Mark Mangino has fought off the wolves at KU to this point, but his team will need to do better in close games to improve their fortunes this season. The Jayhawks lost four conference games by less than a touchdown last year on their way to a 4-7 finish with a team that had hopes of becoming bowl eligible.
That bowl feeling still exists this year; however, the schedule makers have done Kansas no favors in the first month of the Big 12 slate. Their first four games are away from home, including a contest with the Sooners that the Jayhawks moved to Kansas City for the lure of big bucks, making it more likely that Sooner fans could outnumber Kansas fans at the contest.
"This isn't a season where his job is on the line unless they completely falter, and then they might be inclined to make a change, but I think there's been enough progress under him, that they are satisfied", said Kevin Haskin of the Topeka Capital-Journal, who covers the Jayhawks. "They do have expectations of going to a bowl this season, though."
If the Jayhawks are to have any ideas of posting a winning season, they've got to improve on offense. Mangino is hoping quarterback Adam Barmann can stay healthy for a full season and display the ability he showed as a freshman two years ago. In his first big game at Texas A&M, Barmann threw for 294 yards and four touchdown, but really didn't come close to matching that in his first full year as a starter in 2004.
Health is also a question mark for Barmann. His hold on the starting spot was so tenuous in the spring that redshirt freshman Marcus Herford (6-3, 205 from De Soto, TX) was given a look. Now the decision has been made to move Herford to wide receiver, leaving Barmann the starter and senior Jason Swanson as the backup.
There is no real standout at running back, where the departure of John Randle leaves a void. The job that will probably be handled by committee, led by Clark Green (5-11, 220 Sr.) who is probably a better receiver than runner. Gary Green (5-9, 175 RS-Fr from San Antonio, TX), no relation, is smallish and not an every down back, but he will see some action. The wild card is John Cornish (6-0, 205 Jr. from Canada), who has ability and could help if he can stay out of Mangino's doghouse.
The addition of junior college WR Brian Murph (6-1, 185 Jr.), a member of two NJCAA national championship teams at Butler (KS) Community college, has added a new dimension to the Kansas passing game, giving them a deep threat that had been lacking.
"He's a breakaway threat, which is what they needed", said Haskin. "They've got a pretty good possession type receiver in Mark Simmons (5-11, 185 Sr.) who does have some ability to make yards after the catch. But Murph gives them speed."
"The problem last year was getting the ball downfield. They just didn't do that regularly enough, especially Barmann. He tended to throw short a lot of the time, which wasn't always his fault. The receivers didn't always get very good separations. So getting the ball deep is a priority."
Murph's arrival will allow the Jayhawks to let all-conference performer Charles Gordon concentrate more on defense, although the triple-threat star will still play wide receiver in key situations, preferably late in the game. Gordon, a 5-11, 175 junior, caught 15 passes and scored two touchdowns last year and also led the Big 12 with seven interceptions as a cornerback. Gordon has been named to several pre-season All-American teams on defense and that's where he'll be most valuable to KU this year. Lawton Eisenhower product Marcus Henry (6-4, 195 So.) should also fit into the Jayhawks receiving corps after seeing action last year as a true freshman.
On the offensive line, the graduation of center Joe Vaughn is a big loss, but Kansas returns the rest of their unit, which started to gel at the end of the season. What is lacking is the kind of bulk that the upper level teams in the Big 12 have up front, leaving KU to run more of a finesse blocking system that Mangino has used in his previous coaching stops.
Defensively, besides Gordon, the Jayhawks have a solid two deep at linebacker and returnees in the secondary. Their senior defense ends, Jermial Ashley (6-5, 250) and Charlton Keith (6-5, 225) are tall and active, giving Kansas a solid pass rush. The interior is a problem, which could encourage opposing teams to run early and often.
9/03 Florida Atlantic
9/10 Appalachian State
9/17 Louisiana Tech
10/01 at Texas Tech
10/08 at Kansas State
10/15 vs. Oklahoma at Kansas City, Mo.
10/22 at Colorado
11/12 at Texas
11/26 Iowa State
OFFENSE - This is a make or break season for Barmann. If he can give the Jayhawks consistent signal calling and stay healthy, Kansas could be a formidable opponent this year. With playmakers Murph and Gordon, passing will be in order. The running game is weak, making Barmann performance even more important. Up front, the line should be solid if not dominating. GRADE - B –
DEFENSE - According to beat writer Haskin the defense is "good enough to make Kansas a division contender" – not too bold a statement for the talent-challenged Big12 North. Teams will likely shy away from Gordon, trying to establish the run, and the depth at linebacker may come in handy. If the offense can stay on the field long enough to give the defense a break, this may be the strong suit of the team. GRADE - B
SPECIAL TEAMS - Gordon is the man here as well, needing just five yards to become the Jayhawks career leader in punt return yardage. Kansas used a dual kicker system last season with Johnny Beck handling field goals and Tulsa Union product Scott Webb doing the extra-point chores. Both return this season as does punter Kyle Tucker. GRADE – B
OUTLOOK - The Jayhawks have enough talent to compete for the Big 12 North title, but the early conference schedule is absolutely brutal. Winning just one of the first four league games would be considered a success and would probably keep KU in the hunt. If Kansas can win their three non-conference games, which is not a stretch, they should go bowling. PREDICTED RECORD – 6-5
Big XII Preview: Kansas
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