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The big 2014 Kansas football guide: What now for the Jayhawks?

Charlie Weis sacrificed long-term stability for short-term gains by signing a JUCO-heavy recruiting class in 2013 ... and Kansas didn't improve at all. Can a new offensive identity bring hope to a program at its most hopeless state?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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?

Oh.

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:

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
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -18.5% 119 -0.5% 66 0.0% 67
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.03 112 IsoPPP+ 89.5 112
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.9 ACTUAL 23 -1.9
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 119 115 115 121
RUSHING 78 93 94 93
PASSING 119 122 120 120
Standard Downs 112 105 117
Passing Downs 119 120 85
Q1 Rk 117 1st Down Rk 116
Q2 Rk 91 2nd Down Rk 104
Q3 Rk 119 3rd Down Rk 123
Q4 Rk 121

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jake Heaps 128 261 1414 8 10 49.0% 23 8.1% 4.3
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
James Sims RB 230 1110 7 4.8 4.4 39.6%
Taylor Cox (2012) RB 5'11, 212 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 91 464 3 5.1 3.7 N/A
Darrian Miller RB 67 322 0 4.8 7.0 31.3%
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%
Jake Heaps QB 17 29 1 1.7 1.6 35.3%
Michael Cummings QB 5'10, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 0 0 0.0 5.0 10.0%
Taylor Cox RB 6 44 0 7.3 6.2 50.0%
Christian Matthews WR 4 6 0 1.5 0.0%
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.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
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
James Sims RB 31 25 166 80.6% 10.0% 44.0% 5.4 -106 6.3 16.5
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
Josh Ford WR-X 24 9 126 37.5% 7.8% 31.3% 5.3 -22 4.7 12.5
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
Christian Matthews WR-Z 21 11 107 52.4% 6.8% 64.7% 5.1 -42 4.3 10.7
Andrew Turzilli WR-X 15 7 167 46.7% 4.9% 50.0% 11.1 66 11.9 16.6
Connor Embree FB 11 5 44 45.5% 3.6% 33.3% 4.0 -29 3.6 4.4
Darrian Miller RB 5 2 14 40.0% 1.6% 50.0% 2.8 -18 3.2 1.4
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
(2012 Miami-OH)
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

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.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 96.3 2.63 3.29 37.2% 50.0% 23.6% 68.8 4.7% 11.1%
Rank 86 107 60 86 121 120 111 66 110
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Aslam Sterling RT 20
Gavin Howard C 14
Ngalu Fusimalohi LG 6'2, 315 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12
Randall Dent RT 10
Pat Lewandowski RT 6'5, 290 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 8
Mike Smithburg RG 6'3, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 8
Riley Spencer LT 5
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)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.15 64 IsoPPP+ 100.0 58
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.8 ACTUAL 24.0 +0.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 97 82 77 71
RUSHING 90 90 67 82
PASSING 79 77 93 59
Standard Downs 90 81 62
Passing Downs 68 75 64
Q1 Rk 102 1st Down Rk 84
Q2 Rk 48 2nd Down Rk 64
Q3 Rk 87 3rd Down Rk 69
Q4 Rk 46

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.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 89.4 3.19 3.57 40.4% 67.7% 18.3% 91.5 4.5% 5.5%
Rank 110 96 93 79 69 77 76 60 93
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
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
Keba Agostinho DE 12 27.0 3.9% 5.5 1.0 0 1 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
Jordan Tavai DE 12 22.0 3.1% 5.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Young DE 12 21.5 3.1% 4.5 2.5 0 1 1 0
Ty McKinney NT 12 14.0 2.0% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
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
Darius Willis WLB 12 18.0 2.6% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 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
Prinz Kande LB 10 8.0 1.1% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Samson Faifili LB 2 6.0 0.9% 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)







Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
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
Dexter Linton FS 12 52.5 7.5% 2 0 0 9 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
Brandon Hollomon CB 9 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 1 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Trevor Pardula 6'5, 212 Sr. 84 43.7 7 12 25 44.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Trevor Pardula 6'5, 212 Sr. 43 60.3 22 0 51.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Matthew Wyman 6'1, 200 So. 13-16 3-6 50.0% 2-4 50.0%
Ron Doherty 6-6 5-6 83.3% 1-1 100.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
JaCorey Shepherd KR 5'11, 195 Sr. 24 22.8 0
Darrian Miller KR 11 24.3 0
Connor Embree PR 16 11.4 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 67
Field Goal Efficiency 88
Punt Return Efficiency 39
Kick Return Efficiency 51
Punt Efficiency 30
Kickoff Efficiency 111
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

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
6-Sep SE Missouri State NR
13-Sep at Duke 56
20-Sep Central Michigan 109
27-Sep Texas 38
4-Oct at West Virginia 71
11-Oct Oklahoma State 18
18-Oct at Texas Tech 46
1-Nov at Baylor 14
8-Nov Iowa State 80
15-Nov TCU 31
22-Nov at Oklahoma 17
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
TO Luck/Game +0.9
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.

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