After a disappointing 2016 campaign, in which Kansas finished last in the Big 12, Head Coach David Beaty and the Jayhawks look to build upon a team that showed much improvement late last season. After an impressive 55-6 victory against Rhode Island in their season opener, the Jayhawks went on an abysmal nine-game losing streak that included losses to Ohio, Memphis, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Iowa State. Toward the end of last year, for the first time in over 75 years, the Jayhawks did take down the Texas Longhorns, 24-21 in a defensive heavy overtime battle that left the whole Big 12 in shock.
Overall, KU showed glimpses of being a competitive team but never really put it all together. This season, the Jayhawks will add a lot of exciting young talent to a roster that has 13 returning starters from the end of last year. On top of adding a lot of new players, KU has also hired former TCU Offensive Coordinator, Doug Meacham, who adds a lot of experience (29 years) to a staff that has given KU fans a lot to get excited about.
Offensively, the Jayhawks look to improve a unit that last year put up only 20.2 points per game while turning the ball over a horrendous 36 times. There are several of positions still up for grabs on this side of the ball, most notably: Quarterback. Second year man Carter Stanley (6-2 196lbs, SO.)—who started in the Jayhawk’s final 4 games last year throwing for 959 yards and 6 touchdowns—and JUCO transfer Peyton Bender (6-1 190lbs, JR.) — who last year threw for 2733 yards at Itawamba Community College– have been battling throughout fall camp for the starting job.
At running back, the Jayhawks look to replace last year’s leading rusher, Ke’aun Kinner, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry. This off season, KU added plenty of depth here, acquiring former Colorado State back Deron Thompson (5-9 185lbs, JR.), JUCO transfer Octavius Matthews (6-1 200lbs, JR.), and electrifying true freshman Dom Williams (5-10 190lbs, FR.). With all of these newcomers, KU also returns junior power back Taylor Martin (5-10 200lbs, JR.)—who rushed for 324 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2016—as well as sophomore running back Khalil Herbert (5-9 200lbs, SO.). I would expect all of these running backs to split time as this is one of the deeper rotations on the roster.
Wide Receiver is another position that KU has to fill after the surprising dismissal of speedy wide receiver and return specialist, LaQuivionte Gonzalez. This year Kansas adds former Alabama Crimson Tide receiver Daylon Charlot (6-0 195lbs, SO.), JUCO product Kerr Johnson Jr. (5-11 180lbs, JR.), and freshman receiver Takulve Williams (6-0 185lbs, JR.). The Jayhawks also return last year’s leading receiver and Honorable Mention All-Big 12 receiver Steven Sims Jr. (5-10 176lbs, JR.), as well as juniors Jerimiah Booker (6-2 200lbs, JR.) and Ryan Schadler (5-11 191lbs, JR.). At the Tight End, senior Ben Johnson (6-5 245lbs, SR.) returns to round out Kansas’ receiving corp.
On the front line, the Jayhawks should be much improved as they have received much praise from Coach Beaty stating: “watching our team… watching them pick up things blitz wise… it is a night and day [difference], they have progressed so far” (KUsports.com). This unit is led by last year’s Freshman All-Big 12 First Team Left Tackle, Hakeem Adeniji (6-4 290lbs, SO.), as well as a pair of seniors: Left Guard Jayson Rhodes (6-4 307lbs, SR.) and Center Mesa Ribordy (6-4 305lbs, SO.). There is a position battle going on right now for the Right Guard spot between redshirt freshman Chris Hughes (6-3 300lbs, RSFR) and junior Larry Hughes (6-7 310lbs, JR.). The starting Right Tackle spot also appears to be between sophomore Antione Frazier (6-4 285lbs, SO.), and Alabama transfer (former five-star recruit) Charles Baldwin (6-5 305lbs, JR.).
Defense / Special Teams
On the Defensive side of the ball, the Jayhawks are lead by their stout front four, starring sensational junior Defensive End, Dorance Armstrong Jr. (6-4 245lbs JR.) –who was a Unanimous All-Big 12 First Team Defensive End a year ago, recording 10 sacks (2nd in the Big 12), and junior Nose Tackle Daniel Wise (6-3 290lbs, JR.)—who also earned All-Big 12 First Team Honors. The Jayhawks also add JUCO standout (three-star recruit) from Hutchinson Community College, Defensive Tackle J.J. Holmes (6-3 335lbs, JR.). The final defensive line spot seems to be open after the dismissal of sophomore Defensive End Maciah Long. Junior Josh Ehambe (6-3 247lbs JR.), appears to be the week one starter here after an impressive fall camp.
At the backer positions for KU highlights returning starters and Lawrence Free State HS alums, Joe Dineen Jr. (6-2 230lbs RSJR.) and Keith Loneker Jr. (6-2 225lbs JR.) Junior Osaze Ogbebor (6-1 220lbs, JR.) and redshirt freshman Dru Prox (6-1 215lbs RSFR.) also look to battle for time here as backups.
The defensive backfield for the Jayhawks, is led by last year’s Freshman All-Big 12 First Team, safety Mike Lee (5-11 176lbs, SO.). The team has some big shoes to fill at the other safety spot after the departure of last year’s leading tackler, Fish Smithson. Another intriguing position for KU is going to be Corner, as the Jayhawks look to replace graduates Marnez Ogletree, Brandon Stewart, and Tevin Shaw. Those spots will now be held down by Kilgore College transfer, Hasan Defense (5-11 180lbs SO.), sophomore Shakial Taylor (6-0 175lbs JR.), and senior Derrick Neal (5-11 180lbs, SR.) with JUCO transfer Antonio Cole (6-0 198lbs JR.), and sophomore Kyle Mayberry (5-10 175lbs SO.) backing them up.
Hoping to improve upon his performance last year is punter Cole Moos (5-11 190lbs SR.). With Matthew Wyman now graduated, in steps newcomer Liam Jones (5-10 170lbs FR.) taking over primary kicking duties.
With all the additions from this offseason and steady improvements from their veterans. KU football should take a step forward this season. Their season kicks off Saturday, September 2nd as they take on South Eastern Missouri State University at Memorial Field. The game is set to kick off at 6:00pm CST. You can listen live on 90.7f KJHK, with Jared Lenz and Jack Nadeau on the call.
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featured image courtesy of Sports Illustrated