New Kansas coach Les Miles ended his introductory press conference in November by saying, "I would like to finish a career with championships."
Luckily for the 65-year-old Miles, who signed a five-year contract with KU, there shouldn't be much pressure to get close to that level anytime soon. Miles is inheriting one of the biggest rebuilds in Power 5 football, coming to KU after previous coach David Beaty went just 6–42 in four seasons, 2–34 in the Big 12.
Miles faces the challenge of resurrecting the on-field product while rebuilding the foundation, with KU facing a scholarship deficit in the near term after junior college gambles by Charlie Weis and Beaty didn’t pay off.
Previewing Kansas' Offense for 2019
Miles has plenty of familiarity with expected starting quarterback Thomas MacVittie, as he previously recruited him when he was coach at LSU. The 6'5" MacVittie, though, stuck with his commitment to Pittsburgh at the time, then after a transfer to junior college, became one of Miles' first KU signings last December. Ranked the nation’s top junior college pro-style quarterback by 247Sports, MacVittie will look to bring some life to a KU position that has had lackluster production ever since Todd Reesing left in 2009. MacVittie also will get a second chance to be an FBS quarterback, as he was relegated to special teams duties during his two years at Pitt. "That's what led me to juco. I've been a quarterback ever since I can remember,"
MacVittie says. " want that leadership. I want the team on my shoulders, them looking at me when they need to."
One of the Jayhawks' biggest team strengths will be at running back. Pooka Williams Jr. is likely to return after being named Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2018, though he was suspended indefinitely from the team in the offseason after being charged with domestic battery; the matter was cleared through the legal system in March when Williams signed a diversion agreement with the district attorney's office, though it's probable he'll still face some sort of team suspension at the start of the season. Senior Khalil Herbert has been productive when healthy each of the last two years, while junior Dom Williams should also expect to get carries in a crowded backfield.
At receiver, KU is mostly unproven but filled with potential. Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot didn't live up to high expectations with KU's previous staff — he had 12 catches in 2018 — but produced in spring practices and appears to be a breakout candidate. Miles also brought in a pair of junior college wideouts who could start right away in 6'4" Ezra Naylor II and 6'2" Andrew Parchment. "We needed tall, athletic wide receivers, and those are guys that we went after and got," Miles says.
Senior left tackle Hakeem Adeniji anchors an offensive line that has plenty of experience, as eight of the Jayhawks' top expected linemen are either juniors or seniors.
Previewing Kansas' Defense for 2019
KU's biggest question mark will be the defensive front seven, as the team lost five starters to graduation and will be transitioning to a base 3-4 defense under new coordinator D.J. Eliot. The Jayhawks also will be without two senior captains, as defensive lineman Daniel Wise and linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. are off to the NFL after earning All-Big 12 honors in 2018.
Newcomers will play a big role. Freshman defensive tackle DaJon Terry — "I would not want to block that lad," Miles said on Signing Day — should be a rotation player from Day 1 if he's in good shape, while linebackers Steven Parker and Gavin Potter also could be in line for immediate playing time.
Some of KU's best talent is in the secondary. Safety Mike Lee has earned the reputation of being a big hitter, while Lawrence product Bryce Torneden was one of the team's most consistent performers a season ago. Add in Corione Harris — he played 11 games as a true freshman after coming in as one of the program’s top-ranked recruits ever — and reliable senior Hasan Defense, and KU should be optimistic about the back end of its defense against the pass-happy Big 12.
Previewing Kansas' Specialists for 2019
Williams was an All-Big 12 first-team kickoff returner in 2018, while Kyle Thompson also performed well in his first season as punter, taking second-team honors with a 43.3-yard average. KU will have to replace a proven placekicker in Gabriel Rui, with junior Liam Jones and true freshman Jacob Borcila battling for those duties.
Miles’ hiring brought some offseason excitement to KU football, which definitely needed a shot of enthusiasm considering the team's lack of success over the past decade; since 2010, the Jayhawks are 18–90 overall, posting four winless Big 12 seasons over that time.
One positive this year: The early-season schedule is favorable. KU hosts Indiana State and Coastal Carolina the first two weeks, so maybe there’s a chance to build some momentum at the start.
With a tough Big 12 slate and plenty of inexperience on defense, though, 2019 seems more likely to end up as a bridge year than a breakthrough. In other words, unless Miles is a wizard, a turnaround in Lawrence is going to take some time.