Those who preceded me in this position often penned a few paragraphs to put the finishing touches on the football seasons that were.
After a two-year hiatus, it’s time to bring that back. There’s no flashy name for the following awards, nor does there need to be since very little about this year’s Kansas University football team had much flash.
Still, many KU players poured everything they had into the 2010 season and they should be justly rewarded for doing so.
Here’s a look.
Offensive MVP: James Sims
After sitting out the first game of the season, the true freshman quickly became the man in the KU offense. He racked up three 100-yard games, scored nine touchdowns and ran for 742 yards, good for third all-time on KU’s freshman rushing list. What’s more, all of that came behind an inconsistent offensive line and without much help from the passing game. This guy’s got star written all over him.
Runner-up: Quinn Mecham. Not the best numbers, but imagine where KU would’ve been without him.
Defensive MVP: Steven Johnson
As a first-time starter, Johnson was the heart and soul of the KU defense and also it’s leading tackler, with 95. In addition, Johnson logged four-and-a-half tackles for loss, three pass breakups, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and recovered one fumble. Simply put, this guy was everywhere all the time.
Runner-up: Tyler Patmon. Late bloomer in 2010 but Patmon was, by far, KU’s best defensive player on the field during the final few games of the season.
Offensive rookie of the year: James Sims
The freshman from Irving, Texas, carried the load for the Jayhawks’ rushing attack.
Runner-up: Duane Zlatnik. This rapidly improving offensive lineman will be a cornerstone of KU’s line for the next few seasons.
Defensive rookie of the year: Tyler Patmon
If the season were four games longer, Patmon would’ve wound up on an all-Big 12 team or two. Looks destined to become the best cornerback KU’s had since Aqib Talib.
Runner-up: Keeston Terry. Only showed us flashes of what he’s capable of doing at safety. But those flashes were bright enough to conclude that this guy’s going to be a big-time player.
Game of the year: KU 28, Georgia Tech 25
All the doom and gloom that came with the season-opening disaster against North Dakota State was erased seven days later, when the Jayhawks shocked then-No. 15 Georgia Tech at Memorial Stadium. The Jayhawks made plays on both sides of the ball and temporarily brought some life back to the program. The 28-25 victory marked KU’s first home victory over a top-15 team in 26 years.
Runner-up: KU 52, Colorado 45. It really was just the fourth quarter, but when you set all those records (biggest comeback, most points in a quarter, etc.) and snap an 11-game Big 12 losing streak, you’re talking about a pretty special game.
Offensive play of the year: Daymond Patterson’s catch and run for a TD vs. GT
Thirty-two yards from the end zone and nursing a four-point, fourth-quarter lead, KU wide receiver Daymond Patterson caught a screen from QB Jordan Webb and let his quickness take care of the rest. After bouncing off five potential tacklers, Patterson somersaulted into the end zone. The junior wideout was flagged for the head-first dive but it hardly mattered. The TD turned out to be the game-winner and brought the Memorial Stadium crowd to its loudest point of the 2010 season.
Runner-up: It says something about this year’s KU offense that I honestly couldn’t think of another “Wow” play.
Defensive play of the year: Toben Opurum’s sack vs. Colorado and TD return by Tyler Patmon
Two young players, one huge play. With KU trailing, 45-31, but in the midst of an incredible comeback, running-back-turned-linebacker-turned-defensive-end Toben Opurum caught the Buffs on an attempted reverse and slammed wideout Paul Richardson to the ground. As he did, the ball came out and Patmon scooped it up and raced 28 yards to the end zone to bring KU within seven points with 7:12 remaining. The Jayhawks added two more TDs to complete the biggest comeback in school history.
Runner-up: Linebacker Justin Springer’s perfectly timed dive through the line of scrimmage for a stop of quarterback Joshua Nesbitt on a critical fourth-down play in the victory against Georgia Tech.
Special teams play of the year: Onside kick vs. Colorado
Trailing by 21 with 11 minutes to play, KU coach Turner Gill called for the surprise onside kick attempt and the Jayhawks executed it to perfection. Gill and several KU players said they knew they would win the game after they recovered that kick.
Runner-up: DJ Beshears’ 96-yard kickoff return for a TD vs. New Mexico State. This return showed why the KU coaching staff tried to get the ball into the dynamic playmaker’s hands so much this year. So fast, so furious, so skilled.
Most improved player: Steven Johnson
From full-time back-up to front line star, the junior linebacker from Pennsylvania had a breakthrough performance at one of the most critical positions on the field.
Runner-up: Olaitan Oguntodu. Under the old coaching staff, Oguntodu never really got the chance to show what he could do. This year, he did, starting seven games at safety and finishing fifth on the team with 56 tackles.
Feel-good moment of 2010: Jayhawks, fans come together after win against Georgia Tech
It went down as Gill’s first win at KU and a huge relief for the Jayhawks themselves. The celebration on the Memorial Stadium playing surface after the final horn sounded was full of hugs, smiles and pats on the back.
Runner-up: Late in the season when KU coach Turner Gill announced that defensive end D.J. Marshall, who had been sidelined because of Hodgkin lymphoma, was cancer-free and back on the practice field.
Not-so-feel-good moment of 2010: North Dakota State 6, Kansas 3
Not only did the Jayhawks drop the season opener to an FCS program, but they also scored just three points and looked woeful in Gill’s debut.
Runner-up: Take your pick among these four: The first half against Baylor; the second quarter against K-State; the entire Missouri game; or watching the offense struggle against Nebraska.
Three thoughts on 2010
- Transition years rarely go well and this was no exception. The Jayhawks fell short of most people’s expectations but those expectations probably were a little high to begin with. I said before the season began that 6-6 would’ve been a wildly successful year. It would’ve been.
- The one thing people go to quickly when discussing what went wrong this season is that the Jayhawks had no talent. That’s not completely true. There was talent on this team but not enough of it in general and a lack of it at key positions such as quarterback, receiver and defensive line.
- Partly because of a new approach to conditioning and partly because of the team’s lack of depth, the Jayhawks often ran out of gas in the third and fourth quarters of too many games in 2010, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Three thoughts for 2011
- The biggest area that KU needs to improve for 2011 is quarterback. The Jayhawks don’t have a true, Big 12-caliber quarterback and until they get one, it doesn’t matter what plays are called or what kind of talent is out there. Quarterbacks win games and make offenses go. Could juco prospect Zack Stoudt (6-5, 235), who’s at the top of KU’s recruiting wish list, be the answer?
- Throughout his career, Gill has proven to be a loyal man. That’s great in most cases but only as long as that loyalty doesn’t get in the way of getting the job done. Changes need to be made at Kansas and that includes both evaluating talent and the way the players are trained in the offseason.
- Most believe that 2011 simply has to be better than 2010. And in many ways that’s true. But while the Jayhawks may be a better football team next season, don’t expect the record to be that different. There’s no quick fix here because of a tougher schedule. KU is slated to take on all nine remaining members of the Big 12, plus will face tough non-conference games at Georgia Tech and home against Northern Illinois. In addition, even the most highly sought-after recruits need time to develop before they become true impact players.