Finally, we have reached Mizzou's last opponent of the season, the hated Kansas Jayhawks. Fans in Lawrence are buzzing about the dynamic 2008 offense that has most of its key weapons returning for 2009, but should they be worried about a shaky offensive line and average defense? The Tiger's biggest rivals enter this season with aspirations of a Big XII North title, so this final game of the regular season with Mizzou could end up determining the North winner (if Mizzou has the season I think they will have). Let's take a look at KU.
Todd Reesing comes back for his senior season at QB for the Jayhawks after two excellent years at the helm. After passing for over 30 touchdowns in each of the past 2 seasons, Reesing looks to be even better this season coming back with a veteran receiving corps in his third year in the system. While Reesing doesn't really have the ability to be a threat on the ground, he makes up for it with his Chase Daniel-like accuracy and acceptable arm strength. No matter what he ends up doing early in the season, he will no doubt put up some good numbers against Mizzou and end his career as the best quarterback in school history. Although Kerry Meier plays wide receiver, he was originally a QB and will still be the backup this season. He has been solid in backup time in recent years, but the offense would probably take a huge hit if he was forced to start for an extended period of time.
Coming into this season, Jake Sharp is lined up to be the starter at running back for Kansas. Sharp finished rushed for 860 yards and 12 TD's last season, creating a much-needed second dimension for the Jayhawks offense. While I don't see much room for improvement from him, he will be a key part to keeping defenses from just focusing on stopping the 2 big receivers on the outside. Kansas lost some depth at this position when Jocques Crawford decided to transfer in order to get more playing time. Taking his spot at backup RB will be Reil Lewis could add a dash of speed or could be utilized in many different in the offense. Toben Opurum weighs in at a hefty 235 pounds, so he should be used near the goal line because of his bruising rushing style (although he does have some speed).
Talk about a very strong starting group. Let's start out with incredible junior, Dezmon Briscoe. After storming on to the scene in his freshman year, the former 2-star recruit made a name for himself on the national level in 2008, catching 92 balls for 1,407 yards and 15 touchdowns. Lining up on the other side is backup quarterback and senior Kerry Meier, who led the team in catches with 97 a year ago. Even though he is a quarterback, he has been the most dependable target for Todd Reesing in the past couple of seasons and he seems to kill Mizzou each year, too. Johnathan Wilson is the third most dangerous threat for the Jayhawks, a year after hauling in 43 passes. Past these 3, depth is a bit lacking, but the group is definitely the best in the North without question.
Here is the unit that could cost the Jayhawks a shot at a North title. Four of the five projected starters have playing experience, but the Jayhawks only return 2 starters and only one of those returns to his position from last season. Converted tight end Tanner Hawkinson will start at left tackle this season as a redshirt freshman, so that spot could be a bit of a question mark. Jeff Spikes will start at right tackle and he probably has the most promise to be a "star" on the offensive line. Junior Sal Capra will finally get a chance to start this year at guard, probably on the right side. Obviously, this group is quite inexperienced, and a poor offensive line can create a bad domino effect throughout the whole offense.
Jake Laptad enters the season as the Jayhawks top pass rushing threat, a year after recording 7 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. He's got a great defensive end body (6-4, 250) and should improve on his Honorable Mention All-Big XII performance from last year. Richard Johnson will attempt to be an impact player on the interior line after playing well as a freshman last season. Senior defensive tackle Caleb Blakesley should be the most consistent player for Kansas this year on the defensive line while also being a leader for the whole D. He's a bit slim for a defensive tackle, but that hasn't held him back from being a solid player earlier in his career, so I don't see why that would change this year. Senior Maxwell Onyegbule is listed as the starter at the other defensive end spot, but don't be surprised to see the 6-7 Jeff Wheeler get some playing time on the outside (and possibly the interior line as well). Jamal Green weighs in at 301 pounds and could be a nice part of the rotation at DT because of his quickness.
The Jayhawks lost each of their three starting linebackers from 2008, so this position is a bit of a concern this season. Arist Wright got some time last year, but he will be counted on more to be a solid overall player on the outside. Angus Quigley was listed as a running back last year, but because of all of the losses at linebacker, he was moved this off-season. His athleticism should make him a pretty solid player, but I wouldn't expect him to perform too well as there is quite the learning curve while switching to linebacker. Justin Springer will start on the inside when Kansas puts three ‘backers on the field. His size (6-4) is imposing, and he has looked good in minimal playing time, so Springer could be a good player for Kansas. The inexperience of this group could be gone when the Tigers face the Jayhawks, but they will still probably be one of the weaker groups on the team, so the Tigers could have something to exploit.
Darrell Stuckey was an All-First Team Big XII performer last year, recording nearly 100 tackles while picking off 5 passes at strong safety. He will be the leader of the D and he will have to perform as well as he did last year in order for the whole defense to take a step forward. Justin Thornton has good size for a corner because he moved from free safety, but I don't know if he is the shut down corner that Kansas would like to have. Phillip Strozier is a solid, but not spectacular player that can play many spots in the defensive backfield. Daymond Patterson probably has the most potential to be a shut down defender, despite his 5-9 size.
As you can see, the Jayhawks have a pretty solid team for the 2009 season. While the offensive line could be a problem, the talent on that side of the ball should be enough for them to still be a formidable group in the Big XII. The defense looks solid, but not spectacular, so expect what you saw last season from that group. No matter what, this will be a tough fought game between bitter rivals in Kansas City. I'm predicting that the game will be the deciding game for the Big XII North Title, so it will probably be a largely hyped game.