Here's the second-to-last installment of our series that examines the Jayhawks who stand to have the biggest impact for KU football this fall:
No. 2: Tony Pierson, Senior WR
We know what Pierson is all about and we know how good he can be. The same was true for some of the defensive backs who landed on this list yet they ranked much lower.
The reason is simple: Because of the head injury that plagued him throughout 2013, we have firsthand knowledge of what this team looks like with Pierson and what it looks like without him. The team with No. 3 in uniform has a chance. The team without him, at least in the past, looked lost.
Although KU's struggling offense upgraded in half a dozen different ways during the offseason — new coordinator, more dynamic quarterback, new top receiving option, new-look offensive line, etc. — many of the new pieces in place remain unknowns.
Pierson is not.
We've seen the impact he can have on a game, even when he's been considered one of the few weapons in the KU huddle. We've seen the respect that opposing defensive coordinators have for him and, in turn, to what lengths they've gone to take him out of the game. And we've seen what a game-changing weapon Pierson's straight-line speed can be for the Jayhawks.
The key for Pierson this season will be to stay healthy and to utilize all of that. If he can, he makes everyone else on the field more dangerous and gives the KU offense a chance to not only get creative and crafty but also to succeed.
Whether he's catching balls down the field, over the middle, in the slot or out of the backfield, Pierson could become one heck of a security blanket for sophomore QB Montell Cozart, who will be asked to make a few plays on his own, but, more importantly, will be charged with getting the ball to KU's playmakers as quickly as possible.
Weis said recently that Pierson, like No. 3 choice on this list Nick Harwell, would be a guy that KU's offensive coaches build their gameplan around each week. That's good news for KU and KU fans and all the more reason Pierson staying healthy remains one of the bigger keys to this season.
If there's any justice, Pierson will stay healthy and will have the kind of season he's been building toward since he arrived. There haven't been many Jayhawks, past or present, who have the kind of skill set Pierson possesses. It would be a shame if he were here for four seasons and never got to unleash his full potential.
Perhaps this is the season.
Top 25 Most Crucial Jayhawks for 2014:
The other day I came across a blog from ESPN.com's Big 12 football blogger, David Ubben, that was titled, ”The Big 12's most improved players of 2012.”
Naturally, my first thought was something along the lines of, “Huh, I wonder if any Jayhawks made the list.”
Now usually when that happens the answer is no and, when I read through whatever blog or article it is, I always find myself shaking my head as if to tell myself, of course not.
With this particular instance, the only guy who came to mind that I thought could be on the list was KU running back James Sims. After all, Sims, who had been solid during his first two seasons in town, took a major step forward in 2012 and became one of the best backs in the Big 12. In addition, I remembered that Ubben had put Sims on his first-team all-Big 12 squad so I knew there was a chance that the junior from Irving, Texas, would be on the list.
It turns out there was a Jayhawk on the list but it was not Sims. Evidently, Ubben had enough respect for Sims' game heading into the season that he did not see the need to include him on his list of most improved players.
So who made it? Another KU running back. Sophomore Tony Pierson, who made a big-time jump from serviceable player to serious weapon during his second season in Lawrence.
Here's what Ubben had to say about Pierson:
Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Pierson was a great complement to power back James Sims, and ranked 10th in the league with 760 yards on just 117 carries. While Sims was suspended to begin the season, he had a pair of 120-yard games and topped 200 yards against Texas Tech, but his yards per carry (6.5) gets him on this list. Among the 25 Big 12 backs with at least 75 carries this year, only Seastrunk had a higher yards-per-carry average.
Because of their poor record and a couple of lopsided losses, the Jayhawks don't always get respect from the national pundits, but I've always found Ubben to be a guy who looks beyond the obvious and really tries to identify the best of the best in the league he covers.
I think he nailed it here.
Here's a quick look at a couple other recent Ubben blogs, one that mentions KU and one that doesn't but is still interesting.
The first outlined his top Big 12 storylines of the offseason. A Kansas angle came in at No. 5 on the list.
5.Charlie Weis' juco revolution. Weis has made it clear that he wants quick fixes and to win now at KU. Will his juco recruiting haul do it? Defensive lineman Marquel Combs was the nation's No. 1 juco recruit, and Weis has done a heck of a job selling immediate playing time to these guys. The current recruiting class has 17 juco transfers among 25 commits. Will it pay off, and how will these guys look once they get on campus? Are wins just around the corner?
The second is a quick and interesting look at the number and type of reviews by Big 12 officials during the 2012 season.
Granted, there weren't very many replays — if any — that made much of an impact on KU games this year, but this is still interesting nonetheless. It gives you a real feel for how the conference's referees performed on the field.