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You can read the entire Kansas preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 Big 12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Charlie Weis, 1-11 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Charlie Weis | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Campo
For the second straight season, the hopes of the Kansas offense rest on the arm of a former 5-star recruit. BYU transfer Jake Heaps, a junior, enters the season as the man at quarterback. Heaps threw for 2,316 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a freshman at BYU but struggled as a sophomore. Heaps might never live up to his prep billing, but it’s a safe bet he will be more productive than last year’s transfer quarterback, Dayne Crist.
Kansas would love to see more production in the passing game, but the strength of the offense figures to be the rushing attack, which ranked third in the Big 12 last season. The Jayhawks return their top three running backs, most notably senior James Sims, who led the Big 12 in rushing yards per game (112.6). Sims ripped off a school-record six straight 100-yard games — all against Big 12 opponents — and finished with career highs in yards (1,013) and carries (218) while scoring nine touchdowns.
The receiving corps will have a new look in 2013. Coach Charlie Weis believes junior Andrew Turzilli, who averaged 16.9 yards on his 17 receptions in 2012, has the ability to be the team’s best deep threat. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay is eligible and will have an opportunity to play a big role. The Jayhawks scored a huge pickup in May, as Nick Harwell will transfer from Miami (Ohio) to Kansas. Harwell ran into off-the-field issues but caught 229 passes in three years with the RedHawks.
The offensive line, one of the biggest strengths in 2012, figures to be one of the biggest question marks heading into 2013, as the Jayhawks will look to replace three multi-year starters up front.
In junior linebacker Ben Heeney, who finished third in the Big 12 in tackles in 2012, the Jayhawks have a solid building block on defense. After Heeney, however, the unit could be made up almost entirely of newcomers. Weis has said that several first-year Jayhawks could wind up starting this fall for a defense that struggled in all phases last season.
“I’ve still got seven juco kids coming in on defense that are in the mix,” Weis said at the end of spring drills. “Personnel-wise, the overhaul on defense is going to be dramatic.”
The most notable of the newcomers is Marquel Combs, a 6'3", 310-pound defensive tackle from Pierce (Calif.) College who was regarded as the No. 1 junior college recruit nationally by ESPN. Combs’ teammate at Pierce, linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, and defensive end Andrew Bolton, from Hinds (Miss.) Community College, are also expected to make an impact.
Two junior college transfers who arrived in time for spring practice impressed the staff — defensive end Chris Martin, a former Florida Gator, and cornerback Cassius Sendish. However, Martin was dismissed from the team after an arrest in late May. His dismissal was a huge blow for a Kansas defense, especially since Martin was supposed to be one of the unit's top performers in 2013.
Kansas’ kicking game was poor in all facets in 2012, so Weis turned to the junior college ranks to address the situation. Trevor Pardula averaged 40.9 yards per punt at De Anza (Calif.) College last season. Michael Mesh earned All-America honors last season at nearby Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and agreed to join the Kansas program as a walk-on. Ron Doherty, who handled both duties last year — but not well — is back, but he will have a tough time beating out the transfers.
Buoyed by the return of a group of running backs that made KU one of the top rushing teams in the Big 12, Weis is confident that, with Heaps now eligible at quarterback, the Jayhawks will be more productive on offense. The defense should be improved as well, thanks to an influx of ready-made junior college players. Still, the 2013 season figures to be a struggle. Kansas was by far the worst team in the league last year and will need to show significant progress this fall to climb out of the Big 12 basement.