COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2011 PRESEASON TOP 25
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Charlie Weis, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Charlie Weis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Campo
Year 1 of the Charlie Weis era at Kansas figures to be a struggle as Jayhawks look to rebuild.
Throughout his career, Kansas coach Charlie Weis has been known for working with and mentoring talented, pro-style quarterbacks. When Weis took the job at KU last December, he didn’t have that luxury. However, a few weeks after he arrived, the position was loaded, as Weis enticed Notre Dame graduate Dayne Crist, whom he had recruited to South Bend, to transfer to KU for his fifth year of eligibility. Weis also landed BYU transfer Jake Heaps and junior college transfer Turner Baty. Crist already has been named the starter, and Heaps will have to sit out the 2012 season, but the position clearly is in the best shape it has been in since Todd Reesing took snaps in 2009.
The question is whether Crist has the players around him to make the KU offense go. Seniors D.J. Beshears, Daymond Patterson and Kale Pick are KU’s most reliable receiving options, while sophomore running backs Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon both have breakout potential. KU also returns James Sims, the leading rusher in 2010 and 2011, but he’ll miss the first three games of the season to serve a suspension.
Add to that a slew of incoming talent and an offensive line buoyed by three experienced seniors and it’s easy to see, with Weis calling the plays, how KU’s offense could take a big step forward this season.
KU returns some talent on the defensive side of the ball, but the bulk of its first unit likely will be made up of newcomers. Seniors Greg Brown (corner), Bradley McDougald (free safety) and Toben Opurum (end) anchor the unit, but it won’t be their play as much as that of the newcomers that determines how good this defense will be.
That’s particularly true up front, where the Jayhawks will welcome six defensive linemen, including former Nebraska end Josh Williams. Williams, Ty McKinney and Jordan Tavai appear to be the most impressive of the bunch, and if sophomore Michael Reynolds can build off of his impressive Spring Game, KU’s defensive line has a chance to be vastly improved. Freshman Schyler Miles and fifth-year senior Anthony McDonald (another Notre Dame transfer) should push for starting spots at linebacker.
Based on depth and talent alone, this should be a better unit than the one that had KU ranked dead last in the FBS in total defense in 2011.
Weis has made no secret of the fact that he wants his best players to contribute on special teams. KU’s first-year coach views the kicking game — both offensively and defensively — as key to KU’s success, and he has two dynamic returners in Beshears and Patterson, along with two placekickers with experience in junior Ron Doherty and sophomore Alex Mueller. Doherty, who doubles as KU’s punter, was more reliable this spring and will enter the fall with a leg up.
There’s no question the Jayhawks are in better shape entering 2012 than they were during the past two seasons, but better shape does not necessarily mean good shape. As long as Crist stays healthy, the offense should put points on the board, which is vital in the Big 12.
The question that will loom all season is whether the defense can make enough stops to allow that offense to compete. The addition of defensive coordinator Dave Campo, a former NFL head coach, helps, and the KU defense appears to be more disciplined and organized. But unless it can find a way to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, winning conference games could remain a struggle.