Kansas will have many questions heading into the 2013 season, which begins as fall camp opens on Wednesday. but for the first time in a few years, they might actually have some answers for them.
If they can address most of them, it's not as outlandish as you think to dream a little bit and envision Kansas winning a few more games and even flirting with a bowl trip, which would really fuel head coach Charlie Weis and his staff in their second year in Lawrence, in which they could use this to truly build their program.
We take a look at the top five questions facing the Jayhawks this year, and the impact that they could have on a team looking to make big strides forward in 2013.
1. Will Jake Heaps make the impact that many, including himself are hoping for?
Bluntly put, he better. But, he'd be the first to tell you. Heaps has done everything the right way since arriving as a transfer from BYU. In 2012, he ran the show team and turned many heads doing it. Often, Weis would single out Heaps for being a leader, even though he couldn't see game action. Heaps was an assist man in recruiting, helping to sell recruits on the vision that Weis and his staff have for the program and it proved very successful if you look at what they accomplished.
Just as important was Heaps' studying of the game. He'd often watch games last season and take notes. On road games, he would send Weis numerous messages, either by phone, text or email, detailing what he was seeing and what needed to be done.
Fast forward to spring ball and Heaps was finally able to show more on he field and he impress in the spring game, making tough passes that only good quarterbacks can make. He also speaks like a leader, whose older age and maturity is obvious. The players love him and he is very laid back and determined. If he can bring consistency and excellence to the table, Kansas' offense will go from stagnant and predictable to explosive. With James Sims and Tony Pierson assisting him, the Jayhawks could put up some numbers.
From there, it could snowball. The defense could not feel as pressured to make it happen by themselves and they can let loose and have fun. Thus, turnovers could be created, leading to more opportunities, leading the most important statistic, wins.
2. Who will Heaps be throwing to?
One is tied to the other, but it's a fact. Who will step up to become Heaps' big playmakers in the passing game? Eyes will be on Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, who was Heaps' go to guy on the show team.
Weis singled McCay out as much as he would single out Heaps, citing the building chemistry the two formed throughout last season. That chemistry showed throughout spring ball and in the spring game. He carries himself with the confidence you love to see from a kid. If he can emerge as a big play guy, Heaps' job will become that much easier.
Keep an eye out on returning receivers such Andrew Turzili, Tre Parmalee and Christian Matthews, who was so solid during the spring that Weis stated that he would have been listed as the other starting receiver opposite McCay. That's high praise for a player that was best known for being used as a quarterback in their "Jayhawk" formation.
New additions, such as JUCO transfers Rodriguez Coleman and Mark Thomas, true freshman Ishmael Hyman and Miami (OH) transfer Nick Harwell (if he is eligible this season) could be impact players as well, alongside talented tight end Jimmay Mundine, who has become a leader on the team and is focused on becoming a solid pass catching tight end.
Then, there is Pierson, who will likely line up at receiver on 80 percent of the Jayhawks' plays. Weis said numerous times that they envision him be utilized in the way West Virginia used Tavon Austin.
Like Austin, Pierson is lightning fast and if healthy could be among the most explosive players not just in the Big 12, but, in the nation.
3. How big of an impact will James Sims make in his senior season?
James Sims has seen it all in his three years at Kansas. Unfortunately, the senior running back has seen all of the bad. For his final season, he would love nothing more than to lead KU back to a winning level and leave the kind of impact he thought he would coming in, when he was recruited by Mark Mangino and his staff.
When trying to envision what he could do in 2013, factor this into account. After missing the first three games of the season because of suspension, Sims still rushed for over 1,000 yards in just nine games. That's not even the most remarkable.
Keep in mind that Sims did this in an offense that was one-dimensional with little to no passing game whatsoever, meaning defenses week after week keyed in on Sims, as KU's only source of offense aside from Pierson. It didn't matter.
Sims is a sensational running back that would gain high national praise if he played for bigger programs. If Kansas was winning like did under Todd Reesing, Sims would likely be consider the conference's top back and would attract even more national attention.
If he can help lead the Jayhawks back, he will start to turn some heads and receive this kind of attention. As it is, he already is consider of the Big 12 top returning backs and will have a future in the NFL after his senior year.
As for 2013, Sims will get his wish and get a little bit heavier of a workload with Pierson seeing more time at receiver. Other backs such as Taylor Cox and Brandon Bourbon will contribute and assure that Sims is fresh throughout each contest, but all eyes will be on Sims and his quest to finish his Kansas career in a very memorable way. With a full season, it'll be fun to track how many yards he could rush for. A 1,500 yard season wouldn't be out of the question and that would be a special conclusion to his stellar career at KU.
4. Will all of the JUCO newcomers make the impact many are expecting, especially on defense?
On National Signing Day, Weis beamed with pride, as his coaching staff worked their butts off to upgrade the talent across the board on the recruiting trail. They pounded the pavement and racked up the frequent flier miles, trying sell their vision of what the Kansas program would become to kids and they did this coming off a 1-11 season. In the end, it didn't matter.
Kids bought in and share the vision of a family and winning one at that and many wanted to become part of that. A big part of Kansas' 2012 recruiting class comes from the junior college ranks. Weis hopes to jumpstart his program similar to how Mangino started his program at Kansas and most notably, how Bill Snyder has built his program at Kansas State both times.
If Weis can get similar results to what Snyder has achieved, the Jayhawks will be a force to be reckon with in the coming years.
Players such as Marquel Combs, Marcus Jenkins-Moore, Andrew Bolton, Cassius Sendish and Kevin Short, just to name a few, will bring a nastiness and an attitude that can already be seen around the program. There's a hunger to get better and do well and most importantly, to win.
Last year, defensive coordinator Dave Campo did a brilliant job putting together a defense that primarily featured the same players that had been lit up a year earlier. Early in the season, they created turnovers and gave the team chances to win games. The scheme was designed to put players in positions to make plays.
It's the same concept that he used when working under Jimmy Johnson at the University of Miami and later with the Dallas Cowboys, where he helped them to three Super Bowl wins. The philosophy was even stated by Johnson in his book "Turning The Thing Around," written shortly after the Cowboys 52-17 rout of the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII, the first of their three titles.
"Get good players, keep it simple, put them in position to make plays and then, just turn it loose."
Now, Kansas has brought in more talent and Campo will have more at his disposal. It'll be one of the more underrated storylines to keep an eye on, not just in 2013, but going forward.
5, Simply put, will Kansas start winning some games?
In the end, winning games is what it is all about. It is process, though and you can't skip steps. But, there's no reason, should the Jayhawks remain healthy and actually catch some breaks this year that they can win and win enough that a bowl isn't that far fetched.
They will have to overcome some humbling stats.
They haven't won a road game since week two of the 2009 season, when they were victorious at UTEP. They haven't won't a Big 12 game since a miracle comeback win over Colorado in 2010 and the Buffaloes aren't even in the league anymore. If you want to go further back, they haven't won a Big 12 game against a current member since the last win of the Mangino era, against Iowa State in 2009 and finally they haven't won a Big 12 road game since a 2008 win at Iowa State.
All of that seems like ages ago and for all intensive purposes, it is. But, that's what this KU team can rally around. Nobody, including some of their own fans will give them a shot. In fact, all those fans can think about is basketball season and everything that is associated with it.
But, should Kansas start winning, things will start changing. They'll always have their core fanbase that will be there, win or lose. But, if they start to win some games, fans will start to believe and Memorial Stadium will quickly turn into a tough place to play with regularly sold out crowds seen following the program's Orange Bowl victory following the 2007 season.
It'll start at the beginning, though and the rallying around each other. If they believe and it starts clicking, soon other will believe and 2013 will be seen as the season when everything changed and Kansas football emerged from the dark nightmare that began four years ago.
It makes for one of the most important season in recent Kansas football history.