It's not every day that a college football coach can lose an all-American defensive tackle, a future first-round NFL draft pick and a top-of-the-line defensive coordinator, and still feel pretty good about things at the end of the day.
Such is the case, though, for Kansas University leader Mark Mangino.
Despite parting with standouts James McClinton and Aqib Talib (taken 20th overall in last spring's NFL Draft) and defensive mastermind Bill Young (now the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami), the KU defense returns nine starters from a unit that led the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense and turnover margin in 2007.
This year's defense will be spearheaded by one of the nation's best linebacker corps in Joe Mortensen, a preseason all-Big 12 selection, Mike Rivera and James Holt. Each has considerable experience, and any of the three could earn all-Big 12 honors (or better) at the conclusion of this season.
Russell Brorsen and John Larson, both academic all-Americans, are back at defensive end, and will be joined up front by tackle Caleb Blakesley. The departure of senior-to-be tackle Todd Haselhorst for health reasons doesn't help, but the Jayhawks return six of their top eight defensive lineman from last year's team, which allowed just 95 rushing yards per game.
In the secondary, cornerback Chris Harris will look to build upon his success as a true freshman in '07. The Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year grabbed two interceptions and recorded 65 tackles to earn freshman all-American honors. Kendrick Harper, who struggled with injuries last season, should start at the other cornerback spot. Starting safeties Darrell Stuckey and Patrick Resby return to their posts, although Justin Thornton (a team-leading five interceptions in '07) will likely see plenty of action.
Besides Talib and McClinton, the Jayhawks' other major hit comes in the loss of defensive coordinator Young. Clint Bowen will be stepping into the role after spending the past two years as the Jayhawks' co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach.