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Kansas Football: 2021 Jayhawks Season Preview and Prediction

The Jayhawks rank No. 115 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2021
Kenny Logan Jr., Kansas Jayhawks Football

Kenny Logan Jr. and Kansas get a chance at a fresh start under new head coach Lance Leipold

Following an 0–9 campaign and an offseason of turmoil, the Kansas football team's main goal should be stability in 2021. The program took steps in that direction in May, as Lance Leipold was hired as the team's new coach. Leipold arrives in Lawrence after a successful stint at Buffalo and was hailed as one of the top hires of the offseason. The rebuilding effort isn't going to be easy. However, Leipold's track record at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo suggests he's the right person for the job.

The offseason turmoil started when KU football coach Les Miles agreed to part ways with the school in March following allegations against him of sexual harassment during his previous tenure at LSU. A few days later, KU athletic director Jeff Long left Lawrence as part of a settlement agreement as well.

Though those two men hired in 2018 primarily to fix the football program are gone, the Jayhawks must now do all they can to ensure that Miles' recruiting efforts weren't wasted. Miles went just 3–18 during his two seasons at KU, but one area where he did thrive was in talent acquisition, as the school brought in two highly rated classes — completely from the high school ranks — with an eye toward fixing the team's scholarship-player issues while also pursuing a long-range strategy for success.

With all the upheaval, then, 2021 should simply be about keeping as many of those players as possible on campus. If KU can hit that modest goal — at the very least — the program's efforts from the last two years shouldn't completely go to waste.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2021

Previewing Kansas' Offense for 2021

Andy Kotelnicki was one of a handful of assistants Leipold brought from Buffalo to Kansas. After calling the plays under Leipold at Buffalo, Kotelnicki will resume that role for the Jayhawks and is tasked with improving an offense that averaged just 15.8 points per game in 2020.

KU's biggest issue was on the offensive line, as evidenced by the fact that the team allowed 5.2 sacks per game — the highest mark by any FBS program since at least 2009. The Jayhawks will still need to grow up quickly under new O-line coach Scott Fuchs, but there's potential to be better, especially with the expected development of left tackle Earl Bostick Jr. and added stability from Notre Dame graduate transfer center Colin Grunhard. A couple of transfers - Mike Novitsky and Michael Ford - followed Leipold from Buffalo to Lawrence. Novitsky should provide instant help on the interior.

The Jayhawks made a late move to solidify their quarterback spot, adding North Texas transfer Jason Bean in late March. Bean, a speedster who thrived in the 100-meter dash in high school, started seven games for the Mean Green in 2020, throwing for 1,131 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. His main competition will be Jalon Daniels, who flashed a big arm as the Jayhawks' primary starter last season but struggled with scheme and decision-making as a still-undeveloped true freshman.

KU should have some hope at the skill positions mostly because of its young players. Receiver Lawrence Arnold — praised by coaches for his ability to do the dirty work — returns after a season marred by injury, while Steven McBride needs to add some muscle but has an ability to take the top off a defense with blazing speed.

The Jayhawks have options in the backfield as well. Velton Gardner and Daniel Hishaw Jr. were KU's two leading rushers in 2020, and incoming freshman Devin Neal, the top prospect in Kansas, is likely to earn some immediate carries too.

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Previewing Kansas' Defense for 2021

KU's defense struggled in 2020 while battling injuries and COVID absences, but it returns most of its starters from a season ago with the makings of an intriguing young foundation.

The defensive linemen had some encouraging moments while holding their own in one-on-one situations against Big 12 competition last year, with underclassmen like Marcus Harris and DaJon Terry showing flashes of what could be ahead. However, both Harris and Terry decided to transfer after spring practice. Leipold added help through the portal, bringing aboard Zion Debose, Eddie Wilson and Ronald McGee for instant help in the trenches.

KU's other main strength is the secondary. However, this unit did suffer some attrition in the summer after Karon Prunty - widely considered the team's best player after being named to 247Sports' True Freshman All-America team - transferred to South Carolina. Missouri State transfer Jeremy Webb could help right away at corner. Kenny Logan Jr. brings athletic ability to the safety spot. Duece Mayberry and Jacobee Bryant also provide KU with high upside at corner.

Linebacker — like last season — is the team's biggest question mark. Kyron Johnson brings experience as a super senior after earning All-Big 12 honorable mention honors a season ago, and Gavin Potter will be starting for a third straight season, too. Though depth remains a concern, watch for Taiwan Berryhill as a potential breakout player after he received early reps in five games as a true freshman.

Previewing Kansas' Specialists for 2021

Kicker Jacob Borcila should be the favorite to retain duties after making two-thirds of his field goals and all of his PATs in 2020. The Jayhawks should have an open competition at punter after losing Kyle Thompson to the transfer portal, while Logan will be an asset in the kick return game after scoring on a 100-yard TD against Iowa State last season. Punt return can only get better, as KU finished with negative-5 yards in 2020 — the second time in five years the Jayhawks went backward instead of forward in that particular statistic.

Final Analysis

The expectations should be low again at KU — especially after more coaching turnover — but the reality is that the Jayhawks' roster situation is in a decent place if it can avoid a mass exodus via the transfer portal. The team might not find much on-field success in 2021, especially with two non-conference road games on the slate, but a reasonably brighter future could be ahead if the Jayhawks can build on their recruiting momentum.

National Ranking: 115

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