It’s hard to believe that a mere nine seasons ago the Kansas Jayhawks won 12 games, including a BCS bowl victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl. KU’s rise was an achievement of Snyderian proportions. But rather than become a mainstay in the Top 25, Kansas fired Mark Mangino following the 2009 season, replaced him with Turner Gill, and the Jayhawks expeditiously returned to the Big 12 cellar.
Of all the terrible seasons the Jayhawks have known, however, surely none were worse than last year under new head coach David Beaty. KU got off to a rocky start, losing at home to South Dakota State, and then went south from there. After that initial 41-38 loss, only once, in a 23-17 loss at TCU, did the Jayhawks keep the loss margin to single digits.
When a team goes winless, the awfulness is comprehensive. And that was certainly the case with the 2015 Jayhawks. After scoring 38 on SDSU, Kansas never again eclipsed the 30-point mark. On the contrary, West Virginia shut them out, and Baylor and Oklahoma each held KU to a touchdown.
Kansas’ defense may have been even worse, if you can believe it. Their best effort was holding TCU to 23. Their worst results were surrendering 55 to Memphis, 66 to Baylor, 58 to Oklahoma State, 62 to Oklahoma, and 59 to Texas.
In Beaty’s second season, matters probably won’t improve much. Any Big 12 win would be a significant upset, and outside of the season-opener against Rhode Island, there are no likely wins on the non-conference slate.
Scouring KU’s offensive roster in search of talent is like searching for a papaya grove on the South Pole. The returnees simply do not move the proverbial needle. That being the case, it is necessary to eyeball the newcomers.
A Texas A&M transfer with the improbable name of LaQuvionte Gonzalez at least was a heavily recruited player, and he did some damage against SEC defenses in his freshman season. He was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of Cedar Hill, and as a freshman in College Station played in all 13 games, starting one. On the season he caught 21 passes for 240 yards and showed promise of having a good career with the Aggies.
A sophomore slump in the form of five total catches and participation in only eight games, however, cast a shadow over Gonzalez’s future, and he now hopes for a fresh start in Lawrence.
He’ll immediately be the most talented receiver on the roster, and with Kansas’ anemic ground game, it is likely Gonzalez will see plenty of passes from sophomore slinger Ryan Willis who occasionally looked good as a freshman.
Fish Smithson is unquestionably Kansas’ premiere player. In significant measure due to deficiencies at virtually every other position on defense, Smithson led the nation in tackles per game in 2015 with eight per contest. If Smithson were to average half that many in 2016, it would signify huge improvement by Kansas’ defense. That’s unlikely to happen, however, and Smithson will again be overworked.
But he is a rock solid tackler and reasonably durable, missing only one game in 2015. Smithson also recorded two interceptions and three pass breakups en route to second team All-Big 12 honors.