Now that the Big 12 football season for Kansas University gets under way at 11 a.m. Saturday in Waco, Texas, it’s time to forget for a moment that this is a program in transition and no threat to win the Big 12 North. It’s time to credit the players who have gotten off to good starts and should, playing for the name on the fronts of their jerseys, perform well in conference under the direction of their new head coach.
Thus far, the emergence of offensive skill players counts as the most encouraging development.
No. 29, a true freshman running back blessed with great balance and a terrific instinct for missing tacklers by making the cut at the perfect time, ranks sixth in the Big 12 with 96.7 rushing yards per game.
No. 20, a sophomore, shows why speed is more important than size. In today’s world, college basketball is putting a premium on skill and quickness at the expense of taller, slower players. In college football, speed is taking precedence over bulk.
No. 15 also is a burner, and when No. 15 and No. 20 are on the field at the same time with No. 29, it occupies a great deal of the defense’s attention, so much so that it can open up space for the tight end, No. 86, to get open.
With Nos. 15, 20, 29 and 86 on the minds of the defensive game-planners, it just might be time for No. 24 to fly under the radar all the way to the end zone twice in one game.
For a guy who has started just three college games, the quarterback, No. 2, is doing a magnificent job of holding onto the football and has shown he can bounce back up from some vicious licks. As is the case with most inexperienced quarterbacks, he sometimes doesn’t see open receivers, but he has shown a good feel for the position and will get better in that area.
The aforementioned skill-position players have been able to stand out already despite things not going very smoothly on the offensive line. No. 74, who eventually would have won the starting job at right tackle, is out for the season because of an Achilles injury. No. 77, the center who also has played left tackle during his Kansas career, is playing with a back injury. The right tackle, No. 76, has played through injury as well, and the right guard, No. 69, has had some rough games.
The coaching staff made recruiting offensive linemen a top priority and already has received a half-dozen oral commitments from players who have not yet been assigned numbers to wear on their college jerseys because they still are in high school.
Not all the news on the offensive line front has been bad. No. 67, a 6-foot-4, 326-pound native of Rossville, has shown promise since switching from defensive line, where like most of KU’s defensive tackles, he didn’t do a great job of pushing the pocket.
On defense, No. 16, the senior cornerback from Bixby, Okla.; No. 19, the junior from Haven; No. 33, the red-shirt freshman nickelback from Cedar Park, Texas; No. 45, the senior middle linebacker from Los Fresnos, Texas; and No. 52, the junior linebacker from Media, Pa., all have performed well.
I’m forgetting somebody. His number’s on the tip of my tongue. I just can’t come up with it.