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1. What now?
A year ago, Charlie Weis signed enough JUCO players to make Ron Prince blush. The Kansas head coach decided after a dreadful first year in charge (KU went 1-11 in 2012) that he didn't want to wait for young players to develop -- he wanted to raise the talent and experience levels quickly.
Charlie Weis had to know what he was getting into. The Seductive Mr. Weis probably thinks more highly of his coaching abilities than is warranted, but he's no dummy. By the end of spring practice last year, he had to know that 2012 was going to be a very, very long season for him at Kansas.
Weis inherited a roster nearly devoid of high-end talent. ... He brought in some immediate transfers to help (quarterback Dayne Crist, tight end Mike Ragone, and linebacker Anthony McDonald from Notre Dame, and defensive end Josh Williams from Nebraska), but none of them suddenly rediscovered the potential they were supposed to have as recruits, and they weren't going to be around long anyway.
So Weis started mining the junior college ranks. I mean, he mined them. He brought in two junior college receivers, three offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and four defensive backs. He signed 15 (15!!) JUCOs and just nine high schoolers. And three of the 15 (15!!) JUCOs were given at least a three-star designation by Rivals.com. [...]
Weis brings in an immediate talent upgrade at numerous positions and boosts his team's overall experience level (sort of), and the Jayhawks should be quite a bit better this fall.
So how'd that work out?
The Jayhawks' defense indeed improved in 2013. The line held Clint Bowen's unit back pretty considerably, but the linebackers and secondary were aggressive and occasionally effective, and Kansas improved from 84th to 66th in Def. F/+. So that's something.
But the offense -- the unit on which Weis' ability to find new jobs is supposed to be derived -- cratered. A lack of identity hurt early, and a lack of passing ability hurt late. A bad offense (103rd in Off. F/+ in 2012) got much worse (119th) and canceled out any possible gains made on the other side of the ball.
Granted, Kansas' win total improved for the first time in six years (!), but only to 3-9. And none of the three teams the Jayhawks beat finished better than 4-8.
Weis mitigated some of the risk of signing so many JUCOs by redshirting quite a few, so he's not facing a situation in which his (as yet unsuccessful) roster has 35 seniors or something. But he has a bigger problem on his hands: a "Now what?" problem. After winning 12 games in 2007 and 13 in 2008-09, the Jayhawks have won just nine in the last four seasons. Since 2008, they are 3-40 in Big 12 play. They haven't beaten an FBS team that finished with a winning record since September 2011. They haven't beaten a major-conference team that finished with a winning record since October 2009. They haven't finished better than 101st in the F/+ rankings since 2009.
Kansas has had plenty of stretches of poor football through its history -- 9-25 from 2000-02, 12-41-2 from 1986-90, 11-30-3 from 1977-80, 9-20-1 from 1965-67, 8-30-2 from 1953-56, 12-33 from 1938-42 -- but this might soon become the worst. The downward slide that began under Mark Mangino and picked up rapid pace under Turner Gill hasn't necessarily continued under Weis, but it hasn't improved either.
And as of this week, it's now documented in a federal court case. From O'Bannon v. NCAA:
Uh, poor KU football. Gets brought up because Rice beat the Jayhawks this year. Attorney: "Kansas is perennial basement dweller in Big 12."— Brady McCollough (@BradyMcCollough) June 23, 2014
There's hope that Kansas might break back into the top 100 this year. And the Jayhawks might be just one home upset win away from reaching four wins for the first time in five years. But it will take an upset. And it will take some semblance of passing ability. And these things are anything but guaranteed. So now what?
Weis is trying. He hired a new offensive coordinator. He made some slight shifts on defense. He brought in a few more JUCOs. But Kansas gets no benefit of the doubt at this point.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 1-11 | Final F/+ Rk: 101|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|7-Sep||South Dakota||N/A||31-14||W||21.9 - 29.9||L|
|14-Sep||at Rice||69||14-23||L||17.0 - 23.1||L|
|21-Sep||Louisiana Tech||112||13-10||W||21.3 - 31.8||L|
|5-Oct||Texas Tech||43||16-54||L||14.0 - 25.6||L|
|12-Oct||at TCU||44||17-27||L||9.5 - 35.6||L||-12.5|
|19-Oct||Oklahoma||20||19-34||L||19.5 - 28.9||L||-12.8|
|26-Oct||Baylor||7||14-59||L||20.2 - 34.4||L||-14.4|
|2-Nov||at Texas||35||13-35||L||22.8 - 29.9||L||-13.7|
|9-Nov||at Oklahoma State||8||6-42||L||19.9 - 21.5||L||-11.7|
|16-Nov||West Virginia||76||31-19||W||27.0 - 25.3||W||-6.1|
|23-Nov||at Iowa State||78||0-34||L||11.1 - 50.7||L||-12.2|
|30-Nov||Kansas State||24||10-31||L||15.0 - 23.4||L||-11.0|
|Points Per Game||15.3||120||31.8||93|
|Adj. Points Per Game||18.3||121||30.0||87|
2. A positive trend (if you squint)
The national average for FBS yards per play in 2013 was 5.8. For the season, KU allowed exactly 5.8 and allowed fewer than that in four of its last five games. The glitches were pretty significant -- 9.1 per play to a Baylor team that was beginning to hobble a bit and, most egregiously, 8.0 to an Iowa State offense that was crippled by injuries and had little to offer to anybody else on the Big 12 slate -- but in the absence of clear, definable improvement, you have to squint a little. And if we remove ISU as an outlier (and what a disappointing one it was, coming a week after the best performance of the year), we can craft averages that look like this:
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 7 games): Opponent 29.9, Kansas 17.6 (minus-12.3)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games sans ISU): Opponent 25.0, Kansas 21.2 (minus-3.8)
The offense went from hopeless to just bad, and the defense went from below average to above average. That's not exactly a good line for the season ticket sales posters, but it's something. If you take out the Iowa State game.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||33.6%||122||Succ. Rt. +||84.1||114|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||32.0||105||Def. FP+||98.4||76|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.3||119||Redzone S&P+||89.5||98|
|Q1 Rk||117||1st Down Rk||116|
|Q2 Rk||91||2nd Down Rk||104|
|Q3 Rk||119||3rd Down Rk||123|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Montell Cozart||6'2, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||23||63||227||0||2||36.5%||2||3.1%||3.3|
|Michael Cummings||5'10, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||3||4||44||1||0||75.0%||1||20.0%||8.4|
|T.J. Millweard||6'3, 210||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
3. Cozart + Reagan = identity
Rice had one of my favorite offenses over the last couple of years. Head coach David Bailiff and coordinator John Reagan crafted an interesting run-first spread with lots of reads and big-play opportunities for their runners. Weis got an up-close look at Reagan's offense with a home-and-home against Rice these past two seasons -- Kansas held the run in check for the most part but still managed to lose both games -- and apparently he liked what he saw. When it came time to hire a new offensive coordinator in December, he called Reagan.
In theory, Reagan could make use of the personnel he inherits. The running back unit is in transition but still appears deep, there's at least one potential deep threat on play-action (senior Rodriguez Coleman, who had a lovely spring), and most importantly, Reagan has a quarterback suited for his style of ball.
Montell Cozart needs a lot of work. Let's not pretend otherwise. His rushing numbers weren't actually very good for a run-first quarterback last year, and he was one of the worst passers at the FBS level. But he was in a nearly impossible situation -- true freshman who finds his redshirt torn off midway through the year -- and he did bring decent efficiency to the table despite mistakes. He is a template with which Reagan can work. The problem is, he's still a true sophomore with almost no record of success, and it might take a year before he truly gets comfortable at the position. But hey, we're looking for optimism here.
|Taylor Cox (2012)||RB||5'11, 212||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||91||464||3||5.1||3.7||N/A|
|Montell Cozart||QB||6'2, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||64||225||1||3.5||3.1||39.1%|
|Brandon Bourbon||RB||6'1, 225||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||41||191||3||4.7||3.6||41.5%|
|Tony Pierson||RB/WR||5'10, 175||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||24||163||0||6.8||11.1||37.5%|
|Michael Cummings||QB||5'10, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||10||0||0||0.0||5.0||10.0%|
|De'Andre Mann||RB||5'9, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Traevohn Wrench||RB||6'0, 190||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Corey Avery||RB/WR||5'10, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
4. Plenty of backs
Despite the loss of running backs James Sims and Darrian Miller, Reagan still has backs with which to work. He'll still have senior efficiency backs Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox, he'll still have JUCO transfer De'Andre Mann and four-star freshman Traevohn Wrench, and he'll have one of the best, most diverse (when healthy) play-makers in the Big 12, Tony Pierson.
Unless Rodriguez Coleman really does emerge as a strong play-maker in the receiving corps, it's pretty much Pierson or bust. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry and 8.1 yards per target on the awful 2012 offense, and he averaged 6.8 and 6.9, respectively, before head injuries derailed his 2013 campaign. He is exactly the type of runner for whom Reagan will try to find space. He just has to stay healthy enough to take advantage of it.
If Pierson indeed stays healthy -- and head injuries are quite the if -- then one has to like the potential of the KU run game. That would mean Pierson flexing all over the field (he was KU's leading receiver last year despite missing 5+ games, which probably says more about KU's passing than his receiving), Cozart running the option, Bourbon and Cox churning up the middle, and potentially Mann or Wrench finding space outside. But it's almost all potential and ifs at this point.
That goes for the offensive line, as well. Granted, the Jayhawks' No. 86 rankings in Adj. Line Yards was better than most of their offensive rankings, but they let defenders into the backfield at will and now must replace four of the nine players who finished 2013 with starting experience. Thanks to JUCO transfers, KU will possibly start an all-juniors-and-seniors line, and the size is decent, but like the rest of the run game, we're looking more at potential than proven commodities.
|Tony Pierson||RB/WR||5'10, 175||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||48||24||333||50.0%||15.5%||55.8%||6.9||0||6.9||33.2|
|Jimmay Mundine||TE||6'2, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||44||20||229||45.5%||14.2%||41.9%||5.2||-64||5.5||22.8|
|Brandon Bourbon||RB||6'1, 225||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||31||20||102||64.5%||10.0%||46.2%||3.3||-140||4.0||10.2|
|Justin McCay||WR-X||6'2, 210||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||25||9||84||36.0%||8.1%||57.1%||3.4||-68||3.9||8.4|
|Rodriguez Coleman||WR-Z||6'3, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||25||8||208||32.0%||8.1%||40.0%||8.3||62||7.5||20.7|
|Tre' Parmalee||WR-Z||5'10, 175||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||22||9||74||40.9%||7.1%||60.0%||3.4||-67||3.6||7.4|
|Trent Smiley||TE||6'4, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||2||2||21||100.0%||0.6%||100.0%||10.5||1||5.8||2.1|
|Jordan Shelley-Smith||TE||6'5, 245||So.||3 stars (5.5)||1||1||3||100.0%||0.3%||N/A||3.0||-7||0.0||0.3|
| Nick Harwell
|WR||6'1, 193||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||110||68||870||61.8%||23.4%||71.8%||7.9||N/A||8.4||112.3|
|Dylan Admire||TE/FB||6'3, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Ben Johnson||TE||6'5, 235||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Derrick Neal||WR||5'10, 155||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
5. 40.2 percent
Charlie Weis explains ...
Charlie Weis explains ...
In 2013, Kansas' six X- and Z-receivers combined to catch 53 of 132 passes. That's an almost impossibly bad catch rate of 40.2 percent.
Of the six, only Coleman, Josh Ford, and Andrew Turzilli turned any of their catches into actual yards, and Ford and Turzilli are gone. Returnees Justin McCay (once a highly touted Oklahoma signee) and Tre' Parmalee combined to average 3.4 yards per target, which is about as awful as you'll ever see. And while tight ends are usually used as decent efficiency options, Jimmay Mundine was able to only contribute a 46 percent catch rate.
Kansas ranked an abysmal 119th in Passing S&P+ in 2012 and actually figured out a way to regress (to 122nd, better than only Georgia State, FIU, Louisiana Tech, and Miami (Ohio)) in 2013. It doesn't matter how interesting your run game might be; you at least have to pretend to pass occasionally. And especially with Cozart behind center, there's not much reason to think Kansas will suddenly be able to do that. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell might help, especially from an efficiency standpoint, but he and Coleman are not enough, even if Coleman indeed has a nice year.
|Ngalu Fusimalohi||LG||6'2, 315||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12|
|Pat Lewandowski||RT||6'5, 290||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||8|
|Mike Smithburg||RG||6'3, 305||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||8|
|Damon Martin||LT||6'3, 305||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||5|
|Zach Fondal||LT||6'5, 295||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||3|
|Bryan Peters||RG||6'3, 295||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Brian Beckmann||RT||6'6, 300||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0|
|Joey Bloomfield||LG||6'6, 295||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Joe Gibson||C||6'3, 295||RSFr.||NR|
|Keyon Haughton||C||6'2, 300||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Devon Williams||OL||6'4, 340||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Jacob Bragg||OL||6'4, 305||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||42.7%||67||Succ. Rt. +||94.3||77|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.5||60||Off. FP+||98.5||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||77||Redzone S&P+||90.1||88|
|Q1 Rk||102||1st Down Rk||84|
|Q2 Rk||48||2nd Down Rk||64|
|Q3 Rk||87||3rd Down Rk||69|
6. The defense deserved better
Make no mistake: Kansas' defense wasn't great in 2013. The unit crafted by Clint Bowen and Dave Campo had no standout strengths among the numbers above, and the line was an outright liability. Still, with a decent offense, the defense would have been good enough to keep the Jayhawks in more games. The Jayhawks allowed 31 or fewer points in six games -- again, not amazing, but not terrible -- but never scored more than 31.
It appears the strengths will get stronger (or at least more experienced) in 2014, but the weakness might get weaker. A bad line gets completely rebuilt, while most of the play-making pieces in the back eight are back. Identity won't be an issue here, not with Ben Heeney and BUCK linebackers (DE/OLB hybrids) Victor Simmons and Michael Reynolds spending lots of time in the backfield and corners JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald getting hands on passes. But until the Jayhawks can better stop the run, the ceiling is relatively low.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ben Goodman||DE||6'3, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||28.5||4.1%||7.5||3.0||1||2||0||0|
|Keon Stowers||NT||6'3, 297||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||22.0||3.1%||1.5||0.0||1||0||2||0|
|Tedarian Johnson||DT||6'2, 290||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||10||8.0||1.1%||1.5||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Andrew Bolton||DE||6'3, 285||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|T.J. Semke||DE||6'2, 265||Jr.||NR|
|Tyler Holmes||DE||6'3, 280||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Anthony Olobia||DE||6'5, 241||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Damani Mosby||DE||6'3, 228||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Kapil Fletcher||DE||6'3, 261||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|D.J. Williams||NT||6'5, 288||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
7. A transfusion, like it or not
The BUCK position was relatively effective for Kansas last year, and it resulted in decent to mediocre sack rates. KU was able to generate a pass rush on standard downs, which is a nice thing to have in your back pocket in the spread-happy Big 12.
But that was just about the only redeeming aspect of the defensive front. Despite Heeney's nine non-sack tackles for loss, KU was only marginally efficient against the run and got pushed around like crazy. The result: a No. 110 ranking in Adj. Line Yards and No. 90 in Rushing S&P+.
And now four of last year's top five tacklers are gone up front. Ben Goodman moves to defensive end, and another load of JUCO transfers joins the mix; while you can certainly take an "it won't get much worse" approach in talking about the defensive line, there's not a lot of reason to think it will get better either.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ben Heeney||MLB||6'0, 230||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||10||71.0||10.1%||11.5||2.0||3||2||0||0|
|Victor Simmons||BUCK||6'1, 225||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||50.5||7.2%||7.5||2.5||0||1||3||0|
|Jake Love||WLB||6'0, 220||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||47.0||6.7%||3.0||0.0||0||2||1||0|
|Courtney Arnick||MLB||6'2, 205||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||38.5||5.5%||3.5||0.0||0||1||1||0|
|Michael Reynolds||BUCK||6'1, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||28.5||4.1%||10.0||6.5||0||4||2||0|
|Schyler Miles||WLB||6'2, 235||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||10||12.0||1.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Marcus Jenkins-Moore||BUCK||6'3, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Kellen Ash||BUCK||6'3, 240||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Kyron Watson||LB||6'0, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Isaiah Johnson||SS||6'1, 210||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||58.5||8.4%||3||0.5||5||0||0||0|
|Cassius Sendish||FS||6'0, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||57.0||8.1%||1.5||1||0||1||0||0|
|JaCorey Shepherd||CB||5'11, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||36.5||5.2%||2||1||2||13||1||0|
|Dexter McDonald||CB||6'1, 205||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||24.5||3.5%||0||0||2||10||0||0|
|Tevin Shaw||FS||5'11, 192||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Greg Allen||NB||5'11, 210||So.||3 stars (5.5)||8||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Alex Matlock||S||6'1, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||10||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Short||NB||6'2, 190||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Michael Mesh||CB||5'10, 185||Jr.||NR|
|Ronnie Davis||CB||6'0, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Anthony Smithson||SS||5'11, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
8. Lots of play-makers
If the line can occupy blockers at all, the rest of the defense could thrive. Heeney and Simmons are strong, and while Michael Reynolds is relatively one-dimensional, that one dimension (attacking in pass situations) is a good one. KU returns three linebackers who had at least 7.5 tackles for loss, two safeties who combined for 4.5 TFLs and six passes defensed, and two corners who combined for 27 passes defensed. There is play-making ability here.
Granted, outside of these five players, the pickings get slim. Sophomore nickel back Greg Allen had a nice spring, and some young three-star recruits could end up decent, but while one could make the case that KU's starting 11 is pretty strong, injuries could decimate the defense in record time. But again, we'll stick with optimism for now.
|Trevor Pardula||6'5, 212||Sr.||84||43.7||7||12||25||44.0%|
|Trevor Pardula||6'5, 212||Sr.||43||60.3||22||0||51.2%|
|Matthew Wyman||6'1, 200||So.||13-16||3-6||50.0%||2-4||50.0%|
|JaCorey Shepherd||KR||5'11, 195||Sr.||24||22.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||67|
|Field Goal Efficiency||88|
|Punt Return Efficiency||39|
|Kick Return Efficiency||51|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||79|
9. Shore up that kick coverage
Kansas was basically one coverage team away from having a pretty good special teams unit. Despite half of Trevor Pardula's kicks going for touchbacks, KU ranked 88th in opponents' average kick returns and 111th in overall kickoff efficiency. Pardula's a good punter, and JaCorey Shepherd is a decent return man, but kick coverage and shaky place-kicking could again hold this unit back. And the offense and defense could use some help from this unit.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|6-Sep||SE Missouri State||NR|
|4-Oct||at West Virginia||71|
|18-Oct||at Texas Tech||46|
|29-Nov||at Kansas State||41|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-16.1% (105)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||49|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||1 / -1.2|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (7, 9)|
10. I thought KU would improve last year
Heading into last season, I thought KU's JUCO influx would result in short-term gains at the expense of long-term stability. Instead, the Jayhawks got the instability without any of the improvement.
The odds of improvement in 2014 are again decent -- the best players on the defense return, and the offense almost literally can't get worse -- but only marginally so. This is an obvious problem since, at 101st in the F/+ rankings, KU was still drastically behind the rest of the conference. Only two Big 12 teams ranked worse than 44th; one of those two (Iowa State) was wrecked by injuries, and the other (WVU) plays host to Kansas this year.
I like the potential offensive identity that John Reagan brings to the table, and I really hope Tony Pierson stays healthy because he's one of the most fun players in the conference to watch. Plus, the KU defense should continue to make a decent number of disruptive plays.
But barring the emergence of a few out-of-nowhere gems from the 2013 redshirt class and 2014 recruiting class, there's just no reason to think Kansas will be much better than it was in 2013, and there's no clear path back to respectability under Charlie Weis.