As the 2014 season draws near, the prevailing sentiment can be best described is guarded optimism at best, but after much bad luck, hope grows within the program and the fans that better days are closer rather than farther away.
Head coach Charlie Weis begins his third year as the Jayhawks leader and many fail to appreciate how much he and his staff have done to clean the program up from the toxic Turner Gill regime, which very nearly obliterated the program that Mark Mangino and his staff had built.
With that in the past, Weis and his staff have sought to bring in talent that could either help the team immediately via junior college transfers or with some really good high school players that have been brought along slowly. It’s the hope of Weis and the staff that 2014 could see things start to change.
In 2013, there were many lowlights, but with a November win over West Virginia, the long conference losing streak was behind them and it was one less negative item to talk about.
This season, the Jayhawks welcome back old friend John Reagan to run the offense, as its coordinator, as well as serve as offensive line coach. Reagan’s presence will invoke memories of better days for every KU football fan and when the offense is unveiled, they’ll see many looks and formations last seen when Todd Reesing was the Kansas signal caller.
New wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau brings wealth of experience and knowledge from his previous stops, most recently with Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington. If he can get the Jayhawks receivers going, the offense will look much better and things will be much easier for new quarterback Montell Cozart.
"Bringing John in has been a big plus," Weis said. "I think bringing Kiesau in was also a big plus. I think those two guys have helped invaluably with us changing things that we're going to do on offense. I certainly see it (progress) on defense; I see evidence of it on special teams and I think that offensively, what we're doing gives us a better chance to win. If I didn't think it gave us a better chance to win, we wouldn't have made the changes that we did."
Speaking of Cozart, how much improvement will he show in his first full season at the helm and how many chances will he get before other quarterbacks on the rosters are given a chance? One thing is certain, should he grasp Reagan’s offense, which will very much resemble Ed Warriner and Mark Mangino’s offense from 2007-2009, Cozart could figure to do big things in his remaining three years at Kansas.
The offense itself is designed to be simpler, but very explosive. The idea is for the ball to be spread out throughout the field, getting it into the hands of dynamic playmakers. In a perfect world, the offense could eventually hum to he tune of 500 yards per game with a 300/200 pass/run split. Running backs and to a slightly lesser extent, the quarterback figure to have wide open lanes to pick up yardage, assuming the passing game is functioning as it should. Should the much maligned receiving corps show progress, that will happen and do so fast.
The offensive line will be the critical focal point of the offense. They’ve struggled, especially last season and if Reagan can work the same kind of magic he did so often during his first tenure at Kansas, things should flow outward from there in a much more positive direction.
On defense, you start with linebacker and team captain Ben Heeney, a player, whose heart and motor combine with his ability to form one of the Big 12’s best and most underrated defensive players. If his senior year feature more wins, the attention will be well deserved and show many others outside of Lawrence, that the Jayhawks possess a special player.
Elsewhere, there are a lot of question marks, but a lot of talent and even last year, they showed the ability to make things happen. Trouble was, with the offense consistently letting them down and then with the special teams also failing later in the season, they often wore down and succumbed. It’s amazing if just a few things improve, Kansas could see its fortunes revers dramatically even this season.
"When we hand out a roster and you look at that roster, you can see this is the best we've felt by a wide margin about the talent we have here," Weis said. "Now, that being said, we've done very little to back it up, from me right on down. So we'll see where it goes."