The time for second-guessing is through; Charlie Weis is Kansas' new head coach. He has hit the recruiting trail, and the Kansas athletic department is attempting to take advantage of the "Oh, hey, I recognize that name! That must be a great hire!" reaction from the casual fanbase and is pressing for season ticket sales.
According to recent history, now is the best time of a Charlie Weis tenure. His voice has swagger, he exudes confidence, and you feel that both recruiting and on-field momentum are both right around the corner. Weis milks every last ounce of confidence and optimism out of the early-hire honeymoon stage, and that appears to be what is happening in Lawrence at the moment.
But when the honeymoon stage is over, Weis is still left with the task of making chicken salad out of the roster at hand. Never mind whether Weis can turn around his recent track record of offensive mediocrity at the collegiate level; could anyone turn around this moribund offense quickly?
A quick history: in Mark Mangino's final seasons in Lawrence, Kansas had a dangerous if inconsistent offense. Quarterback Todd Reesing, receivers Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe and running back Jake Sharp formed the core of a solid unit that ranked 40th in Off. F/+ in 2007 and 18th in 2008. The wheels came off a bit in 2009, when the same group of skill position players (and a brand new offensive line) failed to work the same magic; the offense fell to 78th in Off. F/+, and the Jayhawks finished a disappointing 5-7. Between the disappointment of the season itself and the charges of verbal abuse against Mangino, Kansas let him go in late 2009. And then things really fell apart.
A combination of youth and a general lack of athleticism has made Kansas' offense one of the worst major conference units in the the country the last two years. The Jayhawks ranked 109th in Off. F/+ in 2010 (fifth-worst among BCS schools, ahead of just Boston College, Vanderbilt, Purdue and Texas) and 106th in 2011 (third-worst, ahead of Ole Miss and Kentucky). The coaching was, to put it kindly, sub-optimal, but Mangino had also left the cupboard mostly bare in terms of the talent on hand.
So now Weis takes over. He has yet to name his offensive coordinator, but the odds are good that he will go with the same type of pro-style, "strategic advantage" offense with which he has attempted to succeed (with mostly marginal results) at both Notre Dame and Florida. The good news is that it is possible for offenses to turn around quickly -- Vanderbilt and Texas, after all, both ranked below Kansas in 2010, and they improved to 54th and 65th, respectively, in Off. F/+ in 2011. It can be done, but can it be done at Kansas? And can Weis do it?
Let's take a look at both the offensive personnel Weis will inherit, and the immediate-impact players he is attempting to bring into the fold.
Jordan Webb (6'0, 195, Jr.) -- 1,884 passing yards (64% completion rate, 6.7 yards per pass), 13 TD, 12 INT
Brock Berglund (6'4, 205, RSFr.)
Weis has fielded a truly interesting offense three times at the collegiate level -- in Brady Quinn's last two years at Notre Dame, and in Jimmy Clausen's last year. He seems rather capable of doing good things with experienced, former blue-chip quarterbacks. (Then again, so do a lot of coaches. And this ignores the fact that Florida's John Brantley was also a former blue-chip quarterback.) He probably won't be able to do much with Jordan Webb, however. At his best, Webb is a relatively efficient quarterback, and he has certainly been handicapped by a limited receiving corps and experienced-but-porous line. Brock Berglund, meanwhile, was a reasonably highly-touted prospect coming out of high school, and Weis could like what he sees there. The intrigue at this position, of course, comes with who might be in Lawrence next fall.
Dayne Crist (6'4, 235, Sr.; Notre Dame) -- 164 passing yards (63% completion rate, 6.8 per pass), 0 TD, 1 INT in 2011
Jake Heaps (6'1, 205, Jr.; BYU) -- 1,452 passing yards (57% completion rate, 5.8 per pass), 9 TD, 8 INT in 2011
Both Crist and Heaps, former blue-chippers, have visited town in recent weeks. Crist would be eligible to play immediately next fall (with one year of eligibility), while Heaps would be more of a long-term solution, with two years remaining after sitting out the 2012 season. Neither have proven to be of All-American caliber just yet (otherwise they wouldn't be transferring), but they are certainly as or more proven than the incumbent. Crist is particularly interesting to me. After completing 59 percent of his passes, with a reasonably decent 129.3 passer rating in 2010, the former Weis recruit won the Notre Dame starting job this fall, then lost the job to Tommy Rees after a single iffy half of football. If he were to land in Lawrence, he would immediately give Kansas a boost at the most important position on the field. Even if he is not truly an all-conference caliber signal caller, he is solid. That is not something that could always be said of Webb.
James Sims (6'0, 206, Jr.) -- 727 rushing yards (1.1 Highlight Yards/Carry, -8.0 Adj. POE); 119 receiving yards
Darrian Miller (5'10, 191, So.) -- 556 rushing yards (1.1 Highlight Yards/Carry, -7.9 Adj. POE); 41 receiving yards
Tony Pierson (5'11, 175, So.) -- 396 rushing yards (2.6 Highlight Yards/Carry, +0.2 Adj. POE); 44 receiving yards
This unit likely has more potential than any other unit on the Kansas offense. Neither James Sims nor Darrian Miller (considered at least a slight transfer risk) produced at an incredibly high level (and their Adj. POE numbers suggest they were both about a touchdown below the production of an average running back), but they are both still young, and Miller had four-star potential (according to Rivals) in high school. The most interesting back here, however, could be this year's third-stringer. Tony Pierson was also a four-star recruit, and while he struggled to pick up blocking responsibilities (which is important on an offense that faced a lot of passing downs and, therefore, blitzes), he was potentially Kansas' best offensive player with the ball in his hands. A good spring could vault Pierson to No. 1 on the depth chart.
Projected Two-Deep -- Wide Receiver
D.J. Beshears (5'8, 185, Sr.) -- 62 targets, 40 catches, 437 yards (7.0 per target)
Kale Pick (6'1, 208, Sr.) -- 48 targets, 34 catches, 343 yards (7.1 per target)
Christian Matthews (6'1, 194, Jr.) -- 22 targets, 11 catches, 100 yards (4.5 per target); experience in the Wildcat
JaCorey Shepherd (5'11, 170, So.) -- 18 targets, 15 catches, 252 yards (14.0 per target)
Chris Omigie (6'4, 194, Jr.) -- 15 targets, 7 catches, 73 yards (4.9 per target) in 2010
Erick McGriff (6'3, 209, Jr.) -- 9 targets, 6 catches, 61 yards (6.8 per target) in 2010
Even if Crist does end up in Lawrence for the 2012 season, he will still need weapons to whom he can throw. D.J. Beshears and Kale Pick could be interesting No. 3 or No. 4 weapons, but they are lacking as go-to guys. Two youngsters have shown at least a little bit of potential -- Chris Matthews was occasionally proficient out of a Wildcat look and has some shiftiness, while JaCorey Shepherd is a bit of a small sample-size champion, leading the unit in both catch rate and yards per catch while only seeing about 1.5 opportunities per game -- but the Jayhawks could benefit from another transfer.
Brice Butler (6'4, 195, Sr.; USC) -- 33 targets, 21 catches, 262 yards (7.9 per target) in 2010-11
Brice Butler visited Lawrence this weekend. He was lost in the shuffle at USC, but that certainly wouldn't be much of an issue at Kansas. If Matthews and Shepherd show well in spring ball and Butler transfers to KU, this would absolutely be an improved unit. It would still very much rank among the lower half of a loaded Big 12, but improvement is improvement.
Projected Two-Deep -- Center
Dylan Admire (6'3, 275, So.)
The line was not particularly good in 2011, but it was still a relative strength, ranking 83rd in Adj. Line Yards and 100th in Adj. Sack Rate. It will return a healthy 75 career starts in 2012, but it will be without the services of three-year starting tackle Jeff Spikes and four-year starting center Jeremiah Hatch.
As I mentioned last week, I was not particularly impressed with the Weis hire.
Unlike [Jim Mora, Jr.], Charlie Weis does in fact have a track record at the collegiate level. The problem: said track record isn't actually any good. An incredible success as an NFL offensive coordinator, Weis won 19 games in his first two seasons as Notre Dame head coach, and he reeled in a series of highly-rated recruiting classes. But when Tyrone Willingham's recruits cycled out in South Bend, so did the wins. Weis went just 16-21 from 2007-09 and was fired. After a successful year as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Weis went to Florida to coach for Will Muschamp in 2011, and an already disappointing offense tumbled from 53rd in Off. F/+ to 72nd.
A supposed offensive mastermind known for proclaiming that Notre Dame would have a "decided schematic advantage" when he came aboard, Weis' college offenses have just once ranked better than 60th in Off. F/+ since Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija left South Bend following the 2006 season -- Notre Dame ranked 114th in 2007, 63rd in 2008 and 12th in 2009. (Meanwhile, his final four Notre Dame defenses ranked 41st, 38th, 49th and 75th in Def. F/+.) Now he inherits a Kansas squad almost entirely bereft of playmaking ability on either side of the ball. He will receive a level of patience he was not privy to at Notre Dame, but patience alone won't make him successful. (And this says nothing of the potential health-related issues Weis brings to the table.)
I do not think Kansas' ceiling is very high under Weis, and there are obvious long-term issues with the hire. But if the rumored transfers (Crist, Heaps, Butler) end up at KU, the Jayhawks' offense should certainly figure out a way to at least improve into, say, the 80s in terms of Off. F/+. And with potential playmakers like Pierson, Matthews and Shepherd all maintaining eligibility into 2013, the future at least isn't a black hole. (Without the transfers, however, I would have to figure that improvement into the 90s is about all Kansas would see.)