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Prediction Time: KUSports.com staffers forecast 2012 football season

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I’m generally not a big fan of prediction columns. At least not the ones that go game-by-game and pretend to breakdown things that, by the time some of the games roll around, may not wind up mattering anyway.

But that does not mean I don’t have a prediction for how this year’s Kansas University football team will fare during its first season under new head coach Charlie Weis.

Without a doubt, the one question I was asked more this summer than any other was this: “So, how many games are they gonna win this year?”

Each time I was flattered that people thought I might know the answer. And I can see why they would. For one, it’s my job to follow the ins and outs of the team 365 days a year, and, for two, I do get several more opportunities to talk to the guys who actually determine the team’s record, so you might think I’d come away with a gut feeling about how things will go.

The truth is, I didn’t.

Here’s what I know:

  1. The team is much, much better than it was during the past two seasons. The talent has been upgraded — significantly in many areas — and the guys who were here then and are still here now are much different players mentally, physically and in terms of experience.

  2. Charlie Weis is exactly the kind of coach KU needs in charge of its football program and his experience, confidence, attention to detail and high standards should spell good things for the program long-term. Is his impact enough to make a difference right away, though? That’s the million-dollar question.

  3. The KU offense should be good — maybe even very good. The key here will be if the offensive line can protect senior quarterback Dayne Crist enough to give him a chance to run the offense. It’s a valid question, but it’s not one I’m too concerned about. I think the guys up front are up for the challenge, and I think this offense has a chance to be one of the surprise stories in the Big 12.

  4. The defense, until is shows otherwise, is still a big-time question mark. The new faces they’ve brought in have made a difference already, but until we actually see them perform against an opponent — and, more specifically, a Big 12 opponent — we have to wonder just how far this unit has come. The truth here is they don’t have to come that far to give KU a chance in most games. Even upgrading from bottom-barrell to middle-of-the-road would be very noticeable.

  5. These new coaches are realists. If they say something, they mean it. If they don’t, that should be noted, too. That’s why it’s easy to believe that Crist is the real deal and even easier to wonder if the new faces on the defensive line are merely an upgrade or a game-changer.

  6. Looking good on paper and looking better in practice is great, but it’s going to take more than that for the Jayhawks to become competitive again in the ultra-talented Big 12. Like any team, KU is going to need to catch some breaks to stay in several of the games on the schedule, and, like any good team does, KU will have to make some of those breaks and not just wait for them to come. I’m confident this coaching staff will put these guys in position to do that, now we just need to see if they can deliver.

With all that in mind, I’m more than happy to go on record with an official prediction for the 2012 season. I’ve done it enough times on various radio shows that I think it’s only fair that I put it down in writing here, too.

I’ve said all offseason that this team should be measured more by the eye test and how it looks on the field than the results and final scores. I still believe that. But predictions are more fun, so what the heck. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

Week 1: vs. South Dakota State — Win — Offense clicks, defense impresses and Jayhawks kick off the Charlie Weis era in style.

Week 2: vs. Rice — Win — It won’t be easy and all of the KU-Rice connections will make it a lot of fun, but this is one KU should win.

Week 3: vs. TCU — Win — Confidence and good timing are great things when you’re talking about winning football games. The Jayhawks could have both in their favor heading into this one. I’ve had an odd gut feeling about this one all summer, so I’m going with it.

Week 4: at Northern Illinois — Win — KU won last year and fields a better team this year. The Huskies, meanwhile, lost their starting QB to the NFL.

Week 5: Bye

Week 6: at Kansas State — Loss — The tide will begin to turn and the game will be more competitive, but K-State’s still too tough for now.

Week 7: vs. Oklahoma State — Loss — This is one I could see being close into the fourth quarter. And more than maybe any other, this is the game the Jayhawks could really benefit from an improved pass rush.

Week 8: at Oklahoma — Loss — Sooners just too talented, here, there, everywhere.

Week 9: vs. Texas — Loss — The good news is the Longhorns still don’t have much of an offense and that could help KU hang around. The bad news is Mack Brown and Co. will have eight weeks to figure that out.

Week 10: at Baylor — Loss — Baylor’s magical 2011 season was due to much more than Robert Griffin III. The Bears will show that this year.

Week 11: at Texas Tech — Win — Going on the road in the Big 12 is always tough, but I like KU in this one. Remember, an inferior KU squad jumped all over the Red Raiders a year ago before falling apart.

Week 12: vs. Iowa State — Loss — A lot of people like to peg this as a win, but Paul Rhoads’ teams typically play their best late in the season and should come to Lawrence with a lot of confidence.

Week 13: Bye

Week 14: at West Virginia — Loss — I’m not sure about everybody else, but I think the Mountaineers are going to be really tough this season. I’m talking, run-the-table, win-the-league tough.

So there you have it — my somewhat detailed prediction for a 5-7 season. Could be a reach, could be right on. The best part is, after tomorrow, we might actually have a little better idea which is more likely. As for other members of the KUSports.com staff, a few of them were willing to give up their picks, as well. Here they are:

• Tom Keegan: 4-8 — Charlie Weis calling plays and Dayne Crist executing them should add up to enough points for Kansas to stay in more games than it did a year ago. Four (wins) does seem like a reasonable number to define success and six would qualify as cause for euphoria. To get to 4-8 Kansas would need either to go 2-1 in nonconference games and 2-7 in the Big 12 or sweep the nonconference and get just one conference upset, both reasonable paths.

• Jesse Newell: 4-8 — The slogan for the 2012 Kansas football team should be, “It can’t be worse,” because really, this year can’t be worse for KU fans than 2011, when the program hit an all-time low. With an improved coaching staff and increased commitment to conditioning, I think the Jayhawks will take care of South Dakota State, Rice and Iowa State at home, and even if they slip up at Northern Illinois, I wouldn’t be surprised if they take out another Big 12 team to pick up win No. 4. Charlie Weis is inheriting a program that is much worse than the one Turner Gill took over in 2010, and because of that, four victories would (and should) be labeled a success.

• Gary Bedore: 3-9 — I’ve got the Jayhawks winning one Big 12 Conference game in Year One of the Charlie Weis regime. That’d be against Iowa State on Nov. 17 in Lawrence. The other two wins: against South Dakota State and Rice. Could KU fare better than 3-9, perhaps even finish .500 at 6-6? Sure. To go 6-6, however, KU would have to win three of its first four games (SD State, Rice, Northern Illinois to go with loss to TCU), then follow a loss at Kansas State with a shocking win over Oklahoma State in Lawrence. That would give the Jayhawks a 4-2 record heading into a brutal stretch of at Oklahoma, Texas, at Baylor and at Texas Tech. If a still-confident 4-4 KU team could split the BU and TT road games, that’d mean a 5-5 record heading into the Iowa State home game. A win over ISU and blowout loss at West Virginia still would mean an incredibly successful 6-6 season. I’ll stick with 3-9, however. Makes more sense to me.

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