A 1-11 season and winless stretch during Big 12 Conference play was not what Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis envisioned for his first season in charge of the Jayhawks.
But, in true Weis form, the second-year coach is moving ahead to Year 2 without dwelling on what went wrong or even what little went right during the 2012 season.
There are a couple of players and positions on the offensive side of the ball that make moving on an attractive prospect. Names like Jake Heaps, Justin McCay, Tony Pierson, James Sims and more figure to be key parts of the KU attack in 2013. And Weis plans to get all of them involved in the offense.
“Although we had a pretty solid running game, we couldn’t pass the ball and we couldn’t score points,” Weis said. “This year (I’m counting on) us to be a more balanced team on offense. And I think Jake and Justin are two of the people that can help provide that for us.”
The starting quarterback role has been Jake Heaps’ to lose since the final gun sounded on KU’s loss to West Virginia last December. Although sophomore Michael Cummings did an admirable job as a part-time starter during his red-shirt freshman season, Heaps has an edge on Cummings in many important areas.
He’s bigger — 6-foot-1, 210 pounds vs. 5-10, 205 — has more experience from his time at BYU, where he set nearly all of the freshman passing records, and has a five-star pedigree and was recruited by Weis to Notre Dame out of high school.
Although Cummings showed some skills as a runner in 2012 and possesses arm strength that’s nearly equal to that of Heaps, the junior from Skyline High near Seattle is the more polished option and should provide the Jayhawks an upgrade at QB this season.
“Jake has no physical issues,” Weis said in July. “So I think he will come in with a lot more confidence than (2012 starter) Dayne (Crist) came in with because I don’t think that health issues are even in the back of his mind.”
If there was one thing the KU offense did as well or better than most teams in the Big 12 last season, it was run the football.
With James Sims’ hard-charging style taking care of things inside and Tony Pierson gashing opponents on the outside, KU had a one-two punch in the backfield that was tough for most teams to handle.
Both of those guys return this season — Sims on the heels of a 1,000-yard season and Pierson in more of a pass-catching role — and when they look around during practices, they’ll see some pretty talented teammates standing next to them.
“We’ve actually gotten stronger at that position,” Weis said.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Weis’ claim is the return of junior-college transfer Darrian Miller, a former Jayhawk who had a solid freshman year in 2011 but was dismissed by Weis following the season for off-the-field issues. Miller made his way down to Butler Community College and did enough to earn Weis’ trust, and with him back and returning reserves Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox still on the roster, KU appears to be loaded in the backfield once again.
“You’ll find a tough time in this league trying to find a group of running backs that’s any better than the ones we have,” Weis said. “That might be the only position I can say that with.”
One of the more haunting statistics from 2012 was the one that showed that KU went the entire season without a wide receiver catching a touchdown pass.
Although the crew that will be charged with changing that fact in 2013 is made up mostly of new faces, the general belief is that KU fans won’t have to wait long to see the Kansas wideouts post a score this season.
“First game,” junior Justin McCay said during the spring. “Hopefully first quarter.”
McCay, who sat out in 2012 after transferring from Oklahoma, is one of several options Heaps will have in the passing game this year. He will be joined by returning talents Andrew Turzilli, Christian Matthews, Josh Ford and Tre’ Parmalee and newcomers Ishmael Hyman and Rodriguez Coleman.
With all of the upperclassmen finally out of his way, junior tight end Jimmay Mundine appears poised for a breakthrough season.
Big, wide and light on his feet, the 6-2, 242-pound tight end provides Heaps with a reliable and hard-to-miss target in the middle of the field and the red zone.
Mundine played in 12 games and made two starts in 2012 but managed just two touchdowns and 183 yards in limited snaps. Both he and his coaches believe those numbers will be significantly higher this season.
“I don’t know what’s gonna happen,” Mundine said. “But my expectations have definitely gone up. My understanding of football is way further than what it was when I got here. Obviously, I’ve grown, but, mentally, I know way more about football now.”
Battling to log snaps behind Mundine are senior Charles Brooks, red-shirt freshman Jordan Shelley-Smith and junior Trent Smiley, one of the team’s best blockers.
Gone from KU’s offensive line are three starters and more than 100 career starts, but in to replace them are a talented and tough batch of junior-college transfers that have Weis believing the O-Line won’t be quite the concern that those facts suggest.
Juco transfers Ngalu Fusimalohi (6-2, 324) and Mike Smithburg (6-3, 296) helped shore up the guard spots, and returners Aslam Sterling (6-5, 312), Riley Spencer (6-6, 302), Pat Lewandowski (6-5, 287), Dylan Admire (6-3, 280), Gavin Howard (6-4, 300) and Randall Dent (6-4, 293) should keep things fresh and competitive at all spots.
Late addition Pearce Slater, a 6-8, 340-pound tackle, reclassified and joined the Class of 2013 months before being regarded as one of the top prospects in the Class of 2014, though he left camp on Aug. 17 to attend a family emergency and, as of Aug. 25, had not returned.