can cover anybody at any time and, upon meeting fellow-Oklahoman and former Jayhawk Chris Harris at Harris’ camp a couple of summers ago, Mayberry told him, point blank, that he was the best CB in the state.
“He asked who I was,” Mayberry told the Journal-World earlier this year. “And I told him I was the best cornerback in the state of Oklahoma. He said, ‘Oh, really.’ And then that season I had a great year, and he found out I really was.”
Mayberry, who goes by the nickname "Money," has the talent and skills to challenge for a starting spot immediately. The big question surrounding how successful that quest will be comes in the form of how quickly Mayberry will adjust to college life, the speed of the college game and KU’s defensive schemes and game plan.
If that comes as naturally as making plays did during his high school career, Mayberry could make a big early splash and that could pay big time dividends for the team. Even if he doesn’t, it’s easy to see Mayberry playing a significant number of snaps in a reserve role, rotating into the cornerback mix with Brandon Stewart, Marnez Ogletree and Stephan Robinson among others.
Although he won’t be in the spotlight off the field because of KU’s policy against freshmen talking to the media, Mayberry easily could find the spotlight on the field and could quickly develop into a fan favorite if his play holds up.
He has one of the brightest long term futures in the program and if he can get off to a solid start in Year 1, it would go a long way toward helping KU field a much more competitive team in 2016.
Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:
Finally, the Kansas football team may be catching a break.
It’s been a rough six seasons for the Jayhawks, who have piled up losses at a record pace since enjoying wild success under former head coach Mark Mangino. And there’s no doubting that in order to crawl out from under the mess the Jayhawks could benefit from a helping hand.
That’s exactly what they’ll get in 2016, according to FOX Sports writer Bruce Feldman, who ranks the Jayhawks’ 2016 non-conference schedule as the second easiest among Power 5 Conference football programs.
Here’s the criteria Feldman used...
"I've based this on my evaluation of opponents' merits for 2016 based on the following points system: 5 points for a Top 5 caliber team; 4.5 for a Top 15; 4 for a Top 25; 3.5 for a Top 40; 3 for a Top 60; 2.5 for a Top 80; 2 for a Top 100; 1.5 for a fringe FBS program or strong FCS team; a 1 for a complete cupcake. Also, I've added bonus points for a road game (0.5) or a neutral site game (0.25)."
After tallying it all up, KU’s non-con schedule strength index number came in at 1.83, tied with Washington for second lowest and just .02 behind Boston College, which claimed the No. 1 spot.
Feldman likes the way things set up for KU during its first three games before the grueling Big 12 schedule, with a pair of home games against Rhode Island and Ohio and a trip to Memphis that became a little bit easier to swallow this offseason, when former Memphis coach Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech and several seniors exhausted their eligibility and followed him out the door.
Here’s Feldman’s take...
"The Jayhawks have a great chance to start the season with a win by opening at home against woeful URI, which was 1-10 in 2015. After that, Ohio, which has only 11 starters back, visits, followed by a trip to play a rebuilding Memphis team that not only lost its star QB but also its head coach and has only 12 starters returning."
Earlier this summer, though not as high, I also saw ESPN ranked KU's non-conference schedule as the eighth easiest among Power 5 programs.
Clearly, the mere thought that KU may have a couple of easy games in the early going qualifies as good news for the Jayhawks. But if there's one thing KU fans have learned during one of the roughest stretches in college football history it's that nothing comes easy and easy definitely is a relative term.
Still, having a schedule that people don't deem one of the most difficult in the country, which has been the case during a couple of the past few seasons, should give KU hope that the turnaround could begin sooner rather than later.
Really, though, this fact qualifies as both good and bad news. Good because it gives KU a chance. Bad because if the Jayhawks stumble against this group, they won't really have any excuses.
That's not to say anybody should expect Kansas to be 3-0 after the non-con portion of the schedule passes on Sept. 17 — 2-1 would certainly register as a fantastic start and, according to Vegas and many college football analysts, 1-2 is the more likely result.
But momentum can be a funny thing. And if KU can get that first one against a woeful Rhode Island team, the Ohio game the following week looks a little more attainable and things can build from there.
The whole thing adds intrigue to something that KU fans already are keeping a close eye on anyway — how quickly can second-year coach David Beaty get things back on the right track and when will Saturdays at Memorial Stadium start to be fun again?