Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Doubling down on JUCOs
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 had two standouts, really (running back/receiver Tony Pierson and safety Bradley McDougald), and a decent offensive line, but quarterback, receiver, and basically every unit on defense other than safety were complete disasters. 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.
This will absolutely help Kansas in 2013, especially when combined with a few other transfers (quarterback Jake Heaps from BYU, receiver Justin McCay from Oklahoma, receiver Nick Harwell from Miami (Ohio)) on offense. 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.
That's the good news. Now the bad news.
2. There's a reason why coaches don't double down on JUCOs often
Again, Weis is bringing in nine freshmen this year. Of the 69 players listed below, 31 are juniors. Even if some of this year's JUCOs redshirt, Weis will be saying goodbye to an enormous senior class after the 2014 season and replacing those seniors with a thin, almost entirely unproven depth chart. At that time, he will have to either dip heavily into the JUCO well again, or take a hit for a couple of years while his green youngsters get acclimated. And Weis doesn't strike me as a guy willing to wait too long (otherwise he wouldn't have signed 15 JUCOs this year).
By bringing in a class of mostly JUCOs (15!!), Weis has basically signed up for doing it again in two years, then again two years after that. You can get away with that -- Bill Snyder certainly did in the 1990s -- but your talent evaluation and mach-speed development abilities get tested severely when you go this route. One poor batch of JUCOs (and hey, this could be that batch for all we know), and you are doomed. You've got no base of five-year talent on which to fall back.
Let's put it another way: Dip heavily into the JUCO well, and you could end up like Snyder. Or you could end up like Ron Prince. The Kansas State coach after (and before) Snyder nabbed commits from 20 junior college transfers in his 2008 class. Two were running back Daniel Thomas and receiver Brandon Banks; but most were like defensive end Jack Hayes and linebacker Josh Berard. KSU sank from 5-7 and 59th in the F/+ rankings in 2007 to 5-7 and 83rd in 2008, and Snyder was back in charge in 2009.
When you've fallen as low as Kansas has -- and I'd say that a 6-30 record (4-29 versus FBS teams) with F/+ rankings of 111th, 112th, and 104th, respectively, in the last three years, counts as "low" -- the risk of doing what Weis did is rather minimal. What are you going to do, get worse? But to make this pay off, Kansas has to not only improve, but improve a lot, and very quickly. Otherwise you're just improving to about 4-8 for a couple of years, then starting over from scratch.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 1-11 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 104|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||South Dakota State||31-17||W||22.4 - 29.4||L|
|8-Sep||Rice||24-25||L||25.6 - 27.5||L|
|15-Sep||TCU||6-20||L||34.6 - 41.7||L|
|22-Sep||at Northern Illinois||23-30||L||28.1 - 23.4||W|
|6-Oct||at Kansas State||16-56||L||27.2 - 51.3||L|
|13-Oct||Oklahoma State||14-20||L||22.4 - 15.4||W|
|20-Oct||at Oklahoma||7-52||L||18.9 - 35.4||L|
|27-Oct||Texas||17-21||L||15.9 - 26.1||L|
|3-Nov||at Baylor||14-41||L||19.5 - 27.8||L|
|10-Nov||at Texas Tech||34-41||L||29.6 - 32.7||L|
|17-Nov||Iowa State||23-51||L||30.0 - 48.8||L|
|1-Dec||at West Virginia||10-59||L||13.9 - 43.5||L|
|Points Per Game||18.3||118||36.1||111|
|Adj. Points Per Game||24.0||99||33.6||108|
3. The defense came around
Dave Campo put in work last season. Weis' defensive coordinator came to Lawrence to find a roster that featured one excellent player (McDougald), a solid defensive end (Toben Opurum), and almost no other proven quantity, and he dragged it, kicking and screaming, toward something resembling average defense in the middle third of the season.
The Jayhawks played between average and downright solid against Rice, Northern Illinois, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Baylor and put themselves in a position to steal home upsets against both Oklahoma State and Texas. Unfortunately, the offense combined for just 31 points in those two games.
And perhaps more unfortunately, much of the steady work was performed by seniors. There's a reason, in other words, why 10 of the 15 (15!!) junior college transfers play defense. The D may have been ahead of the O last year, but it needs quite a bit of help this time around.
|Q1 Rk||75||1st Down Rk||69|
|Q2 Rk||46||2nd Down Rk||75|
|Q3 Rk||121||3rd Down Rk||120|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Jake Heaps (BYU 2011)||6'1, 210||Jr.||**** (5.9)||144||252||1,452||57.1%||9||8||4||1.6%||5.5|
|Michael Cummings||5'10, 205||So.||*** (5.5)||43||94||456||45.7%||3||4||9||8.7%||3.7|
|James Sims||RB||6'0, 202||Sr.||*** (5.7)||218||1,013||4.6||4.5||9||-6.6|
|Darrian Miller (2011)||RB||5'10, 191||So.||**** (5.8)||136||556||4.1||N/A||4||N/A|
|Tony Pierson||RB||5'11, 171||Jr.||**** (5.8)||117||759||6.5||7.2||4||+15.9|
|Taylor Cox||RB||5'11, 212||Sr.||*** (5.5)||91||464||5.1||3.7||3||+2.7|
|Michael Cummings||QB||5'10, 205||So.||*** (5.5)||40||196||4.9||6.7||1||-0.5|
|Christian Matthews||WR-Z||6'1, 192||Sr.||*** (5.5)||14||93||6.6||3.7||1||+2.7|
|Brandon Bourbon||RB||6'2, 225||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||41||3.4||1.7||0||-1.3|
|Colin Spencer||RB||5'10, 180||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
4. Pierson's the key
In his last three stops, as Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator, Florida offensive coordinator, and Kansas head coach, Charlie Weis has shown a major proclivity for running the ball. We don't know if this was because of philosophy or necessity -- his quarterbacks in the last two stops: John Brantley and Dayne Crist -- but regardless, Kansas had the components to become a pretty decent running team in 2012.
The line was Top 40 in run blocking, running back James Sims was what I would basically call a replacement-level Big 12 running back (competent and not elite in any way, shape, or form), and Weis had an outright wildcard in then-sophomore Tony Pierson. Pierson did not prove durable enough to play a major role, but there's probably a reason why Kansas had a much better offense when Pierson was touching the ball than when he wasn't.
Adj. Points Per Game when Pierson gets 15+ touches (4 games): 28.1
Adj. Points Per Game when Pierson gets <15 touches (8 games): 22.0
At 5'11, 171, Pierson is, again, not incredibly durable. But he was by far Kansas' best running option, and of the five players targeted at least twice per game in 2012, Pierson was the only one to manage even a 55 percent catch rate.
Pierson will get some help in 2013. For one thing, quarterback Jake Heaps is eligible. The BYU transfer never really looked the part of a blue-chip quarterback in Provo -- he completed 57 percent of his passes in two years, never really showed the four-star arm strength he was supposed to possess, and was benched (twice) in favor of Riley Nelson as a sophomore. Watching him at BYU was like watching Garrett Gilbert at Texas: Every reasonably decent throw was met with a "There's that five-star talent we've been hearing so much about," but the decent throws were not nearly frequent enough. But the bar is pretty low in Lawrence. He will almost certainly be able to complete at least 55 percent of his passes, which is almost 10 percent better than what Crist or Michael Cummings averaged last year.
Kansas' passing game was so horrendous in 2012 that it rendered an explosive running game moot. Between Sims, Pierson, Taylor Cox, Brandon Bourbon, and the returning Darrian Miller, the Jayhawks might have enough decent weapons to offset some losses on the line and once again put a Top 60 running attack on the field. And if Heaps, Pierson, Andrew Turzilli, Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, and some JUCOs can actually improve Kansas' passing game to Top 90 or so, the running game might actually matter.
|Nick Harwell (Miami-OH)||WR-Z||6'1, 193||Sr.||** (5.2)||110||68||870||61.8%||7.9||23.4%||71.8%||8.4||112.3|
|Tony Pierson||RB||5'11, 171||Jr.||**** (5.8)||36||21||291||58.3%||8.1||12.3%||55.6%||8.3||28.0|
|Andrew Turzilli||WR-X||6'4, 188||Jr.||*** (5.5)||35||17||287||48.6%||8.2||11.9%||42.9%||8.9||27.6|
|Jimmay Mundine||TE||6'2, 242||Jr.||*** (5.6)||30||14||183||46.7%||6.1||10.2%||36.7%||5.3||17.6|
|James Sims||RB||6'0, 202||Sr.||*** (5.7)||21||14||168||66.7%||8.0||7.2%||38.1%||7.5||16.2|
|Tre' Parmalee||WR-Z||5'10, 172||So.||*** (5.5)||18||7||79||38.9%||4.4||6.1%||55.6%||4.4||7.6|
|Chris Omigie||WR-X||6'4, 203||Sr.||*** (5.6)||16||4||60||25.0%||3.8||5.5%||25.0%||3.0||5.8|
|Josh Ford||WR-X||6'3, 207||Sr.||*** (5.6)|
|Trent Smiley||TE||6'4, 245||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Christian Matthews||WR-Z||6'1, 192||Sr.||*** (5.5)|
|Charles Brooks||TE||6'6, 245||Sr.||*** (5.6)|
|Justin McCay (Oklahoma)||WR-X||6'2, 213||Jr.||**** (6.0)|
|Rodriguez Coleman||WR||6'3, 195||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Mark Thomas||WR||6'0, 210||Jr.||** (5.4)|
|Ishmael Hyman||WR||6'0, 169||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
5. JUCO Rebuilding Project No. 1: Receiving corps
The Kansas receiving corps would have needed help even if it weren't losing its top two targets. That's life when you rank 119th in Passing S&P+. (Who ranked 118th, by the way? Memphis. Army ranked 116th. New Mexico State ranked 114th.) (Okay, the best part: Auburn ranked 120th.)
There's no reason to think that Justin McCay will suddenly discover the high four-star potential he was supposed to have coming out of high school -- even on the thinnest, most frustrating Oklahoma receiving corps in recent history (2011's), he was a total non-factor -- but he was decent enough in the spring, and if he can come in and produce a 60 percent catch rate and average 12 yards per catch, that's a step in the right direction.
And Kansas should get at least that (though little more) from Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell, who was a solid possession receiver for the Redhawks in recent years. If one of the two incoming JUCOs (Rodriguez Coleman or Mark Thomas), or perhaps even freshman Ishmael Hyman, can deliver early competence with better than 50 percent catch rates, Kansas' passing game will improve. Improvement is not the same as quality, but it's a long way up from 118th.
|Tanner Hawkinson||LT||48 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Big 12|
|Duane Zlatnick||LG||32 career starts|
|Trevor Marrongelli||C||30 career starts|
|Randall Dent||RG||6'4, 293||Sr.||*** (5.6)||10 career starts|
|Aslam Sterling||RT||6'5, 312||Sr.||** (5.3)||8 career starts|
|Gavin Howard||C||6'4, 300||Sr.||*** (5.6)||6 career starts|
|Damon Martin||LG||6'3, 295||So.||*** (5.5)||1 career start|
|Pat Lewandowski||LT||6'6, 287||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Dylan Admire||C||6'3, 280||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Riley Spencer||LT||6'6, 302||Sr.||** (5.4)|
|Brian Beckmann||RT||6'6, 298||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Mike Smithburg||RG||6'3, 296||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Ngalu Fusimalohi||LG||6'2, 324||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Zach Fondal||OL||6'5, 290||Jr.||** (5.4)|
6. JUCO Rebuilding Project No. 2: Offensive line
With a four-year starting left tackle and multi-year starters at left guard and center, Kansas was actually able to clear some running room with its offensive line. The Jayhawks were tremendous at preventing defensive linemen access into the backfield, and they were solid in creating opportunities and converting short-yardage situations. But now the entire left side of the line is gone. Three seniors with starting experience return, but for Kansas to avoid a decent drop-off up front, at least one of three JUCOs, and perhaps two, will need to show early competence.
|Q1 Rk||81||1st Down Rk||89|
|Q2 Rk||60||2nd Down Rk||73|
|Q3 Rk||70||3rd Down Rk||24|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ben Goodman||DE||6'3, 255||So.||*** (5.6)||11||17.0||2.5%||3.5||1||0||0||0||0|
|Kevin Young||NT||6'3, 287||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||15.5||2.3%||3||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Jordan Tavai||DT||6'3, 295||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||14.5||2.1%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Keba Agostinho||DT||6'2, 277||Sr.||*** (5.5)||12||12.5||1.8%||1.5||0||0||1||1||0|
|Michael Reynolds||DE||6'1, 240||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||7.0||1.0%||3||1||0||1||0||0|
|Keon Stowers||DT||6'3, 297||Jr.||*** (5.5)||8||6.0||0.9%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Shane Smith||DT||6'6, 287||Sr.||NR||12||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ty McKinney||DT||6'3, 302||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Tyler Holmes||DT||6'3, 286||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Chris Martin||DE||6'4, 250||Jr.||**** (5.8)|
|Marquel Combs||DT||6'3, 310||Jr.||**** (5.8)|
|Andrew Bolton||DE||6'3, 280||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Tedarian Johnson||DE||6'2, 288||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
7. JUCO Rebuilding Project No. 3: Defensive line
To be sure, Kansas' defense was lacking. I complimented Campo above, and I meant it, but Kansas still only improved to 84th in Def. F/+ last season. That it was the Jayhawks' best defensive ranking since 2009 only says so much.
But Campo patched together a line capable of holding up to run blocking and leaned heavily (and successfully) on the secondary on passing downs. Kansas had no pass rush whatsoever -- your eyes are not deceiving you: Toben Opurum and Kevin Young indeed led Kansas with 1.5 sacks each last year -- but was still quite salty on passing downs.
The tackle position is well-stocked with experience, but the end position needed some serious help, especially after losing both Opurum and Josh Williams. So Weis signed three JUCO ends, including Chris Martin, a former five-star recruit with a sketchy past who, following a home invasion arrest in late-May, probably won't be in uniform this fall. With four-star tackle Marquel Combs entering the mix, the tackle position should be one of depth and relative strength. But there is absolutely no guarantee that the end position or pass rush will be even slightly better. It won't be worse, but it might not be better.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ben Heeney||MLB||6'0, 227||Jr.||*** (5.6)||12||89.0||13.0%||12||1||0||2||1||0|
|Jake Love||WLB||6'0, 221||So.||*** (5.6)||12||27.0||4.0%||8||1||0||1||0||0|
|Darius Willis||MLB||6'2, 240||Sr.||** (4.9)||10||10.5||1.5%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Schyler Miles||MLB||6'2, 224||So.||*** (5.7)||11||6.5||1.0%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Prinz Kande||WLB||5'11, 210||Sr.||**** (5.8)||2||5.0||0.7%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Victor Simmons||WLB||6'2, 220||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Brian Maura||SLB||6'4, 205||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Courtney Arnick||SLB||6'2, 205||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Marcus Jenkins-Moore||LB||6'3, 210||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Samson Faifili||LB||6'0, 240||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Kellen Ash||LB||6'3, 194||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Dexter Linton||WS||5'11, 195||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||22.0||3.2%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|JaCorey Shepherd||CB||5'11, 190||Jr.||*** (5.6)||8||14.0||2.0%||1||0||0||3||0||0|
|Dexter McDonald (2011)||CB||6'2, 200||Jr.||*** (5.5)||7||13.0||1.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tyree Williams||CB||6'0, 185||So.||** (5.4)||7||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Nasir Moore||CB||6'1, 176||Jr.||** (5.2)|
|Greg Allen||WS||5'11, 203||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Tevin Shaw||SS||5'11, 193||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Cassius Sendish||CB||6'0, 187||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Kevin Short||DB||6'2, 185||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Isaiah Johnson||DB||6'1, 210||So.||*** (5.5)|
8. JUCO Rebuilding Project No. 4: Secondary
Linebacker Ben Heeney is incredibly solid, especially against the run; honestly, I perhaps should have mentioned him as a 2012 star alongside Pierson and McDougald. He and sophomore Jake Love make for a nice, aggressive pair of LBs. That unit is steady enough that the two incoming JUCOs might not be needed that much.
But wow, are they needed in the secondary, where the top five defensive backs, and seven of the top 10, are gone. I can't speak highly enough of McDougald, who could have been a household name on a better team, but corners Greg Brown and Tyler Patmon combined for five tackles for loss and 25 passes defensed last year. And again, they produced these numbers with no help from the pass rush. The four incoming JUCO DBs will have every chance in the world to earn playing time, as will a pair of three-star redshirt freshmen. The strength of last year's defense is now by far the biggest question mark.
|Ron Doherty||6'0, 204||Sr.||56||40.5||4||15||14||51.8%|
|Ron Doherty||6'0, 204||Sr.||6||62.2||0||0.0%|
|Ron Doherty||6'0, 204||Sr.||11-12||5-7||71.4%||0-3||0.0%|
|Tre' Parmalee||KR||5'10, 172||So.||13||20.0||0|
|Taylor Cox||KR||5'11, 212||Sr.||9||22.0||0|
|Special Teams F/+||121|
|Field Goal Pct||97|
|Kick Returns Avg||98|
|Punt Returns Avg||70|
9. Wanted: Special teams competence
Are we sure Tony Pierson can't return punts and kicks? And maybe punt and kick, too? The strength of last year's special teams unit, McDougald, is gone, and while Ron Doherty is a competent punter, this unit needs help. As I've said a few times in this preview series, special teams make up 10 to 15 percent of a given game.
When you are struggling on both offense and defense, you absolutely must make the most of your chances on special teams. Instead, Kansas had the fourth-worst special teams unit in the country. And there's no obvious reason to assume that will improve.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|9-Nov||at Oklahoma State||6|
|23-Nov||at Iowa State||76|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||92|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||60|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-3 / -2.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||11 (5, 6)|
10. A worthy risk
Again, Kansas has won four games versus FBS teams in three years. If not for Colorado and Washington State, the KU program would have easily been the most hopeless of all BCS programs since the start of 2010. When you are in straits this dire, why not load up on JUCOs? As I said up top, the best-case scenario is that the team improves and is then forced to rebuild all over again in 2015.
But the Jayhawks have been rebuilding for three years, and nothing's taken hold. There are almost no young stars about which Kansas fans can get excited. There is no strong base of redshirt freshmen and sophomores from Weis' first recruiting class around which he can build. Kansas needed a talent infusion, long-term consequences be damned, and Weis did his best to pull that off in February.
Of course, look at the 2013 schedule. If Kansas improves by a dramatic 40 spots in the F/+ rankings, the Jayhawks will still rank 20-plus spots behind eight of its 12 opponents, and that's only if you believe the rather low ISU projection. Kansas could improve significantly, pull an upset, and still only go 4-8 this fall. But hey, when you haven't racked up enough combined wins in three seasons to be bowl eligible, 4-8 doesn't sound too bad. Start there, and see if you can reach six wins in 2014 despite that loud ticking clock in the background.