Today, we’re 84 days away from the kickoff of the 2012 college football season. As such, we’ll preview the No. 84 team in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football previews, the Kansas Jayhawks.
Although the Jayhawks finished 2-10 in 2011, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic in 2012 with the arrival of former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis and former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist to Lawrence.
It’s not necessarily reasonable to expect the Jayhawks to be in the first-tier of Big 12 teams this season, but a return back to some respectability (i.e. 4-5 wins) should be realistic.
With Dayne Crist’s arrival, plenty expect there to be an immediate improvement in the Kansas passing game. While Crist played sparingly as a senior at Notre Dame, the graduate transfer’s play will ultimately play a huge role in how successful the Jayhawks are in 2012.
Running backs James Sims Jr. and Tony Pierson should be a nice one-two punch for a Kansas offense that will need to find some production from the running game to keep opposing defenses honest. Sims is more of an every-day back who will run downhill between tackles for the majority of his yardage, while Pierson has good enough hands to be a solid threat both on quick plays, but also catching passes in the flats.
Crist will be looking for production from one of the more talented wide receiving corps the Jayhawks have had in some time. Presumably led by senior Kale Pick, Kansas will also be looking for production from junior college signee Josh Ford and a pair of pint-sized playmakers in the 5’9″ D.J. Beshears and 5’8″ Daymond Patterson.
The Kansas offensive line will be tasked with learning a new system, and must pick up on it quickly to ensure a level of success for the entire unit. Senior all-conference candidate Taylor Hawkinson (LT) and left guard Duane Zlatnik will set the tone in the trenches.
Former Dallas Cowboys head coach and defensive coordinator Dave Campo takes over the Jayhawks’ coaching duties this season. Campo will likely employ a 3-4 base set for his seven returning starters.
In short, there’s nowhere for the Jayhawks’ defense to go but up, as the unit was Division I’s worst in 2011. The Jayhawks were both worst in total yards allowed (516.4 per game) and total points allowed (43.8 per game) in 2011.
The overhaul begins with three defensive linemen signed by Charlie Weis from the junior college ranks as well as the arrival of Nebraska Cornhuskers graduate transfer Josh Williams, who will be expected to make an instant contribution up front for Kansas.
Given last season’s horrendous statistics, there’s nothing but room for improvement for the Kansas linebacking and secondary units. Notre Dame graduate transfer Anthony McDonald and true freshman Schyler Miles will add some pop at linebacker, while senior Toben Opurum and sophomore Michael Reynolds will add some desperately needed speed rushing threats on the outside.
Senior cornerback Greg Brown, senior strong safety Lubbock Smith, and senior free safety Bradley McDougald will be tasked to help improve a secondary unit that was one of the nation’s worst in 2011.
The Jayhawks kick off the 2012 season with three straight home tests against FBS South Dakota State, the Rice Owls, and the TCU Horned Frogs.
The non-conference slate is wrapped up with a visit to DeKalb to take on the Northern Illinois Huskies on September 22nd before Big 12 play starts for Kansas against in-state rivals Kansas State two Saturdays lately.
A 2-2 split in non-conference play would be the best possible scenario for the Jayhawks, and will be essential entering Big 12 play if the team is to have even the slightest glimmer of hope for making the post-season.
Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. If you enjoy his takes, you can follow Kris on Twitter or check out his personal Facebook page.