Once Big 12 expansion talk lost momentum in recent months on the way to its official end Monday night, part of me was disappointed because the nine-game conference schedule makes it even more difficult for the Kansas football program to reverse course.
But the truth is Kansas football is in such a deep hole that the only path out must be one that comes from within. One more winnable game on the schedule wasn’t going to make bowl eligibility any more realistic in the foreseeable future.
No outside circumstances can be blamed for the current state of Kansas football and no outside forces will do anything to lend a hand up.
The SEC’s dominance and the addition of Texas A&M has made recruiting Texas a tougher deal for almost every Big 12 program, Kansas included.
Head coach David Beaty and cornerbacks coach Kenny Perry have strong ties to several high school coaches, which will benefit Kansas. But so many programs with winning traditions mine the same talent.
Give Beaty credit for putting New Orleans high school coach Tony Hull on the staff and it’s already paying dividends with commitments.
More pro-active work on the Kansas walk-on front, much of it done by Gene Wier, director of high school relations, is beginning to gain momentum.
Once more walk-ons from Kansas high schools bring home positive reviews of the student-athlete experience that extend beyond the weekly final score, more scholarship players from the state will consider the state’s flagship university.
The subtle gains won’t translate to victories until an adequate offensive line can be built through recruiting and development, the slowest, toughest area of a football team to improve.
Evaluating quarterbacks, never easy, becomes so much tougher when an offensive line doesn’t block well enough to establish a running game and give the quarterback time to run through his progressions.
It remains to be seen if Kansas has upgraded its recruiting of offensive linemen — tough to judge that position until the player has been in the program two or three years — but some gains elsewhere are evident.
Sophomore defensive end Dorance Armstrong could be the most talented, productive high school recruit at his position Kansas has had this century. Isaiah Bean, a freshman at the same position from the same city (Houston), shows promise as well. True freshman running back Khalil Herbert shows speed, sharp cutting ability and toughness. He looks like a terrific prospect whose talent will result in production if the line develops.
Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzalez have upgraded the wide receiver position and Chase Harrell looks like a solid prospect. Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot will make a difference as a receiver and return man when he is eligible next season.
Still, the biggest key remains developing an offensive line, which at the very least would enable a truer evaluation of quarterbacks.
Sure, a 12-team conference would have meant having two-year pockets without having to play Oklahoma and other powers from the South, but until Kansas can become competitive vs. schools from outside the Power Five, it’s a moot point.
The solutions, which must include avoiding the temptation of chasing quick-fix approaches, must come from within.
Say something nice about Kansas football: Avoiding longest losing road losing streak in history a possibility
The Kansas football program’s official road losing streak reached 38 games with Saturday’s 49-7 loss to Baylor in Waco, where Bears coach Jim Grobe showed great mercy by resting his starters after taking a 42-0 lead into halftime.
The record does not count three losses to Missouri at Arrowhead Stadium because those were played on a neutral field. So even though KU has lost its last 41 games played outside of Lawrence, the official streak stands at 38.
If Kansas can’t win away from home the rest of this season and in any of its first four road contests of 2017, Western State’s (Gunnison, Col.) record road losing streak of 44 will fall.
Three road games remain this season: Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kansas State. Looking at the past two outcomes in Norman, Morgantown and Manhattan doesn’t inspire confidence that the streak won’t be carried into next season. In its last three trips to those cities, the combined scores have been 96-14 vs. Oklahoma, 92-24 vs. West Virginia and 107-29 against K-State.
In all likelihood, the streak will stand at 41 heading into the 2017 season. Kansas has a realistic shot to end it, Sep. 16 in Athens, Ohio, against an Ohio Bobcats squad that won in Lawrence, 37-21, in the second game of this season.
Potential areas of improvement that need to be realized for Kansas to gain signifcant ground on Ohio:
Offensive line: Charles Baldwin was ranked No. 1 among junior-college offensive linemen, signed with Alabama and participated in the program last spring He was dismissed from the team by coach Nick Saban for violating a team rule. If Baldwin matures enough, gains enough discipline to avoid repeating whatever mistake it was that led to his ejection from the nation’s top program, he could nail down left tackle and enable whatever guard would have been used there to play his natural position. D’Andre Banks is the only senior starting on the offensive line so it doesn’t require a great leap of faith to believe the rest of the line will improve as well.
Quarterback: A better line equates to better play at quarterback. One more candidate will join the mix that already includes current starter Ryan Willis, former starter Montell Cozart and backup Carter Stanley. Tyriek Starks, a fast, strong-armed recruit from New Orleans,. is redshirting this season. Considered raw coming out of college, Starks will compete for the job in the spring.
Wide receiver: Daylon Charlot, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound sprinter from Patterson, La., was frustrated with his lack of playing time as a true freshman at Alabama and transferred to Kansas. Coaches are excited with what they have seen from Charlot in practice. Put him on the field with fellow burner LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Steven Sims and big target Chase Harrell, who is developing steadily, mix in tight end Ben Johnson, and there will be no shortage of capable pass-catchers.
The defense will lose six starters, but if the staff on that side of the ball stays together, they’ll figure out how to field a competitive unit.
Waco, Texas — Carrying a 37-game road losing streak and facing a bigger, faster, more experienced opponent, it can't be easy for the Kansas football team to find reasons to be confident the streak will end today at McLane Stadium.
Here's a small one: Baylor's huge weight advantage at offensive line, where the starting five blockers average 313 pounds, might have shrunk the tiniest bit.
Most FBS teams spend the night before home games at hotels. Baylor was staying at the same hotel as the broadcasting crew headed by Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman for today's game. Members of the crew said that as many as eight Baylor offensive linemen were stuck in the hotel elevator for about an hour and after emerged on the sweaty side.
They might have sweated away a few pounds, but it's not as if quarterback Seth Russell is sweating about his line not getting the job done. The Bears' blockers consistently know how to rise up to protect the quarterback and blow open holes for running backs Shock Linwood and Terence Williams.
This is not the first time a group of massive football players ignored the posted weight capacity and brought the elevator to a lengthy halt. It also happened last spring to USC linemen.
Not even halfway into his sophomore season, Steven Sims already has as many touchdown receptions as any Kansas pass-catcher in the years since record-breaking quarterback Todd Reesing headed back to his home state of Texas.
Sims has five TD receptions with seven games remaining, matching wide receiver Nick Harwell’s total in 2014 and tight end Jimmay Mundine’s in 2013.
Sims has more touchdown receptions this season than all Kansas wide receivers had in 2012 (zero) and 2013 (three) combined (three).
A case could be made that the most productive player on the offense and the defense are in the same class and come from the same city. Defensive end Dorance Armstrong also is a sophomore from Houston.
Credit head coach David Beaty with sound talent judgment for pursuing a wide receiver no other Big 12 school deemed worthy of a scholarship.
Among Big 12 receivers, only Texas Tech’s Jonathan Giles (seven TD’s) and James Washington (six) have more scoring catches than Sims, who ranks seventh in the conference with 82.6 yards per game.
When Sims catches his next scores on a catch he will have the most touchdowns in a season by a Kansas receiver since Dezmon Briscoe had nine in 2009.
TCU invades Memorial Stadium on Saturday as, at the moment at least, more than a four-touchdown favorite.
The biggest reason centers on the bigger, older, more experienced bodies that the Horned Frogs line up in front of their quarterback and running backs.
At offensive line, TCU starts five blockers who tip the scales at 300 pounds or higher. Kansas starts two whose weight starts with a 3.
The Horned Frogs average 318 pounds up front, the Jayhawks 291 pounds.
TCU starts one O-linemen with five years in the program, three with four, one with three.
Kansas starts one O-linemen with four years in the program (center Joe Gibson), one with three years (right guard Jacob Bragg), two with two (left tackle De’Andre Banks and left guard Mesa Ribordy), one with one (right tackle Hakeem Adeniji).
Banks, ideally suited to play guard, has been the team’s most valuable O-lineman and has moved to left tackle for lack of a better option.
Projected starting left tackle Jordan Shelley-Smith was forced into giving up the game because of concussions, a smart move on his part.
Searching for the right combinations, coupled with injuries, has made it difficult to develop chemistry, another issue stalling the line’s development.
Senior Ke’aun Kinner and freshman Khalil Herbert, a pair of talented running backs, have break-away speed, but haven’t been given the holes to use it.
Consequently, Kansas ranks 124th among 128 FBS schools with 91 rushing yards per game and 115th with 3.34 yards per carry.
Head coach David Beaty has entrusted offensive line coach Zach Yenser with evaluating the position and deciding which recruits to offer scholarships. Yenser passed on Lawrence High’s Trey Georgie, a freshman at Illinois State. It will be interesting to track his career to see whether FBS schools properly evaluated him in passing on him.
Before the current coaching staff arrived, Kansas had not done well in recent years recruiting local offensive linemen.
Nebraska’s 6-foot-5, 300-pound redshirt freshman Christian Gaylord of Baldwin High is listed second on the Cornhuskers’ depth chart at left tackle.
Scott Frantz, 6-5, 293, a redshirt freshman out of Free State High, opened the season as Kansas State’s starting left tackle.
J.R. Hensley, a 6-5, 310-pound red-shirt freshman at Hawaii, played his youth football in Lawrence before the family moved to Edmond, Okla. Brother of New York Yankees pitching prospect Ty Hensley, a 2012 first-round draft choice, the younger Hensley was disappointed Kansas did not offer him a scholarship and is looking forward to making his first college start Saturday for the Rainbows.
Beaty and Yenser hope that they have a starting tackle in waiting in redshirting Charles Baldwin, recruited out of junior college by powerhouse Alabama, participated in spring football but was dismissed from the team by coach Nick Saban last May for an undisclosed rules violation.
If Baldwin has matured since breaking ‘Bama’s rules, he could help, but the long-term solution lies in Kansas identifying the right high school players to recruit and landing its fair share.
As many problems as Kansas has had at the quarterback position in recent years, it ranks no higher than the second-biggest cause of the program’s prolonged slide.
Teammates with younger, less developed football minds, physiques and skills than Kansas tight end Ben Johnson must wait their turns as Johnson plays his way into all-conference consideration.
But those younger teammates have something that makes Johnson envious. They are members of a recruiting class that will grow together and help each other up from stumbles along the way.
Johnson? He is one of four players still on the roster from Charlie Weis’ recruiting class of 2013, joining quarterback Montell Cozart and reserve defensive players Kellen Ash and Colin Spencer.
That class had 16 junior-college recruits. Ten of them either never played a down at Kansas or left with eligibility remaining. Four of the eight high school recruits left the program.
“I’m happy there are more (high school recruits)coming in because when I came here with coach Weis it was way different,” Johnson said. “It was 20, 23-year-olds coming in because it was all jucos. It’s cool to see them come in and bond as a class.”
Second-year Kansas head coach David Beaty referred to Johnson as MVP of fall camp on a couple of occasions and the tight end is living up to the hype. Not all of KU’s offensive formations call for a tight end, but when he’s on the field, Johnson has shown a knack for getting open and catching passes thrown his way.
He had five receptions for 86 yards, both career highs, in Thursday night’s 55-19 loss at Texas Tech.
Johnson (eight receptions, 107 yards, one touchdown) and Oklahoma State’s Blake Jarwin (seven receptions, 82 yards) are the lone Big 12 tight ends on the John Mackey Award watch list.
“I’m just glad to be on the field,” Johnson said. “I’m happy that I’m getting opportunities now and I’m confident in myself that anybody that lines up over me I can beat them and I’m confident my teammates can help me out and get me in a position to win and make plays.”
Among the other four high school recruits from the Class of 2013, only wide receiver Ishmael Hyman plays college football. His first reception of the season for James Madison University, a gain of three yards, came Saturday.
Linebacker Colton Goeas transferred to Hawaii but has not played football there. Reserve offensive lineman Joey Bloomfield retired from football after suffering concussions. Quarterback Jordan Darling was at the bottom of the depth chart, tried practicing at offensive line briefly and then left the program.
Saying that Beaty started from scratch isn't far from the truth, although the coach is grateful Johnson stayed in the program.
SEC schools, other football programs with national cachet and whatever school hires Les Miles have a better shot, but it’s not impossible that Kansas could end up snagging one or two of the recruits verbally committed to LSU who decide to reopen the recruiting process.
It’s a long shot, sure, but a few factors make it worth dreaming about, whereas in past years it would have amounted to a waste of time.
Factor No. 1: Daylon Charlot.
Kansas landing the Alabama transfer and Louisiana native made anything possible. Nick Saban was sorry to see the fleet wide receiver grow impatient and leave the program. Watching him run at KU’s practices, it’s easy to see why Saban had long-term plans for him.
Factor No. 2: Tony Hull.
KU’s running backs coach. A native of New Orleans and former high school head coach there, Hull already has gained commitments from three players from Louisiana high schools: receiver Takulve Williams, defensive end Troy James and athlete Travis Jordan.
Hull also was the high school coach of red-shirting Kansas quarterback Tyriek Starks, who committed to Kansas before Hull was hired to replace Reggie Mitchell.
Six of LSU’s 20 commitments are from Louisiana.
Factor No. 3: KU’s state-of-the-art, second-to-none new locker room.
Anyone who doesn’t think it was worth the fund-raising effort needs to consider what linebacker recruit Jarvis Russell told Jon Kirby of Rivals: “Words can’t describe how nice the locker room is. Their locker room is top of the line and I think I could live in there for the rest of my life.”
A linebacker from Grenada, Miss., Russell visited Kansas during the weekend the Jayhawks lost to Ohio. He originally had committed to Mississippi State but decided to open up his recruitment. So any LSU recruit to do the same would not be the first from the mighty SEC to make Kansas one of his visits.
Also, LSU transfer wide receiver Tyron Johnson was pursued by Kansas beore choosing Oklahoma State.
Playing quarterback for Kansas against a brutal schedule requires making the right decision when the best-laid plans break down.
For example, take a look at three screen shots taken from ESPN's telecast, all from the biggest play of KU's 43-7 loss at Memphis, defensive tackle Jonathan Wilson's interception return for a touchdown.
The first shows guard Jayson Rhodes falling to the ground after he let a defender blow past him.
The second shows quarterback Montell Cozart getting tackled by the defender Rhodes missed. In this one, Rhodes is on his back as the football sails over his head.
The the third screen grab, the best available but just a tick too late for a true representation, shows that if the block had been made, Cozart very well could have found tight end Ben Johnson for a big gain. We'll never know for sure, of course, but do know that if the Jayhawks could have scored on that possession instead of delivering a touchdown in the other direction, the game would not have been over by halftime. In reality, Memphis took a 33-7 lead into the second half.
The broken play doesn't change that Cozart made a bad decision, it just illustrates that the offense's problems start before the quarterback pulls the trigger.
During my two-and-a-half years as co-host of a show on ESPN Radio in New York City, Mondays after a Jets loss required the least preparation. Throw out the phone number and listen to the apoplectic voices break it all down to help themselves avoid a breakdown.
When the stressed-out voices were firing the offensive or defensive coordinator, they often offered as proof the lack of adjustments made at halftime.
Kansas created plenty of fodder for griping in Saturday’s 37-21 loss to Ohio (University, not State), but accusations of a lack of halftime adjustments could not be aimed at the coaching staff.
The halftime adjustments the offensive staff made, albeit way too late, certainly worked given that the same Jayhawks offense that produced 21 total yards in the first half totaled 190 in the third quarter.
Defensive adjustments worked as well. Ohio (University, not State) amassed 359 total yards in the first half, 66 yards with a turnover in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter, most of it played without injured quarterback Montell Cozart, didn’t go as well. As was the case in the first half, Kansas couldn’t stop the run and OU (Ohio, not Oklahoma) ate 10 minutes of clock with an 18-play, 81-yard drive that ended in a field goal.
Still, give the KU defense credit for allowing just nine second-half points on three field goals. Before that game-clinching drive, here’s how Ohio’s second-half possessions went: Three plays, five yards, punt; three plays, two yards, field goal; four plays, 13 yards, punt; eight plays, 36 yards, interception by Fish Smithson; three plays, zero yards, field goal.
The halftime adjustments worked. The plan coming into the game did not.
Even one week against one of the five least talented teams of Div. I football, FBS and FCS combined, can reveal obvious traits about a squad coming off an 0-12 season.
For Kansas, which ended a 15-game losing streak with a 55-6 thrashing of Rhode Island, two factors leaped off the replay: 1. The Jayhawks, as suspected, have far more speed than a year ago. 2. The offensive line — still too young, too at a disadvantage because of not having as many combined years in a college weight room as most college blockers — will have trouble getting much push for runs up the middle.
In contrast, Ohio has a ton of experience up front on both sides of the ball. Kansas has talent at defensive line, so matching the Bobcats’ massive O-line is a possibility. The other matchup doesn’t figure to go as well for Kansas, with Ohio’s experienced D-line having the big strength edge. So Kansas will need to turn speed and creativity into big plays Saturday in order to emerge with its first two-game winning streak since two weeks into the 2011 season.
A look at a handful of Jayhawks with the capability of making game-turning plays:
1 - LaQuvionte Gonzalez: He consistently used his speed and quickness to get open and looked like a threat to pop one nearly every time he touched it as a kick and punt returner. By reaching around the defensive back and somehow coming away with the ball for a touchdown, Gonzalez provided a highlight that figures to be shown for years, maybe forever. The defense must account for him at all times and still he finds ways to get open.
2 - Montell Cozart: Sure, it wasn’t his first big day against FCS competition, but Cozart looked so much more decisive, more accurate and even looked as if he has strengthened his arm. David Beaty’s version of the Air Raid offense just might suit Cozart ideally. An easy man for whom to root because of his thick skin and positive personality, Cozart has the potential to make Beaty look wise for resisting the temptation to turn him into a wide receiver.
3 - Taylor Martin: He and Gonzalez are the two fastest players on the team. That speed makes Martin a threat running on the edge and getting behind the defense on pass patterns. Cozart barely overthrew him on a long pass down the sideline or he might have gone ... all ... the ... way.
4 - Dorance Armstrong: I had forgotten that Armstrong changed to No. 2 for his sophomore season and on one of the first plays of the replay I watched on ESPN3, I wondered who that player flying toward the sideline was, figuring he must be a safety. He’s a defensive end and he plays with equal parts speed and intensity.
5 - Daniel Wise: Emerged as a team leader during offseason conditioning and looked like a man on a search-and-destroy-the-quarterback mission in the opener. He has the potential to deliver a strip-sack at a pivotal point in the game. The D-tackle's most important work will come in doing his job against the run.
6 - Kyle Mayberry: The true freshman cornerback from Tulsa did not have the uncertain, shaky look so common among athletes competing in a college game for the first time. He’s blurry fast, seems to love the spotlight and has the sort of confidence that could enable him to take a chance and deliver a pick six.
7 - Beaty, the offensive coordinator: Again, it helped that Rhode Island was the opponent, but Beaty certainly seemed to have a winning touch for what play to call when. The Rams’ defensive line was pushing back the Kansas blockers — not a good sign — and getting more aggressive by the play. So Beaty called a play that baited that aggressiveness and resulted in tight end Ben Johnson standing alone in the end zone for an easy touchdown reception from Cozart.
Not all football games are won and lost in the trenches. Sometimes they are won with big plays, which very likely will be what Kansas needs if it is going to defeat Ohio.