Entries from blogs tagged with “KU football”

Kansas football enjoying a terrific time for the tight end

It’s been a while since the Kansas University football program had a tight end that put fear into opponents and made plays all over the field.

Jimmay Mundine, who last played in 2014, certainly had his moments and improved a great deal from the beginning of his career to the end. But Mundine battled through some tough times in the middle of his career, some of it his fault and some of it the fault of the KU quarterbacks and offensive line.

It’s possible, however, that the Jayhawks could be entering a terrific time for the tight end. And that’s because of the presence of junior-to-be Ben Johnson (6-5, 245) and red-shirt freshman Jace Sternberger (6-4, 236).

Though slightly different in terms of individual strengths and weaknesses, these two tight ends are exactly the same in one key area — toughness.

In Johnson, KU has a bona fide weapon that seems to be quietly bursting at the seams while waiting to break out. From the day he stepped on campus to today, Johnson showed flashes of big time ability, running crisp routes, catching most everything thrown near him and playing with poise and confidence down in and down out. The thing holding him back thus far has been opportunity and injuries.

Though none of Johnson’s injuries — including the one he dealt with this spring — have been major, they have been nagging enough to keep him from planting himself firmly at the top of the depth chart. As for the opportunity, playing behind Mundine and alongside former Florida transfer Kent Taylor put Johnson in the role of young player learning the ropes instead of lead dog chasing the stats.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson turns to meet Iowa State defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya after a catch in the second quarter.

Kansas tight end Ben Johnson turns to meet Iowa State defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya after a catch in the second quarter. by Nick Krug

But he never flinched and took every opportunity to learn from both players while working on both his body and his game the entire time.

Some within the program have talked about Johnson as one of KU’s most legitimate pro prospects, though he certainly will have to have his best and most productive years in 2016 and 2017 to make that dream a reality.

As for Sternberger, he’s the kind of player who appears to be ready for a massive leap, as well.

While red-shirting last season, Sternberger added significant size and strength to his 6-foot-4 frame and, as a result, should have a significant role in this year’s offense.

Throughout spring practies and scrimmages, Sternberger never strayed far from David Beaty’s side and was used in a variety of ways in Beaty’s new offense, both as a pass catcher and a blocker.

He's big, physical, runs like a horse and is as competitive as any player on the team. Beyond that, he's hungry. After sitting out last season and getting to do nothing but practice, the Kingfisher, Oklahoma, native who also played defensive end in high school appears poised for a real role and has proven to be a player who can be counted on to deliver. Now, we just have to see if those traits transfer to Saturdays.

Kansas University tight end Jace Sternberger (19) pushes a defensive lineman away during practice on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas University tight end Jace Sternberger (19) pushes a defensive lineman away during practice on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, at Memorial Stadium. by Richard Gwin

Both Johnson and Sternberger are sort of hybrid, modern day tight ends that can do a variety of things offensively and can find and create some mismatches issues in opposing secondaries.

By NFL comparisons, think Greg Olsen and Delanie Walker instead of Antonio Gates and Jason Witten.

The key for the continued development and Saturday showcasing of these tight ends — as with everything KU football related right now — will be how well the offensive line holds up so that Johnson, Sternberger, the KU wideouts and the KU QB can actually take advantage of some of these strengths and skills and start making other teams pay.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 20 - RB Denzell Evans

It can be a little risky to put a newcomer or unknown player on the list of the 25 most crucial Jayhawks, but occasionally a perfect situation pops up that makes it easy to do.

That's the case with No. 20 on the list, a soon-to-be transfer from Arkansas, who, if all goes well, will bring the depth that the Jayhawks are used to having back to the backfield in 2016.

For the past several years, KU has been stacked with running back depth and been able to lean on various backs at various times, both throughout a game and throughout a season.

But after losing DeAndre Mann and Taylor Cox to graduation, KU all of a sudden was staring a pretty thin running back corps in the face, which made this pick up huge.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Former Arkansas RB Denzell Evans

Former Arkansas RB Denzell Evans by Matt Tait

20. Denzell Evans, Jr. Running Back

He’s not yet on the roster because he still has to finish up a couple of classes at Arkansas before transferring to KU. But, just by talking to him, you get the sense that those classes and that transfer are not going to be a problem.

That’s a good thing for the Jayhawks, who enter 2016 a little thin at running back and certainly could use the extra body, especially when it comes in the form of a 5-foot-11, 217-pound veteran who spent the past few seasons playing and experiencing football in the SEC.

Evans is far from a sure thing. He played only sparingly at Arkansas and will have competition at Kansas to be the primary back-up to returning starter Ke’aun Kinner. Sophomore Taylor Martin, a year older and more comfortable, also figures to factor into the backfield situation rather prominently and freshman Khalil Herbert also will get his shot at playing time.

But Evans, who grew up 10 minutes from the University of Houston campus and chose KU because of the coaching staff and the fact that Lawrence was “real laid back and reminded me of home,” may be the most hungry of that bunch, desperate for an opportunity to get back on the field with some regularity to show that he can still run the ball.

“It was hard freshman year coming out of high school,” Evans said of standing on the sideline instead of lining up in the backfield. “But I always worked regardless and it was never looked at as a bad thing. I had been here a while and I just felt that, getting close to graduating, it would be time for me to step out and go somewhere else where I could get some more playing time and get some more carries.”

How many carries that winds up being depends purely on how quickly Evans buys into both David Beaty’s offense and the second-year KU coach’s philosophy of earning your keep every day.

Unlike most graduate transfers, Evans, provided he makes it, will have two years of eligibility remaining at KU, making the likelihood of him buying into what Kansas football is all about even greater given that his time in Lawrence won’t be just a one-year detour.

Even if Kinner and Martin use the head start they have on Evans to land at the top of the depth chart, there’s still a place for one of the newest KU commitments, who calls himself a balanced back with a good blend of size, speed and pass-catching ability. The Jayhawks are used to having depth in the backfield and using multiple backs throughout the season. With Evans, the beat goes on. Without him, the pressure on Kinner to stay healthy and Martin to develop turns up.

That’s what makes the Evans pick-up so important and puts him in a situation to finally be relevant on Saturdays again.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

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KU football coach David Beaty shows off recruiting game

By now, you've surely heard, read or been told about second-year Kansas football coach David Beaty's reputation as a recruiter.

With strong ties throughout the state of Texas and an energetic, enthusiastic and infectious personality, Beaty, throughout his career, has made building relationships with players, coaches, recruits, fans and administrators one of the most important aspects of his style.

Now, thanks to a Twitter video posted by Class of 2017 wide receiver Reggie Roberson, who committed to KU in mid-May, we get to see a small glimpse into what it's like to be on the receiving end of some of Beaty's recruiting attention.

While the video has blown up on Twitter and received feedback from all over the place, I'd be willing to bet that it actually is pretty tame compared to some of the tactics Beaty has used in the past or will use in the future.

That said, it's a clear sign that he understands today's young athletes and seeks to relate to them on their terms not his. Roberson loved it and I'd bet the rest of the team and KU's targets did, as well.

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Draft night snub sets up perfect storm for Wayne Selden

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) roars at the Jayhawks' bench after hitting a three against Iowa State during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) roars at the Jayhawks' bench after hitting a three against Iowa State during the second half on Monday, Feb. 2, 2015 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Jump with me, for a minute, into the mind of Wayne Selden to see why not getting drafted might actually wind up being the best thing that could have happened to the former Jayhawk’s chances at a pro career.

Here’s why.

Selden, as you know, has always been the type of player who seemed to perform best when he had something to prove, someone to prove wrong or a chip of any size on either of his shoulders.

Occasionally, things got so heavy during his KU career that Selden found himself carrying rather large chips on both shoulders. Almost without fail, every time that happened, Selden performed his best.

Think about the Kentucky game at home. Think about the entire three weeks the Jayhawks spent in Korea. Think about Selden responding to a sub-par sophomore season with a solid junior year.

Although the former KU guard started 108 of the 109 games Kansas played during his three seasons as a Jayhawk, consistency often was an issue for Selden. He would take us to the mountain top and show elite-level skills, but rarely hang around long enough to enjoy the view and often found himself near the base again, climbing back to the top almost as quickly as he arrived in the first place.

Case in point: Selden responded to his stellar 33-point, 12-of-20 shooting game against Kentucky by hitting for just 10 made field goals in his next four games combined. Rarely did this hurt KU’s chances at victory — a credit to the rest of the talent Bill Self put around Selden — but it did certainly hurt Selden’s chances at becoming a true standout whom NBA teams would want, perhaps even need, to draft.

So here we are, one day after the biggest day of Selden’s life and he’s looking for a team to play for. Sixty picks came and went without Selden hearing his name called on Thursday night, and now, in order to live out his NBA dream, the former KU guard is going to have to go the free agent route, impress a team or two during summer league play and make a roster the hard way.

He must be so happy.

See, Selden has all of the physical tools necessary to play in the NBA. He’s a damn good shooter, he’s got great size, good quickness, he’s strong and he’s athletic. Put him in the right situation and he’s a ready-made rotation guy off the bench.

NBA teams might not know it yet, but, by not drafting him, they did exactly that, as the right situation for Selden is way more dependent upon what’s between his ears than it is the style of play of this team or the personnel of that one.

Today, Selden is pissed. Not just because he didn’t get drafted, but also because of some of the other players who did. Throw out the Europeans because they’re here to stay and college players are just going to have to get used to that group eating up 15-20 of the 60 available draft spots year after year. Heck, it’s already been happening for years.

But there were at least a few players taken near the end of the draft who I know Selden believes he’s better than. Think Iowa State’s Abdel Nader or even his former AAU buddy Georges Niang. Think UConn’s Daniel Hamilton, Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins, Carolina’s Marcus Paige or Maryland’s Jake Layman.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Selden respects all of those guys, but I also would bet a pretty penny that he believes he’s better than every one of them.

So to give him that kind of fuel to go along with that undrafted tag seems to be a perfect storm of sorts.

It should be fun to watch him in summer league games this month. I’m guessing we’ll see the Selden that more closely resembles the South Korea version than the one who occasionally disappeared during the other portions of his Kansas career.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr., throws down a slam dunk in the second-half of a Team USA 81-72 win over against Brazil Sunday, July 5, in Gwangju, South Korea.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr., throws down a slam dunk in the second-half of a Team USA 81-72 win over against Brazil Sunday, July 5, in Gwangju, South Korea. by Mike Yoder

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NBA Draft delivers latest reasons NBA, NCAA should tweak draft rules

One day, who knows how long from now, we’ll be talking about the NBA/NCAA 2-year rule like it was always in place.

That rule, which would require any player who chooses to attend college to stay a minimum of two years, does not exist yet, of course, but after watching Thursday’s NBA Draft, during which one of four eligible former Jayhawks was selected, I could not help but think how badly a rule like this is needed.

And I’m not simply saying this because of the long looks on the faces of athletes like Michigan State’s Deyonta Davis (31), KU’s Cheick Diallo (33) and Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere (28), all freshmen during the 2015-16 college season who thought they would go much higher in this year’s draft than they did.

I’m saying it because this draft, perhaps better than any in recent memory, showed that sometimes these one-and-done players who hear for a couple of years that they’re going to be lottery picks but wind up slipping after their lone season of college ball, need something in place to help them make better decisions.

I’m not saying Diallo was crazy for going pro. In fact, even though he fell out of the first round, I still think it was the right move for him to leave. Based on what we saw during his freshman season and how raw and young he still is in the game of basketball, I’m not sure Year 2 at Kansas under coach Bill Self would have been all that different for Diallo than Year 1 was. So if they’re telling you you’re a first rounder, where guaranteed money awaits, I totally get why you’d go.

I’m sure Davis, Labissiere, Maryland’s Diamond Stone (40) and others were hearing the same thing.

But when it came down to it, all of them had to sweat it out on Thursday night, when they should not have had to. Here’s how it could have been avoided:

  1. They could have been allowed to go pro right away. I still don’t understand how it’s legal to prevent this from happening. Diallo and Labissiere almost certainly would have been first-round picks in last year’s draft had they been allowed to enter early. It worked out for Labissiere and Diallo just missed. But think back to a couple of years ago, when former Jayhawk Wayne Selden was a projected lottery pick before his freshman season and now he leaves as an undrafted junior. That’s not to say Selden would have been better off as a basketball player had he entered the draft at 18, but he certainly would be richer.

  2. They could have been required to return for a second season of college ball. This would help not only the players but also the coaches and programs that spend so much time, effort and money recruiting these athletes, sometimes for as few as nine months worth of time with them.

If you’re a college hoops fan and you’ve been paying attention at all, none of this is new information. I get that. Baseball has it figured out, several other sports get it right. You’ve heard all of that. And you’ll keep hearing it until the NBA and college basketball fix their system, too.

I heard a lot of talk last night from analysts saying that players who go undrafted or even those who are unhappy with where they went in the draft should be able to return to school after the fact. That, too, would fix things, although I’m not sure I truly like that system much better and think it could bring with it as many problems as solutions.

The bottom line is this: Those of us hoping for a rule change to fix this mess may wind up waiting in vain, or at least waiting for a long, long time. What it’s more likely to come down to is these athletes making better, more informed decisions so that the Diallos and Davises of the world don’t have to experience what they experienced Thursday in New York City.

Draft night should be fun. It should be life changing. It should be a celebration. And it was for so many players, a few of whom I did not expect to get drafted — Georges Niang, Abdel Nader, Marcus Paige. Wow. All three were four-year players who had great college careers and can really play but may not be your prototypical NBA guys.

Here’s hoping the rest of college basketball was paying attention to those names being called and other one-time, can’t-miss stars falling, so that instead of seeing long faces on supremely talented players, we’ll see second — maybe even third — seasons of college basketball from some of them, therein making the college game even better than it already is.

Time will tell. And I’m not holding my breath. Merely hopeful.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 21 - DE Anthony Olobia

The end of the first week of our summer series brings us to our first defensive veteran, Anthony Olobia.

Although Olobia has played just one season in a KU uniform, he has been in Lawrence for two seasons and is heading into his third after two standout seasons at junior college.

He might not carry with him the same type of familiarity as a four- or even five-year program guy, but he is older and more experienced than many of his peers and is physically mature and in better shape than ever.

His name figures to be called a lot this season and, after a strong spring, he looks to be running with KU's first string defense heading into the summer.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas defensive end Anthony Olobia (56) delivers a hit to Oklahoma State running back Raymond Taylor (30) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla.

Kansas defensive end Anthony Olobia (56) delivers a hit to Oklahoma State running back Raymond Taylor (30) during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla. by Nick Krug

21. Anthony Olobia., Sr. Defensive End

It’s been long enough that some may have forgotten, but Olobia actually was one of those hyped-up Charlie Weis transfer recruits way back in 2014.

Ranked the second best juco defensive end in the country that year, and the 55th best juco prospect overall, Olobia came to KU with a fair amount of hype but saw that die down quickly after an immediate injury cost him the 2014 season.

Looking back, that may have been the best thing that could have happened to him because (a) it allowed him to better acclimate to college and Division I football, and (b) it gave him another year to develop his body in the weight room and learn in the meeting and film rooms.

Although he has yet to become the force that some hoped and expected he might, Olobia is trending toward being a solid rotation-type guy at D-End.

Battling with Damani Mosby — a player with a similar past and path to KU — at KU’s defensive end spots opposite promising sophomore Dorance Armstrong, the opportunity is there for Olobia to become a big part of the KU defense in 2016.

At 6-5, 239, Olobia is long and lean and has some noticeable strength to his style. He’s less of a speed rusher than Mosby and typically uses a variety of moves along with his strength to get to the quarterback.

In 12 games last season, including 4 starts, Olobia finished with 23 tackles, 4 for loss, 1.5 sacks and 2 quarterback hurries. Given his continual growth and development, along with what figures to be even great opportunity, doubling those backfield tackle numbers should not be considered out of reach for Olobia.

With Ben Goodman gone and Armstrong still learning and coming into his own, KU will be counting on the veteran status of Olobia both in terms of leadership at the position and performance on the field.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

No. 22 - WR Steven Sims, Jr.

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 22 - WR Steven Sims Jr.

It took a few days, but we've reached our first play maker on offense in this year's summer series that lists the 25 most crucial Jayhawks for 2016.

It's no secret that scoring points, snagging first downs and producing on offense has been a challenge for the Jayhawks during recent years, but it's athletes like sophomore wide receiver Steven Sims Jr., who have the Jayhawks hoping those days soon will be gone.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (16) throws up his arms after falling into the end zone for a touchdown during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. (16) throws up his arms after falling into the end zone for a touchdown during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

22. Steven Sims Jr., Soph. Wide Receiver

One of the few offensive bright spots from last season, Sims enters his sophomore year with even more confidence than he arrived with and experience to go with it.

At 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, Sims can give the impression that he’s one of those slot receiver types. But this is an athlete who can make plays all over the field, run all kinds of routes and go up and get the ball in traffic if needed.

Sims finished the 2015 season with 349 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 receptions, all of which ranked second on the team. He played in 11 of 12 games, starting six, and really seemed to find his stride when fellow freshman Ryan Willis and his big arm and ability and willingness to take shots down the field took over under center for the Jayhawks.

Two of his biggest games of the season, in terms of receptions, came in two of Willis’ first four starts, when he caught nine balls over two games, and he capped the season with a career-high 58 yards in KU’s loss to K-State.

While none of those numbers will blow you away, the fact that Sims stood out as a player with longterm potential, especially against bigger, faster Big 12 defenses, paints those numbers in a different light.

Heading into 2016, with the freshman tag no longer buying him time, Sims will be counted on to increase those numbers and make even more of an impact. A big factor in whether that will be possible will be the performance of KU’s offensive line and quarterback(s?). But if those two units hold up, there’s no reason to think that Sims can’t take a significant step in his development.

Add to that the fact that the Jayhawks are expected to run more of a true Air Raid offense with David Beaty calling the plays — think more opportunities to make plays in space — and that Sims should benefit from the presence of former Texas A&M receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez drawing attention from opposing defenses, and it’s easy to see Sims improving upon all three of those major statistical numbers and becoming a bona fide weapon for the Kansas offense.

In order to do it, though, he’ll have to remain consistent. With so many receivers on the roster and Beaty proving that he’s willing to play whichever player “earns it” week in and week out, Sims’ numbers will only rise if he puts in the work during the week to get those opportunities on Saturdays.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

No. 23 - OL Joe Gibson

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 24 - CB Kyle Mayberry

It's time for the second installment of this summer's Most Crucial Jayhawks list and, after starting off on the offensive side of the ball at arguably the most important position on the team on Monday, we hop over to defense for No. 24.

When you're coming off of an 0-12 season, every position is important. And while KU's defense should feature an improved group of players with decent experience, the KU coaching staff (and fan base) is always looking for ways to add top-tier talent to the roster.

That, regardless of how it arrives, would expedite KU's battle to rebuild the program and, also would give the Jayhawks and their fans something to get excited about.

That brings us to No. 24 on the list, a true freshman from Oklahoma, who promises to excite and plans to deliver, not just during his Kansas career, but as soon as he steps onto the field for Game 1 as a Jayhawk on Sept. 3.

Reminder: This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order. And, in case you miss some, be sure to check the links at the bottom of each entry for an up-to-date look at the list of 25.

New KU cornerback Kyle "Money" Mayberry.

New KU cornerback Kyle "Money" Mayberry. by Matt Tait

24. Kyle Mayberry, Fr. Cornerback

When it comes to playing cornerback in the Big 12 Conference, the target is always on your back, there are no down times and all eyes are on you from start to finish of most conference games.

That’s what makes the addition of Kyle Mayberry so important to this Kansas squad and why so many people in the program and in Mayberry’s camp believe the top-rated cornerback in Oklahoma in the prep class of 2016 may be a star in the making with the Jayhawks.

Tall, physical, long and athletic, Mayberry’s skill set transfers well to the Big 12, where he will face world-class athletes week after week disguised as wide receivers.

However, while Mayberry is gifted in all of those physical areas, his biggest strength might be his confidence. This young man believes he can cover anybody at any time and, upon meeting fellow-Oklahoman and former Jayhawk Chris Harris at Harris’ camp a couple of summers ago, Mayberry told him, point blank, that he was the best CB in the state.

“He asked who I was,” Mayberry told the Journal-World earlier this year. “And I told him I was the best cornerback in the state of Oklahoma. He said, ‘Oh, really.’ And then that season I had a great year, and he found out I really was.”

Mayberry, who goes by the nickname "Money," has the talent and skills to challenge for a starting spot immediately. The big question surrounding how successful that quest will be comes in the form of how quickly Mayberry will adjust to college life, the speed of the college game and KU’s defensive schemes and game plan.

If that comes as naturally as making plays did during his high school career, Mayberry could make a big early splash and that could pay big time dividends for the team. Even if he doesn’t, it’s easy to see Mayberry playing a significant number of snaps in a reserve role, rotating into the cornerback mix with Brandon Stewart, Marnez Ogletree and Stephan Robinson among others.

Although he won’t be in the spotlight off the field because of KU’s policy against freshmen talking to the media, Mayberry easily could find the spotlight on the field and could quickly develop into a fan favorite if his play holds up.

He has one of the brightest long term futures in the program and if he can get off to a solid start in Year 1, it would go a long way toward helping KU field a much more competitive team in 2016.

Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks of 2016:

No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

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Is KU football facing a favorable schedule?

KU football coach David Beaty instructs his players during spring football practice on Thursday, March 26, 2015.

KU football coach David Beaty instructs his players during spring football practice on Thursday, March 26, 2015. by Richard Gwin

Finally, the Kansas football team may be catching a break.

It’s been a rough six seasons for the Jayhawks, who have piled up losses at a record pace since enjoying wild success under former head coach Mark Mangino. And there’s no doubting that in order to crawl out from under the mess the Jayhawks could benefit from a helping hand.

That’s exactly what they’ll get in 2016, according to FOX Sports writer Bruce Feldman, who ranks the Jayhawks’ 2016 non-conference schedule as the second easiest among Power 5 Conference football programs.

Here’s the criteria Feldman used...

"I've based this on my evaluation of opponents' merits for 2016 based on the following points system: 5 points for a Top 5 caliber team; 4.5 for a Top 15; 4 for a Top 25; 3.5 for a Top 40; 3 for a Top 60; 2.5 for a Top 80; 2 for a Top 100; 1.5 for a fringe FBS program or strong FCS team; a 1 for a complete cupcake. Also, I've added bonus points for a road game (0.5) or a neutral site game (0.25)."

After tallying it all up, KU’s non-con schedule strength index number came in at 1.83, tied with Washington for second lowest and just .02 behind Boston College, which claimed the No. 1 spot.

Feldman likes the way things set up for KU during its first three games before the grueling Big 12 schedule, with a pair of home games against Rhode Island and Ohio and a trip to Memphis that became a little bit easier to swallow this offseason, when former Memphis coach Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech and several seniors exhausted their eligibility and followed him out the door.

Here’s Feldman’s take...

"The Jayhawks have a great chance to start the season with a win by opening at home against woeful URI, which was 1-10 in 2015. After that, Ohio, which has only 11 starters back, visits, followed by a trip to play a rebuilding Memphis team that not only lost its star QB but also its head coach and has only 12 starters returning."

Earlier this summer, though not as high, I also saw ESPN ranked KU's non-conference schedule as the eighth easiest among Power 5 programs.

ESPN's Power Football Index ranks KU's 2016 non-conference schedule as the 8th easiest among Power 5 programs.

ESPN's Power Football Index ranks KU's 2016 non-conference schedule as the 8th easiest among Power 5 programs. by Matt Tait

Clearly, the mere thought that KU may have a couple of easy games in the early going qualifies as good news for the Jayhawks. But if there's one thing KU fans have learned during one of the roughest stretches in college football history it's that nothing comes easy and easy definitely is a relative term.

Still, having a schedule that people don't deem one of the most difficult in the country, which has been the case during a couple of the past few seasons, should give KU hope that the turnaround could begin sooner rather than later.

Really, though, this fact qualifies as both good and bad news. Good because it gives KU a chance. Bad because if the Jayhawks stumble against this group, they won't really have any excuses.

That's not to say anybody should expect Kansas to be 3-0 after the non-con portion of the schedule passes on Sept. 17 — 2-1 would certainly register as a fantastic start and, according to Vegas and many college football analysts, 1-2 is the more likely result.

But momentum can be a funny thing. And if KU can get that first one against a woeful Rhode Island team, the Ohio game the following week looks a little more attainable and things can build from there.

The whole thing adds intrigue to something that KU fans already are keeping a close eye on anyway — how quickly can second-year coach David Beaty get things back on the right track and when will Saturdays at Memorial Stadium start to be fun again?

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Most Crucial Jayhawks 2016: No. 25 - OL Jayson Rhodes

Each summer, across the country, football fans spend time watching, waiting and anticipating the arrival of another college football season. And while that might not always be a favorite pastime of KU fans, many still get sucked in to the journey.

Will this be a better season? Is this the year that things finally get going in the right direction? Will Kansas at least be competitive therein making Memorial Stadium on Saturdays in the fall the place to be instead of a place to avoid? All are common questions KU fans wrestle with every year.

So in order to help you predict the answers to those questions and more, we set out to pinpoint the 25 players that could make the biggest impact for the Jayhawks this fall.

Big seasons from these guys — be them in the form of yards and touchdowns or just consistency and perhaps overachieving — could go a long way toward increasing KU's chances at success during the upcoming season.

This is not a list of the 25 best players on this year's team. That would be much easier to pinpoint and, while still key, would not exactly demonstrate the full value that each player has in regard to the 2016 season.

This is a list of the 25 players who need to have strong seasons in order for the Jayhawks to have a chance to compete.

Tom Keegan and I came up with the list by each making our own list of 25 and then combining the results. We did the same thing for the last two years, but the amount of fresh faces made this list much tougher to put together.

Remember, this is not an exercise designed to identify KU's best players but an attempt to pinpoint which players, with strong seasons, could have the biggest impact for Kansas this fall.

Track the list every weekday at KUsports.com, where we'll unveil the list one-by-one in reverse order.

Kansas offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) picks himself off the ground after falling down laughing while fellow lineman field kickoffs during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium.

Kansas offensive lineman Jayson Rhodes (65) picks himself off the ground after falling down laughing while fellow lineman field kickoffs during the Spring Game on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Memorial Stadium. by Nick Krug

25. Jayson Rhodes, Jr. Offensive Lineman

Rhodes is a good one to kick off this summer’s series with because he represents a couple of key aspects of the KU football program at this point in time. One, through hard work in the weight room and with the strength coaches, Rhodes has reworked his body and is in the best shape of his career, a move that allowed him to slide into the starting left guard spot throughout the spring.

Two, Rhodes plays offensive line and there’s no question that the most important position for the Jayhawks this fall will be the big bodies up front. Not only will they need to keep carving out holes for the Kansas running backs, but they also, and more desperately, have to keep opposing defenders off of KU’s quarterback if the Jayhawks hope to be competitive in 2016.

The 6-foot-4, 311-pound Rhodes is well equipped to do just that. Even with his former physique, which featured more fat, less muscle mass and more bad weight, he showed good feet and solid athleticism, especially for a man his size. Now, with a more efficient frame and a new home at guard instead of on the outside against speed rushers, Rhodes can use those feet and his newfound strength to move bodies and get up the field.

The communications major who is minoring in sociology played in just three games a season ago but, all of a sudden, has the look of a guy who believes he will be a 12-game starter.

That kind of swagger can become contagious and, on an offensive line that is starting to develop some depth and could benefit from positional competition as much as any spot on the roster, that attitude carried by Rhodes and others can only mean good things for the Jayhawks in 2016 and beyond.

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Addition of Thornton, Newman would improve Jayhawks even during red-shirt seasons

Blue Team guard Josh Jackson looks to strip the ball from Red Team guard Devonte' Graham on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center.

Blue Team guard Josh Jackson looks to strip the ball from Red Team guard Devonte' Graham on Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at the Horejsi Athletic Center. by Nick Krug

Watching Kansas guards Frank Mason (blue) and Devonte’ Graham (red) get after each other again during Wednesday’s camp scrimmage took my mind to a wild place that I think KU fans would love to go.

We all know by now — and have for some time — that both Graham and Mason will start in the backcourt again in 2016-17 the way they did so successfully last season. Having those two on the floor at the same time makes up KU’s best lineup and having the luxury of having at least one of them out there at all times, in case one needs a breather or the other is in foul trouble, gives KU coach Bill Self a sense of security.

As much as it’s a great thing for them to push each other in practice the way they showed at moments during Wednesday’s scrimmage is critical to KU’s success but they also have to spend the bulk of their time in practice playing together. That leaves the challenge of pushing them, both offensively and defensively, to the rest of the roster and, though the effort from the reserves is always equal to what Mason and Graham put out, the talent and skill is not.

Imagine for a minute, though, if it were. Imagine for a minute that KU had a couple of guys on its roster that were elite-level prospects who, every day, could push Mason and Graham in every way and get the most out of them while preparing them daily for what they’ll encounter during the upcoming season.

Believe it or not, such a scenario may actually be possible thanks to Duke transfer Derryck Thornton and Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman both seriously considering coming to KU.

If both players — or either — joined the Jayhawks, they would have to sit out the 2016-17 season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules. But they would be able to practice and they would make up a heck of a “red team” backcourt that would push Mason, Graham, Josh Jackson, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and the rest of the KU regulars on a regular basis.

The idea that Newman and Thornton are considering Kansas obviously is exciting for the future of Bill Self’s basketball team. Both would challenge for starting spots immediately upon gaining eligibility and, depending on how long they stuck around, each could wind up being a huge part of future Kansas teams.

If they do come to KU, even while waiting to play, their impact could be just as important during Year 1 as it could in Years 2 and 3 because they would elevate practice to a higher level and give Mason and Graham Big 12 and NCAA-Tournament-style competition on a daily basis.

Decisions from either player could come any day now and I saw at least one report on Twitter today that indicated that both really liked Kansas but had not reached the point where they were a packaged deal.

From what I've heard, KU has a great shot at getting both of them and while they would certainly push the current Jayhawks throughout the upcoming season, the opportunity to be challenged by players like Mason, Graham and Jackson also would improve their games a great deal while they waited for the 2017-18 season to roll around.

Stay in touch with KUsports.com for the latest information on both decisions.

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Big 12 coaches give honest assessment of KU football

Kansas head coach David Beaty tries to keep his team amped up during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.

Kansas head coach David Beaty tries to keep his team amped up during spring practice on Tuesday, March 24, 2015. by Nick Krug

The Big 12 crew over at ESPN.com recently talked to a bunch of different Big 12 football coaches to get the inside scoop on how each program is perceived by the rest of the conference. The full story will appear in ESPN's College Football Preview Magazine and, for Insider subscribers at this link.

It's a very cool idea and even cooler to see that so many coaches cooperated. They did so anonymously, of course, but that cleared the way for them to be brutally honest and hold nothing back.

It's under the Insider tag on ESPN.com so in case you're not an ESPN Insider member, here's a quick look at the three things said about David Beaty and the Kansas Jayhawks heading into Year 2 of the Beaty era.

Believe it or not, they're pretty kind and encouraging.

Coach David Beaty's winless debut wasn't a surprise, but it also couldn't have gone much worse, beginning with dropping a 41-38 heartbreaker to FCS South Dakota State in the season opener. Coach, can you talk about the state of the Kansas program?

"He took over a disaster, but I think he did a good job. They'll get some guys, but it's going to take a long time. They have to give him some time. He's going to need about eight years to get that program right. And it's not easy up there." -- Big 12 head coach

My thoughts ---> This was by far the biggest thing that stood out to me. Eight years is a long, long time and KU hasn't been able to get a coach to complete three years since Mark Mangino went eight seasons from 2002-09. The truth here is that eight years could be right. So often you hear people talk about giving a coach 5 years, but it truly could take eight years (seven more) for the KU program to be established and competing on an annual basis. That said, it's entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that the first signs of becoming competitive could show up much sooner. The eight-year mark shows just how in touch the rest of the conference is with what Beaty inherited. It's not as if these guys with huge egos who have done a good job elsewhere are acting like they could turn KU around in a year or two. They see it for what it is and, although that's not going to lead to any sympathy on Saturdays, it has to help Beaty and company feel like they're doing the best anybody could. Time will tell if they actually get it done.

The Jayhawks can be an unexpected test in Lawrence, despite a 2-20 Big 12 home record over the past five years. Baylor, TCU, Texas and Oklahoma State have all barely escaped with single-digit wins. Coach, can you talk about facing the Jayhawks on the road?

"They're spooky. Unless you're Texas, Oklahoma or Baylor and you can go up there and overwhelm them athletically, you kind of have to watch it with them. You can go up there, they'll have like 20,000 in the stands and they can get you." -- Big 12 head coach

My thoughts ---> This, at least right now, is the biggest compliment the KU football program could be paid by an opposing Big 12 coach. Nearly half the league has experienced this first-hand, so it's no surprise the ESPN guys found a coach who would admit this, but just as many have come into Lawrence and destroyed Kansas during the past six years. Cool of someone to actually call it like it is and admit that, as down as the program is right now, KU can get you if you don't show up.

Kansas nearly pulled off the upset of the year, falling at TCU 23-17 in mid-November. The Jayhawks' tightest conference loss was a sign Beaty has his young players buying into his energetic approach. Coach, can you talk about how it's even possible to turn this thing around?

"First, you find guys who want to be there. Then you recruit, recruit, recruit, with an eye on competing in Year 3 or 4. You have to teach them to compete. Teach them how to win." -- Big 12 offensive coach

My thoughts ---> Nothing earth-shattering here, but, to me, this is further proof that the path Beaty and company are on is a good one. They've put a big emphasis on recruiting good character players who are proud to sign with and play at Kansas. That's huge. Because if it starts meaning something to these players the way it did to Ben Heeney or does to Montell Cozart and Joe Dineen, then that'll increase the odds of a turnaround. There were flashes of teaching this group how to compete during the past couple of years and now the next jump is that teaching them how to win bit. That's going to be tougher. Especially in the Big 12.

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Another 2017 O-Lineman de-commits from KU Football

Kansas University football recruiting

Kansas University football recruiting

Back in January, as the Kansas football coaching staff was racing to finalize its 2016 recruiting class, David Beaty and company picked up a couple of commitments from 2017 offensive linemen within hours of one another.

Today, neither lineman remains committed to Kansas.

Grant Polley (6-5, 275, Denton (Texas) High) de-committed almost exactly a month ago, and, on Tuesday, Jared Hocker (6-5, 290, North Richland Hills, Texas) followed Polley's lead. The two situations are unrelated other than the fact that both committed very early and soon found that interest from other schools with winning pedigrees was headed their way.

Hocker explained via Twitter on Tuesday.

"After a long period of deliberation, I have decided to de-commit from the Jayhawks and reopen my recruiting. When I received my offer from KU, I wasn't familiar with the recruiting process and, in hindsight, I made a premature decision. There is a great deal I like, even love, about KU not the least of which is the coaching staff. Coaches Beaty, (Zach) Yenser and (Kenny) Perry have all been wonderful to me and it is with the deepest regret that I feel I must re-examine my options. Please respect my privacy with no interviews due to my decision. Thank you."

Although the loss of both linemen certainly qualifies as a disappointment for the Jayhawks, it also comes as no surprise. Any time players of their caliber — or, really, any caliber — commit as early as they did to a place like KU, it's always a challenge for the Jayhawks to hang on to them.

That's not to say it can't be done, but when bigger and better programs come calling, it often can be tough for these players to stick with Kansas. That's human nature in many ways and understandable, as well.

With Hocker specifically, recent visits to Texas A&M and Texas Tech illustrate the point perfectly.

So it's back to the drawing board for Kansas, which will continue to seek offensive linemen in the 2017 class and is in on some pretty solid secondary options, including a couple of in-state linemen.

With Hocker now off the list, KU has oral commitments from six players in the Class of 2017 and room to add somewhere in the range of 15 more, depending on how many additions to the current roster wind up counting forward to the 2017 class via the blue shirt rule.

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If you could change the outcome of one KU game in history, which would you pick?

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Kansas head coach Bill Self walks the sideline during the second half of KU's loss to Virginia Commonwealth Sunday, March 27, 2011 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. by Mike Yoder

I recently saw something on Deadspin that seemed like it might be a good idea to bring to Jayhawk Nation.

The article, which ran last Thursday and was inspired by a Tweet from Grantland writer @SheaSerrano, was short and sweet and asked one simple question: If You Could Change Any Championship Outcome, Which Would It Be?

For KU fans, this might be easy, but there are more than a few options:

• The 1940 or 1953 title-game losses to Indiana

• Wilt's triple-OT loss to Carolina in 1957

• The 1991 loss to Duke in Roy Williams’ third season at KU

• The 2003 loss to Syracuse in Roy’s final game

• The 2012 loss to a stacked Kentucky squad in New Orleans

And that’s just basketball.

You might even throw a football game or two in there, most notably the 2007 loss to Missouri at Arrowhead that cost the Jayhawks the Big 12 North title and a spot in the Big 12 title game but wound up working out just fine.

And, if you want to take this a step farther and include games outside of just championship-type contests, the list expands big time.

What about Mark Mangino’s final game as KU’s coach at Arrowhead against the Tigers? Could Lew Perkins really have forced him out if Mangino had just knocked off Mizzou to secure a third straight bowl berth for the Jayhawks?

How about the loss to VCU in the 2011 Elite Eight? The road to Bill Self’s second title had opened up that year and the Jayhawks were loaded.

Heck, even last year’s loss to Villanova might be the choice of some of you.

Either way, I thought it was an interesting exercise and figured it would be fun to narrow it to just Kansas athletics and bring it to KUsports.com.

So what say you? Which KU game — in any sport — would you reverse the outcome of if you had a magic wand for one day?

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Arkansas RB transferring to KU?

The Kansas University football program’s continued efforts to add depth and talent to its suddenly thin backfield ventured into SEC territory recently and may have found something of value.

According to the Twitter accounts of both his brother and his girlfriend, Arkansas running back Denzel Evans is transferring to Kansas.

Evans, a 5-foot-11, 217-pound junior-to-be, was a three-star prospect coming out of Houston’s Bellaire High when he signed with the Razorbacks out of high school in 2013. At the time, Evans also held offers from Arizona State, Colorado, Houston, Kansas State, Michigan State, Minnesota and SMU.

Nothing official has come out of KU on the possible addition of Evans, but if he were to be added to the KU backfield, he would be the second running back rumored to join the Jayhawks this spring, with former Colorado State running back Deron Thompson (a likely walk-on) also choosing to come to Lawrence.

The Jayhawks certainly could use all the help they can get at the running back position. What, for years, was one of the deepest positions on the team, has become one of the least experienced, with only returning starter Ke’aun Kinner having seen any legitimate game.

Sophomores Taylor Martin and Ryan Schadler, both have game experience, but neither received much work at running back last season. Last weekend, freshman Khalil Herbert, a two-star back from Plantation, Florida, was expected to report to campus in time for summer workouts and his addition, also would give the Jayhawks depth at a spot in which teams cannot have too much.

Last season at Arkansas, Evans played in six games and logged six carries for 48 yards with a long of 31. As was the case with Thompson at CSU, Evans found himself in a crowded backfield and began looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Ironically, that elsewhere might wind up being the very spot where Arkansas running backs coach Reggie Mitchell just worked.

Evans is close to graduating from Arkansas and is attempting to finish up his class requirements this summer. If he is able to, he would be immediately eligible to play at Kansas during the upcoming 2016 season.

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Ranking KU basketball’s 2016-17 non-conference games

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. Duke won 90-60. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. Duke won 90-60. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Now that the schedule has been released and we know that KU fans only have to wait 151 more days until the exhibition opener for the 2016-17 men’s basketball season — Nov. 1 vs. Washburn at Allen Fieldhouse — let’s dive into the non-con portion of the schedule a little deeper.

As expected — and as always — the non-Big 12 portion of KU’s 2016-17 schedule is loaded with big names and potentially tough games. KU coach Bill Self always has preferred it to be this way because of the challenge the tough schedule poses and the potential for more rapid sink-or-swim type growth that it brings his team.

Every once in a while we get that season when Self says he may have been too aggressive and ambitious with the schedule and wishes he would have pulled back a little, but even then, he rarely eases up the following year. Call it a habit, part of the guy’s DNA, something that just wouldn’t seem right otherwise.

With that in mind, Self and the KU scheduling gurus were back at it again for 2016-17 and now that we know the identity of all of the opponents, we can rank the games from most difficult to easiest.

Keep in mind, many of the non-con games are played in Allen Fieldhouse, giving the Jayhawks a huge advantage right off the bat.

1. vs. Duke, Champions Classic – Even with some other marquee programs on the schedule, I don’t think there’s any debating this selection. The Blue Devils are the likely preseason No. 1 and should enter the 2016-17 season as the favorite to win it all, with their fantastic blend of talented experience and dynamic newcomers. There’s no doubting that Coach K will have this team rolling next season. The question left to answer for Kansas fans is this: Will he have the Blue Devils rolling when they face the Jayhawks in NYC? Either way, this game will be a monster.

2. at Kentucky, SEC/Big 12 Challenge – As usual, the Wildcats will be loaded — they’re bringing in three of the Top 10 players in the Class of 2016 — and, this time, they’ll have revenge on their minds when the Jayhawks come to Rupp Arena in late January. Kansas will have the more experienced team and should not be intimidated in the least to go into that type of environment. But it’ll be hopping and the buzz surrounding Big Blue Nation will make it a tough game.

3. vs. Indiana, Armed Forces Classic – Yogi Ferrell may be gone, but the Hoosiers welcome back sophomore big man Thomas Bryant and guard James Blackmon Jr., who should provide a nice 1-2 punch for a team learning to play a different brand of basketball without the tiny floor general Ferrell leading the charge. KU’s biggest strength, its backcourt, versus an Indiana backcourt trying to find itself early in the season should give the Jayhawks a huge advantage in this one. But the Hoosiers proved during last season’s run to the Sweet 16 that they were more than just Yogi and crew. If this game came later in the season and the UK game was earlier, those two games easily would flip-flop on this list.

4. vs. George Washington, CBE Classic – The defending postseason NIT champions return a deep and big lineup as well as leading scorer Tyler Cavanaugh for what can only be described as an NCAA-Tournament-or-bust type of season for the Colonials. The Jayhawks are not guaranteed to play GW in the CBE Event in Kansas City, but are likely to do so.

5. at UNLV – One of just a couple pre-Big 12 true road games, the Jayhawks will have to not only contend with a UNLV squad led by new head coach Marvin Menzies, but also manage the hype and excitement that comes with playing a game in Sin City.

6. vs. Georgia, CBE Classic – Georgia coach Mark Fox will not be bringing his best team to Kansas City, but he does have athletes and a group that is used to seeing top-level basketball against teams like Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and others in the SEC. Electric forward Yante Maten made huge strides during his second year in the program, jumping from 5 points and 4.3 rebounds in Year 1 to 16.5 points and 8 rebounds per game a year ago. He’ll be the cornerstone of the young UGA squad that also features the return of senior guard J.J. Frazier, who led the team with 5 assists per game. KU will either play George Washington or Georgia in the CBE Classic but not both.

7. vs. Nebraska – Cornhuskers coach Tim Miles has always been a huge fan of Kansas basketball, so you can bet he’ll take the opportunity to coach in Allen Fieldhouse very seriously and won’t want his team to embarrass the game by bringing sub-par effort. In addition to that, the ‘Huskers will bring to Lawrence a veteran team that features former KU sharp-shooter Andrew White III, who, no doubt, will want to put on a show in his return to his former home.

8. vs. Long Beach State – Long and athletic, with eight returners standing between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-9, the 49ers team that missed an NCAA Tournament berth by four points in last season’s Big West final — and averaged 102 ppg on the season — will be much more experienced and hungry to make a statement with a strong showing against one of college basketball’s blue bloods.

9. vs. Davidson, Jayhawk Classic – He may not have Steph Curry on his roster any longer, but Davidson coach Bob McKillop is still a heck of a leader and he’ll have his team ready to play in a game that the Jayhawks sometimes struggle to get up for, mid-December in Kansas City. In fact, it was a McKillop-led Davidson club that handed the 2012 national runner-up Jayhawks a December loss at Sprint Center in this very event. And, even though both rosters have been completely remade, you can bet the Wildcats’ coach will draw on that experience when getting ready for this one.

10. vs. UNC Asheville – An NCAA Tournament team a season ago, Asheville returns all but two players from last year’s roster, including leading scorer Dylan Smith, a sophomore guard, who, as a freshman, led the Bulldogs with averages of 14 points and 5 assists per game.

11. vs. Stanford – The Cardnial may now be led by former Jayhawk Jerod Haase, but there’s a reason he got the job — last year’s team was not very good. With just a couple of players remaining from the team that upset KU in the NCAA Tournament in 2014 (role players at that) Stanford will be in full rebuilding mode and will be forced to deal with their Pac-12 membership status helping ensure Kansas will get up for the game.

12. vs. UAB, CBE Classic – UAB enjoyed a terrific 26-7 season, Conference USA regular season title and No. 81 ranking in the final RPI poll, but also lost its coach (now current Stanford coach Jerod Haase) in the offseason. That transition, along with the loss of some key players should bring the Blazers back to Earth a little bit. Like George Washington and Georgia, KU is not guaranteed to play UAB in the November event.

13. vs. Siena – The Saints finished the 2015-16 season ranked 123rd in the RPI and eight games above .500 at 21-13. Siena will bring to Lawrence several players who gained valuable experience a year ago and their recent history of playing games at Wisconsin and at Duke will make it easier for them to come into a hostile environment like Allen Fieldhouse than it is for most teams. But the Saints lack size and also said goodbye to one of their key leaders in guard Ryan Oliver.

14. vs. UMKC – The Roos were a wreck a season ago, finishing with an RPI rating of 288 and a 12-19 record while playing in the WAC. UMKC has brought some tough teams into Allen Fieldhouse in the past, but this won’t be one of them.

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Big 12 summer meetings not likely to produce major headlines but still big nonetheless

There are a thousand reasons why but only one way to say it — this is a big week for the Big 12 Conference.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting the Big 12 presidents, ADs and other brass to emerge from this week’s meetings in Dallas with everything figured out and an announcement to share. But they don’t have to find a solution to the number of serious issues that loom to make this a big week. Just getting together to discuss things makes it big enough.

And, boy are there things to discuss.

None of them are new, of course. And, despite what you might read on message boards or social media, there really is not that much buzz surrounding any of them inside the walls of the conference room. In fact, when I recently asked a member of the KU administration if I should make the trip down to Dallas to stalk the hotel hallways and wait outside the conference room doors for news — remember those good ol’ days of conference realignment chaos just down the road at the Country Club Plaza in KCMO? — I was told simply that it most likely would be a waste of a trip.

But people are going to notice and pay attention any time you can put a group together to talk expansion, a television network, ongoing discussions about bringing back a conference championship game in football and high drama like what just went down at Baylor with Art Briles and AD Ian McCaw. And how can you blame them? Any of those issues alone would make for an interesting week. But adding them all together just multiplies the interest and intensity.

One thing worth noting here: I saw Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News recently Tweet that at least six conference schools — and possibly as many as eight, which is the number required in a vote — are now in favor of expansion.

Having said that, I’m actually expecting a rather quiet week. It sounds as if the overwhelming vibe within the Big 12 right now is that too many people have been talking too much — particularly recently — and it’s time to put a stop to all of the rogue and random chatter and get down to business together.

If the all-for-one-and-one-for-all vibe is tough for you to buy coming from this cast of characters, I don’t blame you. But it does seem like even some of the most outspoken voices in the Big 12 Conference actually understand that all of the extracurricular chatter is not helping.

The bottom line is this: There are still eight years remaining on the Big 12’s grant of rights agreement and no huge rush by ESPN of FOX — the league’s two main television partners — to offer up more money for the addition of any of the universities that are deemed available or downright campaigning for a spot. Those facts pretty much squash any thoughts of a Big 12 network or expansion, unless, of course, there is some major revelation this week. Say, for example, all 10 schools and their representatives all of a sudden decide that it’s time to be bold and want to become the first conference to 16. That won’t happen, but if the Tex-Mex or a particularly good batch of margaritas get these folks feeling frisky, then anything is back on the table.

Don’t count on it, though.

There will be headlines and soundbites and story lines that are deemed “interesting,” perhaps even downright “exciting.” But more than likely, this big week for the Big 12 will come and go without the conference making any major moves or any major changes or decisions.

And the way this motley crew has been going at it these past five years, that might actually wind up being good news in the end.

Time will tell. But be sure to stay tuned. You know, just in case... We'll be tracking things the rest of the week.

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Monday Morning QB writer goes one-on-one with Chris Harris

I know there are dozens, if not hundreds or thousands, of you out there who always have wondered how well you'd fare against a professional athlete in your chosen sport.

Well, so did Monday Morning Quarterback writer Andy Benoit, a 29-year-old who recently challenged for Kansas University cornerback to a round of one-on-ones in Bixby, Oklahoma, at Harris' youth camp.

Benoit, who seemed to be a decent athlete in his own right, wrote a nice recap of his afternoon matching up with one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL and he also included the following video, which makes for some serious entertainment.

You can see that Harris, ever the professional, took it serious enough to keep his reputation in tact but also did not bring anywhere near the noise that he brings snap after snap on Sundays with the Broncos. The reason? He didn't exactly have to.

Either way, it's a good read and a fun video. Props to Harris for accepting Benoit's challenge and to Benoit for giving it a shot.

From the article, here's how Benoit found himself on the field with Harris...

"I told my bosses, Peter King and editor Mark Mravic, that I wanted to play wide receiver one-on-one against an NFL cornerback and write about it. Peter and Mark became the first in a long line of people who would laugh at me. After convincing them I was serious, Peter said I could do it if I found a superstar to face. Perhaps this was Peter’s polite, backdoor method of discouraging the idea—like how you might tell a kid he can get his own house if his lemonade sales raise enough funds. My pool of prospects went from 130 corners to less than 10. But to my surprise, the man at the top of my list, Denver Broncos star Chris Harris, immediately said yes, almost no questions asked. In our business, that’s like finding a holy grail filled with winning scratch tickets."

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KU football locker room renovations under way

An artist's rendering of the new-look KU football locker room, coming this summer. Illustration courtesy of Kansas Athletics.

An artist's rendering of the new-look KU football locker room, coming this summer. Illustration courtesy of Kansas Athletics. by Matt Tait

You may have read a couple of weeks ago about the $2-2.5 million Anderson Family Football Complex upgrades planned for the Kansas University football program.

A new-look locker room, new players lounge and updated Mrkonic Auditorium film and meeting room were the cornerstones of the project and the goal was for the upgrades to be finished in time for preseason camp and the 2016 season.

Now, thanks to KU staff member Tyler Olker, we have visual evidence that the project is 100 percent under way.

Olker, KU's director of recruiting, posted to Twitter four pics of the early stages of the locker room makeover and you can see that construction crews are wasting no time getting going.

In case you forgot, the photo at the top of the blog is an artist's rendering of what the finished locker room will look like. Below are Olker's four photos of the initial progress.

Stay tuned for more...

Locker Room renovation photo, courtesy of @TylerOlker

Locker Room renovation photo, courtesy of @TylerOlker by Matt Tait

Locker Room renovation photo, courtesy of @TylerOlker

Locker Room renovation photo, courtesy of @TylerOlker by Matt Tait

Locker Room renovation photo, courtesy of @TylerOlker

Locker Room renovation photo, courtesy of @TylerOlker by Matt Tait

Locker Room renovation photo, courtesy of @TylerOlker

Locker Room renovation photo, courtesy of @TylerOlker by Matt Tait

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100 days out from another KU football opener & why you should care

Well, here we are, 100 days away from the start of yet another college football season.

And, as much as that’s a national holiday for the rest of the country, it often is a day to dread for Kansas fans. Not only is the interest in this program at an all-time low — and you can say that by any number of measures from season ticket sales to message board traffic and everything in between — but the idea of actually attending a football game and, heaven forbid actually staying to watch it, seems to have become something people get mocked for around here.

That only makes a hard job harder for second-year coach David Beaty and his Jayhawks, who, like every other college football team in America, have been working their butts off since the end of the 2015 season in hopes that the work they put in during the down months will pay off in the fall.

Knowing that it’s going to take more than the abstract promise of continued improvement to get KU fans fired up for another football season, let’s look at six reasons to get excited about the arrival of game day, exactly 100 days from today.

1. Game 1 is winnable. Big time. Not only should the Jayhawks be favored to beat Rhode Island in the opener, they should do it. It’s been a long time since KU put a hurting on an opponent in a season opener and there’s no better way to get the fan base jacked than by putting up a big number and rolling to a comfortable rout during Week 1. During the final four seasons under Mark Mangino, KU won its opener by an average of 38 points. In the six seasons — and three head coaches — since Mangino left town, KU has won four openers by an average of 14 points and lost two. Nothing would be more helpful toward getting things turned around than an old-fashioned butt-kicking on Sept. 3 at Memorial Stadium.

2. New offenses can be fun. Especially when they’re Air Raid offenses designed to get the ball to playmakers in space and operate at a pace that puts the defense on its heels. Forget about what you saw last year and consider KU’s 2015 offense the bridge between Charlie Weis’ pro style packages and what Beaty believes KU can run. If you show up on Sept. 3 and see more of the same, head back to the car and take that cooler full of cold beverages to the pool or the lake. But at least show up and check it out. Who knows? Even though KU does not have the talent it had during the Todd Reesing era, this new-look offense might remind you a little of that and you just might like it.

3. KU’s defense figures to be much improved. We saw evidence of this in the spring, when the KU defense most often got the better of the offense during scrimmages and the spring game. And I’ve heard some chatter about defensive coordinator Clint Bowen really getting his crew to buy in to what he wants to do. Some of the credit for that goes to experience. Some of it goes to the leaders like Fish Smithson, Joe Dineen, Marcquis Roberts and Brandon Stewart. And some of it goes to the addition of linebackers coach Todd Bradford and his ability to work well with Bowen and the other defensive assistants. Time will tell just how good this group actually can be, but you can expect to see a confident crew that takes the field with some bounce and swagger on Sept. 3.

4. Time to meet the new faces. By the time Sept. 3 rolls around, you’ll have read plenty about cornerback Kyle Mayberry, defensive linemen DeeIsaac Davis and Isi Holani, linebacker Maciah Long, cornerback Stephan Robinson and defensive end Isaiah Bean. But this will be your first chance to actually see them play. You never know when KU’s coaching staff is going to land that player or pack of players that might be responsible for jump-starting a turn-around. Could he be on the list of names above?

5. The weather should be gorgeous. I know it’s a long ways away still and weathermen and women don’t normally forecast 100 days out, but if history tells us anything the opener should be very nice. According to usclimatedata.com, September is one of just two months each year in which the average high temperature in Lawrence is in the 70s. And they don’t play football around here in May, so why not take advantage of that?

6. Tailgating, man. My esteemed colleague Gary Bedore has called KU’s tailgating atmosphere one of the best decisions the athletic department ever made. Remember, there was a time not that long ago when fans were not allowed to consume adult beverages and enjoy one of the best parts about college football anywhere near Memorial Stadium. That changed back in 2001, and today, even when the likelihood of KU winning a game inside the stadium is low, the buzz outside the stadium is high, both from a participation perspective and the way the whole scene makes the areas surrounding Memorial Stadium, from the hill to the parking lots, look like a big time college football environment.

In the next 99 days, we'll have all kinds of info and analysis of the season ahead, but hopefully what you just read will whet your appetite just a little for that season opener against Rhode Island that is closer than you think.

In case it didn't, here are a few recent comments from Beaty on the opener...

"We gotta win some games. And that starts with one. We are focused on going 1-0 against Rhode Island I honestly don’t even know who else is on our schedule. I am focused on that game. And our kids are too.”

“It’s the most important game in the history of our program because it’s the next one. Period.”

“We’re gonna focus on winning one game at a time and putting a premium on winning. Winning is important. So we’re not gonna sugarcoat it. We came here to win and these kids want to win. We’ve worked our (butt) off and the kids have too. They deserve it. So we just gotta keep earning it.”

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