The honeymoon is over for new Kansas head coach David Beaty. On Saturday, he'll begin his first season at the helm of the Jayhawk program. He'll be leading a young and inexperienced squad into in a 2015 campaign where moral victories are going to be the norm. It's going to be a true rebuilding effort in Kansas — more so than any other time in recent memory.
In seasons like these, it's nice for a program in the Jayhawks' state to start off the year with a more manageable opponent — perhaps even an FCS school. Well, they got the FCS school, I'm just not sure about the manageable part.
South Dakota State is among the toughest FCS programs — year in, year out — as of late. They play in the Missouri Valley, considered by many as the "SEC of FCS." They hold their own in that conference, which is also home to 4-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State. The Jackrabbits lost five games a season ago: two to North Dakota State, one to FCS runner-up Illinois State, one to fellow FCS powerhouse Youngstown State and one to SEC finalist Missouri. They averaged a 19-point margin of victory in their nine wins. South Dakota State is quite simply a sound program that does not lose to bad teams.
South Dakota State at Kansas
Kickoff: 11 a.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: N/A
Three Things to Watch
1. How effective will the Jackrabbit running game be without Zack Zenner?
As South Dakota State prepares for Kansas, Zenner is getting dressed in the Detroit Lions roster, trying to continue his career. Replacing the most prolific FCS running back from the past two seasons won't be easy. In fact, it will be done by committee. Brady Mengarelli and Reggie Gandy are expected to split carries — at least early on in the season. Both are smaller than Zenner with different running styles. They are nowhere near the bruiser Zenner was between the tackles, but they are every bit as quick into and through the hole. The Jayhawks defense — led by linebacker Jake Love — will need to stay loyal to their gap assignments to prevent the Jackrabbit duo from hitting home runs in the running game all afternoon.
2. Can the Jayhawks jump out to a lead early?
The quickest way to take a would-be underdog out of a game is to jump on them early and take the emotion out of the contest. Jayhawk quarterback Montell Cozart will need to pilot his offense to some long drives that yield points early. That will be easier said than done against a South Dakota State defense that returns nine starters. Kansas' inexperienced receiving corps — led by Tre' Parmalee — might need to grow up early and make a couple of big plays for the Jayhawks to start fast.
3. Can the Jayhawks slow down the Jackrabbit passing game?
In previous years, the running game has been the bread and butter of the South Dakota State offense. In 2015, however, the passing game looks to be the strength of the offensive attack. Quarterback Zach Lugan will have one of the most talented young receivers in the country in Jake Wieneke to throw to again. In 2014 as a true freshman, Wieneke caught 73 balls for 1,404 yards, earning him Missouri Valley Freshman of the Year honors. Kansas will attempt to counter the passing attack with a secondary that returns no starters.
As you can tell, this game has bad news written all over it for Kansas. If they win, nobody cares, because you are supposed to beat FCS schools as a Power-5 program. The fact of the matter is, the Jackrabbits enter this game as the better coached, more experienced and arguably more talented team. It's going to be a long day followed by a long season in Lawrence. Brighter days are probably ahead, but not anytime soon — and especially not Saturday.