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Kansas Football: 2022 Jayhawks Season Preview and Prediction

Kenny Logan Jr., Kansas Jayhawks Football

Kenny Logan Jr. and the Jayhawks are ranked No. 99 in Athlon Sports' Top 131 for the 2022 college football season

The following statement is true with regard to Kansas football, even if it'd be crazy at nearly every other Power 5 program: The Jayhawks went 2-10 in 2021 — and created real positive momentum this offseason.

First-year head coach Lance Leipold made the most out of the bad hand he was dealt. Because he officially took over in Lawrence in early May 2021, he didn't get spring practices with the Jayhawks, nor did he know the personnel. That meant that progress took some time but was evident late in the season.

KU pulled off one of the upsets of the year in a 57–56 overtime road victory over Texas. After that — even with a depleted roster — the Jayhawks remained competitive in their final two Big 12 contests against TCU and West Virginia. The turnaround helped Leipold recruit, as KU added some immediate-help roster additions from the portal, including a handful of Big Ten transfers.

Add it all up, and KU goes into 2022 with hope but still-modest expectations in Leipold's second season.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing Kansas' Offense for 2022

The biggest reason for KU's late improvement was the emergence of quarterback Jalon Daniels. After he was inserted as the starter for the final three games and three quarters, Daniels was dynamic, throwing for seven touchdowns with three interceptions while also adding three rushing scores.

KU's coaches feel good about the starting offensive line — including anchors Earl Bostick Jr. at left tackle and Mike Novitsky at center — but the team desperately needs rapid development from backups to avoid a significant drop-off if injuries occur.

Running back might be the team's deepest group. Devin Neal had a strong true freshman campaign while emerging as KU's offensive best player most of the season. Leipold also picked off a couple of talented transfers: Ky Thomas was Minnesota's offensive MVP in the 2021 Guaranteed Rate Bowl, while Sevion Morrison was a rotation back for Nebraska. Daniel Hishaw Jr. is a power runner who sat out 2021 with injury.

KU's receivers are an area of concern, though offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki believes fans are likely to be surprised by that group's progress. Luke Grimm, Trevor Wilson and Lawrence Arnold all posted 300-yard receiving seasons a year ago.

Kotelnicki also has plenty of bodies at tight end if he wants to go to heavy personnel packages. Mason Fairchild and Trevor Kardell were the top two guys a year ago, while Jared Casey also should have a role after becoming a cult hero following his game-winning two-point conversion catch against Texas. Juco transfer Tevita Noa gives KU a run-blocking option.

Previewing Kansas' Defense for 2022

When asked for the most encouraging moments from spring practices, Leipold said, "Watching our defense." His guys have added weight and become more comfortable with schemes.

Defensive coordinator Brian Borland says his defensive tackles didn't create enough havoc a season ago, and the coaches have addressed that schematically while looking to produce more disruptive plays. Sixth-year senior Sam Burt leads that group, while Miami (Ohio) transfer Lonnie Phelps appears to be KU's best speed-rush threat on the outside.

Borland is happy to have more depth at linebacker following a season in which KU was razor-thin there. Taiwan Berryhill received rave reviews from coaches this offseason and could emerge with more knowledge of the system. Meanwhile, Rich Miller and Gavin Potter are returning starters who should be helped by transfers Craig Young (Ohio State) and Eriq Gilyard (UCF), rotational pieces who should allow teammates to get more breathers.

The secondary is probably the team's biggest concern — even though it might house the Jayhawks' best player. Physical safety Kenny Logan Jr. returns for his senior year after earning second-team All-Big 12 honors, and while coaches feel good about the developing O.J. Burroughs next to him — he gained 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason — the options after that are unproven at best. However, help is on the way from Purdue transfer Marvin Grant, who committed to the team in mid-May. Cornerback is also a spot where KU can't afford much attrition; returning player Ra'Mello Dotson and Michigan State transfer Kalon Gervin project as starters, but the Jayhawks are less confident beyond that with what they have.

Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2022

Previewing Kansas' Specialists for 2022

Jacob Borcila (kicker) and Reis Vernon (punter) are incumbents, though both have room for improvement after ranking toward the bottom of the Big 12 in field-goal accuracy and net-punt yardage. Tabor Allen was a nice weapon as kickoff specialist with a high percentage of touchbacks, while Logan is a dangerous playmaker on kickoff returns.

Final Analysis

According to ESPN's Bill Connelly, KU ranks in the top 10 among most returning production in 2022 — a stat that usually portends a few-points-per-game improvement. The bad news for the Jayhawks is that they're starting from such a low level. Even with this bump, KU projects to remain comfortably at the bottom of the conference, meaning any conference win should still be considered an upset. Leipold, in other words, is not done digging out of the hole he inherited. This season still could be another important step forward, though, while potentially setting up bowl eligibility in 2023 or 2024 — a feat the program hasn't accomplished since 2008.

National Ranking: 99

Podcast: Complete Breakdown of the Big 12 for 2022 + Predictions and Rankings