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Proposed college football rule change for 2014 worth keeping an eye on

An interesting rule proposal for the 2014 college football season could impact the way Kansas University and others defend the fast-paced offenses that have created havoc during recent seasons.

According to a report on the NCAA's official website, the proposed rule suggests that a five-yard delay-of-game penalty would be enforced any time an offense snaps the ball with 29 seconds or more showing on the play clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half. The idea is to allow defenses to substitute during the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock without offenses being able to hold them hostage with fast tempo and quick snaps.

Under the current rules, defensive players are not guaranteed an opportunity to substitute unless the offense substitutes first.

“This change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who chairs the NCAA Football Rules Committee. “As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes.”

Although several offensive coaches around the country probably dislike the proposed change, defensive coaches are probably crossing their fingers in hopes that the new rule is adopted.

That's particularly true of defensive coordinators in the Big 12 who, almost weekly, are tasked with trying to find a way to slow down lightning-fast offenses that make their living spreading the field and snapping the ball as quickly as possible.

According to the report, “the committee believes that 10 seconds provides sufficient time for defensive player substitutions without inhibiting the ability of an offense to play at a fast pace. Research indicated that teams with fast-paced, no-huddle offenses rarely snap the ball with 30 seconds or more on the play clock. This rules proposal also aligns with a request from the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports that sport rules committees review substitution rules in regards to player safety.”

In other rules news, the NCAA proposed an alteration to the instant-replay review on targeting rules first implemented last season.

According to the report, “the committee recommended that if the instant replay official rules that a disqualification should not have occurred, and if the targeting foul is not accompanied by another personal foul, the 15-yard penalty for targeting should not be enforced.”

KU had its share of run-ins with the targeting rule, as well, but the substitution tweak, should it be adopted, would have a much bigger impact on the Jayhawks.

All rules proposals must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which will discuss the football rules changes March 6.


Mark Mangino back in the Big 12

According to a report from Bobby LaGesse, of the Ames Tribune, Iowa State is poised to announce the hiring of former Kansas coach Mark Mangino as its new offensive coordinator under head coach Paul Rhoads.

A press conference is set for 4:30 p.m. today.

“I am beyond thrilled to welcome Coach Mangino to the Cyclone football family,” Rhoads said in a press release. “He has an imaginative offensive mind, an ability to play to his players’ strengths, a track record of winning and a tremendous familiarity with the Big 12 Conference. In terms of calling plays and executing a game plan, he is top shelf. He has learned from a ‘Who’s Who’ of college coaches, effectively led his own championship program and is respected throughout the coaching ranks.”

Mangino, who was the head coach at Kansas from 2002-09 and led the Jayhawks to a 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory in 2007 while being named national coach of the year, spent the past year working at Youngstown State and has long been rumored to want back into coaching.

His Jayhawk teams were 50-48 overall, played in four bowls and won three. He is the only coach in KU history to win bowls in consecutive seasons (2007 and 2008). Kansas was ranked a school-record 19 straight weeks between 2007-08, set home attendance records five years in a row and produced the top three total offenses in school history.

He left Kansas as the result of an internal investigation into improper treatment of players carried out by former KU athletic director Lew Perkins. He spent three years out of coaching before returning to YSU, his alma mater, for the 2013 season.

Before coaching at KU, Mangino worked on Bob Stoops' staff in Oklahoma and also on the staff of Bill Snyder at Kansas State.

Mangino's first year back in the Big 12 also will signal a return to Lawrence as the Cyclones are schedule to play at KU on Nov. 8.

Stay right here for more on the move to bring Mangino back to the Big 12.

The following link takes you back to August, when Journal-World sports editor Tom Keegan caught up with Mangino at Youngstown State.


Charlie Strong a rock solid hire for Texas

I have to admit when I first heard the reports that Texas had zeroed in on Louisville's Charlie Strong as its new football coach, I was a little surprised.

Not because I don't think Strong is a fantastic coach, an energetic dude and a great face for any program. He's all of those things and more. My surprise stemmed from the fact that, in comparison to Nick Saban, Jimbo Fisher, Jim Harbaugh, Art Briles and others, Strong's name doesn't carry the weight I would've expected UT to want— perhaps even demand — in a successor to Mack Brown.

Maybe I just can't get the idea out of my head that at one point, not that long ago, Strong was on the list of potential replacements for Mark Mangino. Think about that. In late 2009, Strong, then an assistant at Florida, was on KU's radar and today he's the head coach at Texas. Wild stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think Strong was that close to being a finalist for the job that went to Turner Gill — and then Charlie Weis two years later — but he was a hot target at the time and there's no doubt that KU kicked the tires.

In Strong, who went 37-15 in four seasons at Louisville and 23-3 during the past two seasons, UT is getting everything I think KU fans were told they were getting in Gill. A player's coach who would do things the right way. A great recruiter. A man of strong morals and values. An intelligent football mind with the capability of putting together a top notch staff around him.

We all know how that played out with Gill and Kansas but I see no reason at all to think anything close to the same will happen for Strong and Texas.

This seems like a fantastic hire for the Longhorns and an absolute nightmare for the rest of the Big 12. Strong will get players. At Texas they always do. And I believe under his leadership the best of the best will again have UT as an automatic entry on their recruiting lists.

More than that though, Strong will evaluate, develop and motivate those players at a level Texas hasn't seen in quite some time. The man radiates pride, intensity & character all at once. Now that he's taking over a blueblood program he'll get a great opportunity to show just how talented he really is.

There are questions about Strong. He doesn't love dealing with the media and may not be the perfect fit to handle the insane exposure that comes from The Longhorn Network. But in terms of football acumen, Strong is everything you could want.

Credit the UT administration for ultimately understanding that a big-time name was not needed to replace Brown. A big-time coach was. And, in Strong, I think they found exactly that.


14 Questions about KU football as we enter 2014

The new year is just a couple of days old, the beginning of football season is still eight months away and college basketball is dominating the thoughts of KU fans at the moment.

But that doesn't mean it's too early to look ahead to the coming year of Kansas football.

The 2014 season will be the third for head coach Charlie Weis at KU and there's no doubt that it's a big year for the program.

A defense that enjoyed drastic improvement during 2013 returns nearly everyone and also figures to get some help in the form of eligible red-shirts and reinforcements. Same goes for the offense, with senior wide receiver Nick Harwell and offensive coordinator John Reagan being the biggest additions.

While the Jayhawks will return several known commodities at key positions, uncertainty remains all over the field. Here's a quick look at the 14 most interesting questions facing KU football in 2014:

1 – Who will play quarterback? Jake Heaps is back for his senior season, Montell Cozart will be a sophomore and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard will be eligible. This has the makings of a heck of a battle, but I'd give Heaps the nod as the early favorite.

2 – What will the new offense look like? New offensive coordinator John Reagan will be bringing his offense to KU and it figures to look awfully familiar to KU fans who enjoyed the Todd Reesing era. How similar it is remains to be seen, but I think you can expect an up-tempo style that leans heavily on both the running and passing games. Also worth watching closely is how well Reagan works with the offensive line, a major area of concern for KU entering 2014.

3 – How good can Nick Harwell be? The all-time leading receiver in Miami (Ohio) University history has one year of college ball remaining before giving it a go in the NFL. Will his addition be the fix for a passing game that has struggled during the past two seasons? Everything I've heard tells me yes.

4 – Who replaces James Sims? For four seasons, Sims was a staple in the KU backfield and led the team in rushing. Now that he's gone, who will step up as the top back? There are plenty of options, old and new. From returners Brandon Bourbon, Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to freshman Traevohn Wrench and Colin Spencer. And don't forget Tony Pierson could still take a handoff or two. Clearly, KU again is expected to enjoy great depth at an important position. I think Cox could be the most Sims-esque player in the bunch.

5 – What happens with the coaching staff? We already know that Tim Grunhard is out and Reagan is in. But will there be any other changes on Weis' staff? The smart money says yes.

6 – What can we expect from defensvie end Andrew Bolton? From the sound of it, quite a bit. Bolton red-shirted the 2013 season to get healthy and, in the process, got bigger and stronger. His presence as a pass-rushing threat would be huge for a KU defense that will not be short on confidence heading into the season.

7 – What can we expect from cornerback Kevin Short? I heard a couple of times last summer that Short was one of the two or three most talented players on KU's roster. NCAA shenanigans kept us from seeing that in 2013 but Short stuck it out, worked on his fundamentals and frame during practice and should be itching to go in 2014. Where he'll play remains to be seen, but expect him to be a fixture in the secondary and also make an impact in the return game.

8 – What can we expect from linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore? Jenkins-Moore's knee injury on the first day of summer workouts in 2013 was a big-time disappointment for both the player and the fan base. He's been out of action for a long time and I haven't heard much about his rehab so I think he's definitely a question mark heading into the 2014 season.

9 – What's this team's leadership look like? In a word, solid. Although Sims is gone, the three other captains from the 2013 campaign will be back. Assuming Ben Heeney, Keon Stowers and Jake Heaps keep their roles and the fourth captain spot goes to an offensive player, I'd look at senior tight end Jimmay Mundine as an early favorite to inherit a leadership role.

10 – Speaking of Mundine, will he be a big part of next season's offense? During the 2013 season, Rice's tight ends accounted for just 15 receptions and 165 yards. A year earlier, however, Vance McDonald, who became a second-round pick in the NFL Draft, caught 36 balls for 458 yards and two touchdowns. Mundine has talent and can become a productive weapon. Remember, even while struggling, he finished 2013 with 229 yards and five TDs on 20 receptions. He just has to catch the football.

11 – How does the 2014 schedule look? Tough as always is the easy answer, but I'll give you a little more than that. Non-conference home games against Southeast Missouri and Central Michigan should give KU a good shot at a nice start. But a road game at Duke, which finished the 2013 season at 10-4, seems much tougher today than it did when the game was scheduled. Duke brings back nearly everyone and proved that it could play with the big boys in 2013. After those three, it's Big 12 Conference time, opening with Texas at home and closing at Kansas State. Unlike last year, KU will have a bye week in the middle of conference play, between road games at Texas Tech and Baylor. Four of the first six games are at home, so playing tough in Memorial Stadium will be huge.

12 – Speaking of Memorial Stadium, will there be any signs of renovations to the old venue in 2014? If there are, it won't be until after the season and even that appears to be a reach right now. Conversations are ongoing and plans are being laid out but I can't see any major moves happening until the money is there. And, right now, it's not there yet.

13 – What streaks are still in tact? The biggest is the road losing streak, which sits at 27 games and dates back to the 2009 season. Thanks to KU's victory over West Virginia on Nov. 16, 2013, the Big 12 and overall losing streaks are both tiny two-gamers, so it's the road streak that will get all of the pub in 2014. KU will get six cracks to snap the skid in 2014 — at Duke, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma and Kansas State. None will be easy, so ending the madness will be big news for the program. In addition to trying to get over the hump away from home, KU also will be looking to snap its streak of five consecutive sub-.500 seasons.

14 – Is there any hope for better days ahead? I said this throughout 2013 and I'll say it again today: If you're an optimist by nature, there are plenty of areas you can point to that make you smile and support the claim that Weis is taking Kansas football in the right direction. At the same time, if you're naturally pessimistic, there are still a few elements of the program that make you look awfully intelligent for doubting the Jayhawks. The way the 2014 season plays out will be huge for KU, both in terms of stability and upward movement. After generally showing patience and understanding during Weis' first two seasons in town, the majority of the fan base figures to be expecting more in 2014. And who can blame them?


Keegan vs. Tait: Week 2

Here we go with Week 2 of our Keegan vs. Tait college football picks showdown.

The younger generation jumped out to an early lead with an 8-2 record last week and there are a couple of differences in this week's picks as well, so the lead could grow or change hands.

Enough with the chit-chat, though. Here's a look at this week's games and picks.

Week 1 Results
Tait: 8-2
Keegan: 7-3

Week 2 Games
Kansas at Rice
Tulsa at Oklahoma
Georgia State at West Virginia
Iowa at Iowa State
UMass at Kansas State
Lamar at Oklahoma State
Ole Miss at Texas
Alabama at Texas A&M
UCLA at Nebraska
Purdue at Notre Dame

Question: You're starting a pro football franchise and can draft any player in his prime in NFL history. Who do you take and why?

Kansas 35, Rice 27
Oklahoma 41, Tulsa 21
West Virginia 42, Georgia State 13
Iowa 20, Iowa State 14
Kansas State 47, UMass 10
Oklahoma State 56, Lamar 7
Texas 23, Ole Miss 19
Alabama 30, Texas A&M 20
Nebraska 33, UCLA 31
Notre Dame 35, Purdue 9

Answer: You know the whole quarterback run thing that has swept over the NFL in recent years thanks to guys like Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton? Yeah, John Elway did that. OK, so maybe Elway was not the smoothest man on the move and maybe he did not run the zone read, but he did run. And he did win. A lot.

Former Denver Broncos great John Elway.

Former Denver Broncos great John Elway. by Matt Tait

The two-time Super Bowl champion, who capped his sensational Denver Broncos career by winning MVP honors at Super Bowl XXXIII before riding off into the sunset, is second all-time in career rushes by a quarterback, one tote behind former Phily QB Randall Cunningham. He also threw a ball so hard that his receivers had a name for the little indention the tip of the football made on their bodies when it hit them — The Elway Cross — and was as competitive a player as the NFL has ever seen. Remember his helicopter run and dive that set up a crucial touchdown in Super Bowl XXXII?

For a while, before Brett Favre wound up passing him, Elway owned the top spot in the one category that should be listed first on the list of most important statistics for any player — career victories. And if I'm starting a team, I'm picking a guy who knew how to win and did anything and everything within his power to make it happen.

The ultra-athletic Elway, who twice was drafted in the Major League Baseball draft — first by Kansas City in the 18th round out of high school in 1979 and then again by the New York Yankees in the second round in 1981 — led the Broncos to five Super Bowl berths, two Super Bowl victories (back-to-back, no less) and belongs in every conversation ever had about the greatest quarterback to play the game.

As for my opponent and boss, this is probably the right time to point out that he went 4-1 in the office's NFL picks contest last week and doesn't follow the NFL a lick. He could be tough to catch in the pro picks, but since he does follow college football closely, I'm not too worried about keeping my early lead here.

Rice 31, Kansas 24
Oklahoma 35, Tulsa 10
West Virginia 49, Georgia State 7
Iowa 28, Iowa State 21
Kansas State 42, UMass 7
Oklahoma State 55, Lamar 10
Texas 35, Ole Miss 21
Texas A&M 35, Alabama 31
Nebraska 35, UCLA 31
Notre Dame 35, Purdue 17

Answer: Jim Brown. Normally, I would say a quarterback, but there was nothing normal about Jim Brown, No. 32 for the Cleveland Browns. Retired Lawrence Journal-World editor and columnist Bill Mayer likes Jackie Robinson for his pick as the greatest athlete of all-time and there is a lot to like about that selection, but my vote goes to Brown.

The greatest football player of all-time, Brown also was inducted into the College Lacrosse Hall of Fame, located on the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He was a first-team All-American as a senior and ranked second in the nation in scoring. Many are aware of that, but the amazing thing about Brown's athletic career is how few know of his basketball prowess. Brown led the Syracuse University basketball team in scoring one season.

Brown led the NFL in rushing eight times in nine seasons, averaged more than 100 rushing yards per game and more than five yards per carry. Brown never missed a game because of injury. He was bigger, stronger, faster and had better vision than any other running back in the league. He demoralized opponents in a way no football player had before him or has after him.

I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate you, Matt, on your strong Week 1 performance. For a guy who has to shave three times a day — your 5 o'clock shadow, I'm guessing, arrives at about 11 a.m. — you do a terrific job of keeping up on college football.

Former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown.

Former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown. by Matt Tait


What caught my eye at Day 2 of KU football’s fall camp

KU quarterbacks Jake Heaps (right), Michael Cummings and Blake Jablonski work throwing drills during Friday's practice.

KU quarterbacks Jake Heaps (right), Michael Cummings and Blake Jablonski work throwing drills during Friday's practice. by Matt Tait

Day 2 of the Kansas University football program's fall camp has come and gone and I left practice with a couple more early observations.

In keeping with the spirit of yesterday's season-opening blog, let's take a quick look at a few more newcomers today as well as a couple of other interesting tidbits that jumped out at me during the 20 minutes we were out there.

• By far the player who jumped out at me the most today that I did catch yesterday was wide receiver Mark Thomas. Listed at 6-foot, 210 pounds, Thomas is every bit of that. The Nassau Community College graduate has thick, powerful legs and looks like he could do some damage both after the catch and in blocking. They were just doing basic drills against no defense so it's hard to tell how physical Thomas really is. But if he's even half as physical as he appears, he'll be a load for opposing defenses.

• Sticking at wide receiver, I got my first look at Nick Harwell today. He's smaller — at least shorter — than I expected but the roster says 6-1, 193 and we know KU coach Charlie Weis does not fudge on those measurements. Forget physical appearance for a minute, though. Harwell carries himself like the polished and experienced receiver he is. He ran mostly with the second group today — opposite Josh Ford — and he had great bounce, which led me to believe that he's not going to let the fact that he can't play this year keep him from getting better and helping the Jayhawks.

• Coach Weis told me on Wednesday not to make a big deal out of the fact that offensive tackle Zach Fondal (again, pronounced Fawn-Doll) would spend some time at left tackle and some time at right tackle throughout camp while the team attempts to build some depth at both positions and waits for the arrival of juco tackle Pearce Slater, who should be in camp tomorrow. So I won't. But it was worth noting that Fondal ran drills as a right tackl with the No. 1 unit today. Riley Spencer started there yesterday. Not worth making too much out of it. Maybe they're just alternating every other day. But this much is certain; if Fondal wasn't at least someone they thought could compete for that spot you can bet they'd have somebody else in there.

• It'll be interesting to see how long it lasts, but I caught another “Start from the bottom” reference in one of the songs that roared over the speakers at camp today. That's two days of practice and two musical references to KU's position as the predicted cellar-dweller in the Big 12.

• Another musical note: There must have been something wrong with the first song on today's practice playlist because it was all treble and sounded awful. The guy in charge of the music quickly caught in and skipped ahead to the next track, but not before hearing a chorus of boos from the players during stretching.

• I'm always a big fan of checking out who the team leaders are and since captains have not been announced yet the best place to check this out is warm-ups. Which guys go first in sprints or stand in the first line during stretching? The answer? A ton. Ben Heeney, Jake Heaps, Jake Love, Keon Stowers, Ben Goodman, Pat Lewandowski, Cassius Sendish, Justin McCay, Dexter Linton, Taylor Cox, Christian Matthews, Trevor Pardula and Riley Spencer held down the first line. Remember, football fields are pretty wide.

• Finally, I think it's noteworthy that guys are going all out out there so far in camp, even during the simulated offensive snaps the team runs at the beginning of the positional drills period. It would be real easy to jog out to your position or up to the line of scrimmage, but, for the most part, these guys are sprinting to their spots to get lined up. There's been a lot of talk about the defense playing faster, but it looks like that may be a focal point for the offense, too.

More tomorrow.

In case you missed my video from Day 1, check it out:


What caught my eye at Day 1 of KU football’s fall camp

KU coach Charlie Weis (right, in gray sweatshirt) watches the D-Line go through drills during the initial fall practice of the 2013 season on Thursday.

KU coach Charlie Weis (right, in gray sweatshirt) watches the D-Line go through drills during the initial fall practice of the 2013 season on Thursday. by Matt Tait

Seeing how today marked the official beginning of the 2013, I figured I better make my first “What Caught My Eye” blog of the season one that's dedicated to beginners.

We'll have plenty of time to get into some more position-specific stuff and talk about the Jayhawks you already know about, but here's a quick first-look at a few of the newcomers, guys we got to see in a KU uniform for the first time today.

Remember, media members are not allowed to attend the entire practice, just the first 20-30 minutes, so what we see is somewhat limited. But instead of just mailing it in and pretending like it's all the same, I'll spend the month looking for the little things that stand out — at least to me — and I'll try to interpret them and analyze them as best I can.

Here goes.

• First, it's worth pointing out that there was a ton of energy all over the field today. That's to be expected from a first practice — I don't care if it's the first day of middle school football or the first day of NFL training camp — but it's still nice to see, considering that the last time we were invited to practice during the season, we saw a team that always worked hard but lost its bounce week after week, loss after loss. The energy did not just come from the players today, though. Tons of juice from everyone including coaches, managers and anybody else associated with the program.

• As you might have guessed, my first glances went toward defensive tackle Marquel Combs. I wanted to see how he worked, how he moved and how he carried himself. I'd give him high marks in all three areas and the best part was, he looked like he was having fun the entire time. Combs has a chance to impact this team in a bigger way than just about anybody this season and it was good to see him out there in his element.

• On the offensive line, Zach Fondal (pronounced Fawn-doll, I've been told) looks like he could jump out there right now. Great size, good feet, fluid movement. There's no doubt that he has some work to do, both in getting in better shape and in learning how to play D-I football, but the framework appears to be there. Fondal opens camp as the second-string left tackle and he'll work at both left and right tackle throughout camp to give the Jayhawks better depth at both spots.

I know I said this was about beginners today, but this would be a good time to toss in my impressions of left tackle Aslam Sterling. In a word, I'd say, 'Wow.' Not only does he look to be in much, much, much better shape than the guy who started for the Jayhawks last season, he moves like a running back. The coaches have been singing the praises of his transformation for weeks now and after seeing it with my own two eyes I can plainly say that they're not making too much of it. He's a new man. And he looks like he has a chance to be a force.

The new-and-improved Aslam Sterling at Day 1 of KU football fall camp.

The new-and-improved Aslam Sterling at Day 1 of KU football fall camp. by Matt Tait

• Another guy who jumped out at me was linebacker Samson Faifili, who opens camp as a back-up to Jake Love at the Will linebacker spot. Know this about Faifili: If Love holds him off, he'll have earned it and it'll make me think even more of Love than I already do. Faifili is non-stop energy who likes to bounce around the field, talk constantly and elevate the energy level whenever possible. He's easy to spot because he's got that Troy Palamalu hair sticking out of the back of his helmet. Before too long, I'm guessing you'll notice the guy (No. 51) for something other than his hair.

• Just because we can, let's throw Jake Heaps into the “new” grouping. After all, he is new as a starter on this squad. I've seen him plenty of times now, both in practice and in game-type settings, but I still walk away impressed every time. The ball just zips off his hand. We talked with him a little earlier today and he said he wasn't going to change anything about how he does things now that camp has started. The only change you might see is a louder, more energized, more excited guy in the No. 9 jersey. He's been waiting a long time for a chance to get back out there.

• Here's another one that's in that quasi-new category. Remember former defensive lineman Max Onyegbule? He's back with the program in a coaching role and, from the looks of things today, he'll help a lot. He's young enough to relate to these guys and spent most of the stretching portion of the practice bouncing in the faces of his D-Linemen. Any guesses on the guy who got the most attention from Max? Yep. Combs.

New KU assistant Max Onyegbule tries to hype up KU defensive lineman Marquel Combs during stretching at the first practice of the 2013 fall camp Thursday.

New KU assistant Max Onyegbule tries to hype up KU defensive lineman Marquel Combs during stretching at the first practice of the 2013 fall camp Thursday. by Matt Tait

• Finally, one quirky thing I thought was funny came when the Coach Weis song of the day came on. Yes, they're still doing it with the second song of each practice and, yes, it sounds like it's still going to be Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi every day. Today's song was Springsteen's “Born to Run” but when it came on, even the players went nuts. I never saw that last year. Like I said, there was a lot of energy out there today and nothing showed that more than a bunch of 18-20 year-olds getting fired up about a song by the Boss. One other musical mention came four or five songs in, when a track by Drake filled the air. It's name? “Started from the Bottom.” It's hook? “Started form the bottom, now we here.” Sounds like a decent way for the KU football program to kick off the 2013 season.

More to come tomorrow. See you then.

Check back with throughout the afternoon for more from practice, as both Jesse Newell and I got some video from the first day.


Jayhawks facing long odds yet again during upcoming football season

As the beginning of fall camp draws near and preseason predictions pop up just about everywhere you look, the Kansas University football program continues to see the odds of a decent season stacked against it.

Earlier today, I received an email from the folks at with the updated odds on each school's chances of winning its respective conference this season.

Not surprisingly, KU was the biggest of the long shots in the Big 12, at 100-1. If you scroll through the rest of the conferences you'll see that they capped the longest odds at 100-1, which I suppose makes sense for the oddsmakers but seems a little off from where I sit.

Don't get me wrong here; I think KU will be a much improved team in 2013 and I'm fully expecting the Jayhawks to win a Big 12 game or two. But if I'm putting down any money on the Jayhawks to win the entire conference, I'd sure like to see my payout be greater than 100-1 if they actually pulled it off.

For the record, I'm not betting on KU or anyone else to win the Big 12 this season, but I did pick Texas on my preseason ballot.

Inside the program, KU coach Charlie Weis and his staff and players will continue to use things like this as motivation. They know that nobody outside of the walls of their football complex believes KU will be much more competitive this season in the conference than they have been in the past few.

But they also believe — even if they aren't saying it — that those people will be wrong.

As you know, KU was picked to finish 10th in the 10-team Big 12 by the media. And most of the preseason college football magazines I've scanned have the Jayhawks slotted in the cellar, as well.

But I have heard, oh-so-quietly, from a few people out there who are willing to say that KU will be the surprise team in the Big 12 this season. What that means is not exactly clear. By calling them the "surprise team" they could be saying that most people expect them to win zero games and they see them winning 3 or 4. They could also be calling them a surprise team because they believe they can finish in the top half of the league. Who knows?

The good news here is that, a week from tomorrow, we'll begin the quest to finding out, as KU's fall camp opens and the season officially gets under way.

In the meantime, here's a look at the rest of those odds in the other major conferences.

Odds to win the 2013-2014 Big 12 Conference
Oklahoma State 5/2
Texas 5/2
Oklahoma 3/1
TCU 15/4
Baylor 12/1
Kansas State 12/1
Texas Tech 25/1
West Virginia 25/1
Iowa State 40/1
Kansas 100/1

Odds to win the 2013-2014 American Athletic Conference
Louisville 4/7
Cincinnati 4/1
Rutgers 4/1
UCF 15/2
SMU 25/1
Connecticut 33/1
South Florida 33/1
Houston 50/1
Memphis 66/1
Temple 75/1

Odds to win the 2013-2014 Atlantic Coast Conference
Clemson 19/10
Florida State 5/2
Miami 7/2
Virginia Tech 15/2
North Carolina 8/1
Georgia Tech 12/1
Pittsburgh 33/1
Virginia 33/1
North Carolina State 50/1
Maryland 66/1
Syracuse 66/1
Boston College 75/1
Duke 100/1
Wake Forest 100/1

Odds to win the 2013-2014 Big Ten Conference
Ohio State 5/6
Michigan 4/1
Nebraska 13/2
Michigan State 15/2
Wisconsin 15/2
Northwestern 10/1
Iowa 33/1
Indiana 50/1
Minnesota 66/1
Purdue 75/1
Illinois 100/1

Odds to win the 2013-2014 Mountain West Conference
Boise State 7/5
Fresno State 2/1
Utah State 11/2
San Diego State 13/2
San Jose State 10/1
Colorado State 33/1
Nevada 33/1
Air Force 40/1
Hawaii 40/1
Wyoming 40/1
New Mexico 100/1
UNLV 100/1

Odds to win the 2013-2014 Pac-12 Conference
Oregon 7/4
Stanford 9/2
USC 5/1
Arizona 15/2
UCLA 15/2
Arizona State 9/1
Oregon State 10/1
Washington 12/1
Utah 28/1
California 50/1
Washington State 50/1
Colorado 100/1

Odds to win the 2013-2014 Southeastern Conference
Alabama 1/1
Georgia 7/2
South Carolina 9/2
Texas A&M 15/2
Florida 9/1
LSU 9/1
Ole Miss 33/1
Tennessee 50/1
Vanderbilt 50/1
Missouri 66/1
Arkansas 75/1
Auburn 75/1
Mississippi State 75/1
Kentucky 100/1

Odds to win the 2013-2014 Mid American Conference
Northern Illinois 13/10
Bowling Green 7/2
Ball State 5/1
Ohio 15/2
Kent State 15/2
Toledo 10/1
Buffalo 12/1
Miami-Ohio 20/1
Western Michigan 33/1
Central Michigan 40/1
Eastern Michigan 75/1
Massachusetts 75/1
Akron 75/1

Odds to win the 2013-2014 Conference USA
Tulsa 2/1
East Carolina 15/4
Marshall 15/4
Rice 5/1
Middle Tennessee 12/1
UAB 15/1
Louisiana Tech 15/1
North Texas 20/1
Southern Miss 20/1
UTEP 25/1
Florida Atlantic 28/1
Tulane 33/1
Florida International 33/1
UTSA 66/1


Annual KU football coaching clinic mixes good entertainment with wealth of knowledge and coaching advice

The Kansas University football program wrapped up its annual coaching clinic on Saturday with the back end of a two-day clinic that drew dozens of college and high school coaches from around the area and focused on everything from X's and O's to the way KU coach Charlie Weis and his staff run the program.

The clinic was structured in a way that allowed every coach that attended a chance to interact with KU's coaching staff in small groups and also allowed time for the coaches to give presentations on a variety of topics that focused on their areas of expertise.

Defensive coordinator Dave Campo talked coverage concepts. Recruiting coordinator Rob Ianello shared with the coaches ways for them to help their athletes get recruited. And so on and so on.

All of the coaches who spoke at the event showed genuine enthusiasm and did not mail it in in any way. In fact, several of them seemed legitimately bummed when the time ran out on their Saturday sessions. Here are but a few of the more interesting and/or entertaining points:

• Weis kicked things off bright and early Saturday morning with a brief overview of who he was, where he came from and where he was headed. His message was simple and he repeated it often: “You have to change with the times and be able to adapt you to your personnel not your personnel to you. It's a big difference, fellas.”

Weis, who emphasized a football coach's role as a teacher, said he first learned that extremely important lesson from the first coach who ever hired him in Morristown, N.J.

“When I understood that football is nothing other than the subject you teach, that's when I really became a football coach,” Weis said.

• Linebackers coach Clint Bowen, who diagramed run fits and discussed them in terms of concepts the way Campo described Read, Mix and Cloud coverage concepts, shared with the coaches in attendance some words of wisdom he first heard from former KU defensive coordinator Bill Young.

“The more times you can say always and never the better chance you have,” Bowen said.

Most of the material covered by both Campo and Bowen focused on generalizing your defense and the buzz words within it to make it as easy as possible to adjust quickly from one look to another.

• Offensive line coach Tim Grunhard, in wrapping up his session, made a genuine plea to the coaches in attendance to come up and hang out in the summer from time to time. Grunhard, who coached for six years at Bishop Miege High, said he never got the feeling during that stretch that KU's coaching staff reached out to the prep community, and he's proud to be part of a staff that values that and sees its importance.

• Strength and conditioning coach Scott Holsopple may have stolen the show by talking with great enthusiasm about the ins and outs of his job and laying out not only his personal philosophies about strength training but also outlining a year in the life of the KU football program. He talked fast and covered everything, from what the Jayhawks do and how often they do it during spring, the offseason and in season to what they do on a daily basis and why it's important.

At the end of Holsopple's talk, which went 10-15 minutes longer than scheduled, several coaches in attendance were so fired up that they turned to one another and simply said, “Let's go get a workout in.”

Perhaps the best part of Holsopple's session was not the behind-the-scenes look at how KU football operates, but the way he tailored his talking points to what could best help the coaches in attendance. Throughout the hour-long Q&A, Holsopple kept going back to the fact that he wanted this to be worth these guys' time and wanted to help them get as much out of it as they could, stuff that they could learn and take back to their programs and utilize.

• Friday night's portion of the clinic included two guest speakers, legendary Florida high school coach George Smith and Smith Center, Kan., high school coach Roger Barta. Before the room broke up into buzz sessions by positions, the two coaching giants held court on everything from their humble beginnings in the business to detailed

More than a couple of coaches, including Campo, told me Saturday that the hour-long session run by those two guys was as cool a moment as they had enjoyed in coaching in a long time.

• In addition to the individual time with KU's coaching staff, the coaches at the clinic were invited to watch Friday's regular practice and a 90-play scrimmage on Saturday.


What caught my eye at Tuesday’s practice: April 2

Tuesday's KU football practice was open to the media for the first time this spring.

Tuesday's KU football practice was open to the media for the first time this spring. by Matt Tait

Tuesday marked the first practice of the spring that was open to the media and instead of the usual 20 minutes of stretching and warm-ups, KU coach Charlie Weis opened the door and pulled back the curtain for the entire hour-and-40-minute session.

A good chunk near the end was spent on special teams, but, with this team, even that was an area worth watching.

With that in mind, here's the first (and maybe only) edition of “What Caught My Eye” from spring drills. Grab a chair and get comfortable.

• New year, new leaders. In addition to the bounce in their step and hope in the air (none of that was there during the final few weeks of the 2012 season), it's always interesting to see what a new team looks like during spring drills. Who steps up and leads. Who is most vocal? Who leads by example? All of that and more is easy to spot during an open practice. But the easiest way to find out who the leaders are is to watch the stretching lines. Usually the guys closest to coach Holsopple are the biggest leaders and, on Tuesday at least, that seemed to hold true. The first line included quarterback Jake Heaps, linebacker Ben Heeney and running back James Sims. A couple of surprises on the first line included Keba Agostinho, Randall Dent, Dexter Linton, Jacorey Shepherd and Ron Doherty. A few of those guys are seniors, but a few are not. Nothing earth-shattering there but it was the first thing that jumped out.

• The Coach Weis song of the day seems to be back, at least for now, and today, the practice DJ stacked a Bruce Springsteen song on top of a Bon Jovi song. Talk about buttering up the head coach.

• Darius Willis, who now wears No. 52, looks substantially bigger than I ever remember him being. Willis, whom Weis said recently is pushing Heeney for first-string reps at middle linebacker, looks mobile, physical and ready for a bigger role again. In short, he's everything I thought he would be when he first arrived from Buffalo.

• One of my favorite drills of the day was a drill in which five receivers ran different routes on the same play, with each one receiving a ball at the same moment. The drill was made possible by the fact that all three KU quarterbacks — Heaps, Michael Cummings and Blake Jablonski — along with QB coach Ron Powlus and one of the managers dropped back and threw to a designated guy. While this unfolded for nearly 10 minutes, Coach Weis sat in a golf cart in the end zone and coached both the receivers and the quarterbacks. The way the receivers and running backs ran routes at different depths reminded me of the fountains at the Belagio in Las Vegas dancing to the music.

• Speaking of routes, I thought it was very cool to see the different ways Tony Pierson was used. I don't think for a second that we saw even one-fifth of what KU will ask of Pierson this season, but what we did see was the dynamic junior speed back running routes all over the field. Short. Long. Seam. Post. Corner. If he and Heaps can develop some chemistry, he'll be a nightmare for opposing defenses this fall.

KU running back Tony Pierson takes a handoff from Charlie Weis Jr., during Tuesday's practice at Memorial Stadium.

KU running back Tony Pierson takes a handoff from Charlie Weis Jr., during Tuesday's practice at Memorial Stadium. by Matt Tait

• Another dude we've heard about who truly has gotten bigger is red-shirt freshman tight end Jordan Smith. The guy's lower body looks like a tank. Didn't watch him a ton in route-running and pass-catching drills, but he's bulked up, no question about it.

• We didn't get to see much of the offensive or defensive lines during live action, so I'll stick with the linebackers and secondary. The first string looked like this: Courtney Arnick, Heeney and Jake Love at linebacker, with Shepherd and Cassius Sendish at corner and Greg Allen and Dexter Linton at safety. When the team went to its nickel package, Dexter McDonald checked in at nickel back. When they went dime, Allen, Linton, Shepherd, McDonald, Sendish, Tevin Shaw, Willis and Heeney were all out there.

• Remember that talk of accountability that we heard from these guys at the start of spring drills? It's legit. I heard more guys calling out other guys today than I can remember all year last year. Nothing major and nothing nasty. Just guys yelling at other guys after a dropped pass or for jogging instead of sprinting. No bad blood, no whining, just players responding to a little push from another teammate. Pretty cool to see, really.

• One of the most exciting sessions of the day was the one-on-ones, where wideouts or running backs lined up against a defensive backs and ran routes. Overall, the offense seemed to get the better of the defense during this one. By my count, the offensive player got the best of the defense 19 out of 31 times. That included nine of the first 10, though, so the DBs made a decent comeback late in the drill.

• Got my first look at new defensive backs coach Scott Vestal in action. He's intense. The guy really has a motor and he has a set of lungs to match. Really like his style and passion.

• We saw some pretty extensive special teams work and, of all the return men, Tre' Parmalee and JaCorey Shepherd stood out as the most impressive. Both had multiple long returns and looked incredibly shifty no matter where they were on the field.

• Speaking of special teams, it was cool to see the punting and kickoff drills because that gave us a good look at new kicker Trevor Pardula. I know it was just one practice, but I'd be shocked if Pardula didn't have both jobs locked up already. He's solid and consistent on kickoffs — something that even teammates paid attention to and responded with, 'We need that,' — and he can really boom his punts. On a couple of occasions, Pardula's punts inspired Weis to say the following: “Woo Hoo Hoo Hoo.” Huge upgrade.

• As for field goal kicking, it appears there's still some work to be done there. Pardula was decent and veteran Ron Doherty had his moments, but nobody stood out the way Pardula did in the other aspects of the kicking game. That's not all bad news. Remember, Hutch Juco walk-on Michael Mesh is still coming this summer and he should have a good shot of winning the job.

• Pardula did deliver when it counted, connecting on a 38 yarder to close practice. Had he missed it, the team would have run. Instead, they celebrated. Want another sign of progress? Last year, this was the drill that Weis had his team do over again because it didn't celebrate the made kick properly. No such problem Tuesday.


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