2013 was supposed to be a season in which Kansas football began to make strides and show improvement and technically they did. They improved from one win in 2012 to a 3-9 record in 2013. However, whether or not there was improvement is open to interpretation.
They did win a conference game for the first time since 2010, when they defeated West Virginia 31-19 at Memorial Stadium in November, but a week later, they were shutout 34-0 at Iowa State. Such was the way it went for the Jayhawks in 2013. They would look like they’re making progress one week and then crater the following week.
After a 31-14 victory over South Dakota in the opener, they lost 23-14 at Rice the next week. After a dramatic 13-10 win over Louisiana Tech at the end of September, which was won with a field goal as time expired, the Jayhawks opened a conference play after a bye week, nonetheless with a 54-16 homecoming implosion against Texas Tech.
By season’s end, fans were waiving the white flag and optimism is honestly at a premium going into 2014. That being said, low expectations are a good thing and with a consistent showing of life, fans will buy in, as they want to believe in Kansas football again. They just really need the team to meet them halfway, or else, the “basketball only” crowd will be delighted, as the countdown to Late Night will be on in full force.
As fall camp approaches, here’s a look at the top five questions heading into the new season for a program that is facing a critical juncture in the Charlie Weis era, as it begins its third go around.
1. The quarterback position – will Montell Cozart be the answer?
It’s no secret. The quarterback position, the most important one on the field has been a hot mess since Todd Reesing hung up the cleats following the 2009 season. Since Reesing lit up the Kansas record books, the successors have simply just been torched.
From Kale Pick, to Jordan Webb, to Quinn Mecham, back to Webb, to Dayne Crist, to Michael Cummings, to Jake Heaps and now to Cozart, the position has had no consistency, except bad consistency. Cozart, thrusted into the role, as a true freshman, when his redshirt was ripped off last October against Oklahoma won the job following spring ball, which led to the transfer of Heaps to Miami. The announcement of Cozart as the starter gave him ample time to do his due diligence in learning new offensive coordinator John Reagan’s offense and to earn the respect of his teammates as a leader.
The offense will cater to Cozart’s strengths and abilities and if he thrives, Kansas will score points, which has been missing pretty much the last five years.
2. Speaking of the offense, what will the new scheme look like and what are the possibilities?
The return of Reagan and the arrival wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau from Washington signals a change from the system that Weis hoped to run when he took the Kansas job, but the move itself may be the best call he’s made.
If Reagan’s system will look familiar to Kansas fans, it’ll because in many ways, it’s the same system that Ed Warriner and Mark Mangino ran at KU, when the program enjoyed tremendous success, culminating with 12-1 record in 2007 and a 24-21 triumph over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Reagan took the system and added elements to it at Rice, using his quarterbacks as a runner, a facet that was planned for Kale Pick, should the Mangino era had continued into 2010. The offense, spreads the defense out and gets the ball to the playmakers, all while keeping defenses honest with fast, quick running backs and dual threat quarterback. Though Cozart is a pass first, run second style of player, the offense could suit him perfectly and with familiarity and hard work, he could be great as his career unfolds.
If it all succeeds, perhaps one day the Kansas offense can rack 500 yards with a 300/200 passing to rushing split similar to the tune they played during that special 2007 season. Until then, it’ll just be fun to watch as the team works to get better day-by-day and game-by-game.
3. So, what? New offense, but will anyone catch balls or block anybody?
It’s no secret, the wide receiver play has left a lot to be desired since the 2009 season ended. In fact, the lack of playmaking has been among the most important breakdowns, which has directly led to Weis’ 4-20 record at Kansas.
However, in 2014, Weis hopes the arrival of Kiesau and the emergence of transfer Nick Harwell and breakthroughs for Justin McCay and Rodriguez Coleman will jumpstart the offense. Tight ends Jim May Mundine and Ben Johnson could enjoy great success this season and open things up for Tony Pierson, whether he’s catching the ball or rushing and if he’s fully recovered from the concussion that ruined his promising 2013 campaign.
The other breakdown has been the offensive line, which had its struggles over the past two years and would have made it almost impossible even if Peyton Manning were taking the snaps. Reagan’s return also signals a new offensive line coach, a role that Reagan flourished in his stint in Lawrence. The continuity and experience that Reagan brings, along with some solid returning linemen as well as some promising new arrivals could make a world of difference and if the ball starts moving, look out.
4. Will the defense become a game changer?
Linebacker Ben Heeney is a senior this season and he deserves to have more great moments than he’s had during his tenure at Kansas. He’s the face of the defense and it’s heart. One look at the Hutchinson native and you’d swear he would have fit in with the defenses from 2004-2008, even the vaunted 2005 defense.
After Heeney, who will step up and lead the charge? Will it be last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year Isaiah Johnson at the safety position? Will it be fellow safety Cassius Sendish or cornerback Dexter McDonald? What about other defensive backs such as JaCorey Shepherd or Greg Allen?
Up front could Ben Goodman or Michael Reynolds get to the quarterback? Then, there are defensive linemen such as Keon Stowers, Tedarian Johnson and Andrew Bolton. What impact will they have up front? Jake Love and Courtney Arnick will also be vital at the linebacker position opposite Heeney.
Bottom line is, the Kansas defense has a lot of talent, but just as many question marks. It’ll be up Clint Bowen and the rest of defensive staff to come up with the right answers. If they do, the Jayhawks defense will turn heads in 2014.
5. Will this FINALLY be the year that Kansas turns things around and plants the seeds of hope?
The easy answer is that it better; but to say that wouldn’t be fair. Point is, the Jayhawks must not be an embarrassment and have pictures of completely empty stadiums during the third and fourth quarters of home games be the norm.
They must win some games, but in losses, they must be competitive to the point that opponents no longer see them as essentially a bye week on their schedule. Under Mangino, the Jayhawks didn’t always win 12 games, but they were never a pushover sans his first season, a 2-10 campaign in 2002. Even then, you could see the team fighting and competing in nearly every game.
There have been times, especially in 2012, where you could see the Jayhawks fighting and nearly pulling off upsets. In fact in 2012, the Jayhawks could have won as many as six more games than the one they won. By season’s end, they were just mentally defeated from close calls that all went against them.
By that standard, they honestly regressed in 2013. They won two more games, but other than the three they won, you could probably only make a legitimate case for two or three more games that could have been won and in those they lost by nine, 10 and 15 to Rice, TCU and Oklahoma respectively.
Trouble is, the schedule isn’t going to them any favors. With the Big 12 being a nine game round robin, you lose an extra non conference game that can be “cupcake” opponent brought in simply for an easy win. In addition, the Jayhawks will not really have the kind of non-conference schedule it used to enjoy for the foreseeable future.
This season, they’ll host Southeast Missouri State and Central Michigan, but sandwiched in between will be a roadie at Duke, who only won 10 games and appeared in the ACC Championship game a year ago. Granted, it wasn’t expected that would be the case when the Jayhawks beat the Dukies 44-16 in the first game of the series way back in 2009.
Still, in coming years, there will be road games at Memphis, Houston and Rutgers just to name a few. In conference play, some years will feature only four home league games, such as will be the case this season against Texas, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and TCU. Speaking of, the home schedule will conclude very early with a November 15th home game against TCU, before finishing with road games at Oklahoma and Kansas State.
All of this translates to the fact that will be very tall task to win six games and qualify for a bowl without being a really good team. However, so is life and that’s the way things will be the way the Big 12 shapes of as of now. So, might as well not make excuses and make it happen on the field and the 2014 season will be as good as any to right the ship.