The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 78 Kansas.
Previewing Kansas’ Offense for 2014:
One of KU’s biggest issues during Charlie Weis’ tenure has been its quarterback play, and the coach will be going with his third different starting QB in three years after naming sophomore Montell Cozart the starter at the end of spring practice. Cozart is a dual threat, as he was named offensive MVP in the spring game after rushing for 70 yards and two touchdowns while also completing 6-of-10 passes. His question mark is accuracy; he connected on just 23-of-63 passes in 2013.
Though KU loses James Sims at running back, it should be just fine at the position. Senior Brandon Bourbon, a big back with surprising speed for his size, should get the first crack at carries. Darrian Miller, blessed with good balance, was expected to serve as the No. 2 back, but he transferred in June. Senior Taylor Cox and junior college transfer De’Andre Mann will provide depth.
The biggest reason for optimism at receiver is senior Nick Harwell, a transfer from Miami (Ohio) who posted three straight 800-yard receiving seasons with the RedHawks. Also starting will be Rodriguez Coleman, who shined in the spring, and speedy senior Tony Pierson, who has been KU’s best playmaker during the past two seasons. Senior Jimmay Mundine, who battled drops in 2013, returns as KU’s best offensive threat at tight end.
The offensive line figures to be one of the team’s biggest unknowns heading into 2014, as the Jayhawks lost a lot of experience from a group that already was an area of weakness. The strength of the unit most likely will be the guard spots, as seniors Ngalu Fusimalohi and Mike Smithburg combined for 20 starts in 2013.
Previewing Kansas’ Defense for 2014:
Senior Keon Stowers is the star of the defensive line at the nose tackle spot, while Ben Goodman made the transition from outside linebacker to defensive end after adding some weight in the offseason. The Jayhawks also will rely on the athletic-but-raw Andrew Bolton at the other end spot while hoping that fall newcomers provide additional depth.
Senior middle linebacker Ben Heeney is KU’s best bet to earn All-Big 12 honors, as the high-motor player was a second-team all-league pick a year ago. Junior Jake Love is a solid-but-not-flashy player at the other inside linebacker spot. Michael Reynolds is KU’s best pass-rusher at Buck outside linebacker.
The secondary figures to be KU’s greatest strength. Two players stood out most in 2013 — senior Dexter McDonald, a tall corner who often had opponents throwing the other direction, and junior safety Isaiah Johnson, who was named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after ranking second in the league with five interceptions. Cornerback Kevin Short, a former junior college transfer who redshirted in 2013, also emerged in the spring and appears to have locked up a starting spot.
Previewing Kansas’ Specialists for 2014:
The strength of the special teams is senior punter Trevor Pardula, who averaged 43.7 yards per kick a season ago while booting a school-record 84 punts. KU’s biggest concern is at kicker, as student-tryout-hopeful-turned-starter Matthew Wyman remains the team’s top option after making 5-of-10 field goals in 2013.
During his first two years at KU, Weis was careful to not set specific win total goals for his rebuilding football team. That’s changed this season, as he enters Year 3 with the most talent he’s had and a solid base of upperclassmen.
“Before you can be a perennial winning program, the first thing you’ve got to do is get to .500,” Weis says.
Though this probably isn’t a “bowl or bust” season for the Jayhawks, Weis likely will need to improve his win total to avoid the hot seat in the third year of a five-year contract.