Notebook: Neal shines following award snub

photo by: Carter Skaggs/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP

Kansas running back Devin Neal, right, pats wide receiver Doug Emilien's helmet after Neal scored a touchdown against Cincinnati during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati — Cincinnati coach Scott Satterfield called Kansas running back Devin Neal “very impressive” this week, and defensive end Jowon Briggs said Neal “gets downhill fast, when he gets into open space he has good breakaway speed, he’s a very patient back” — so clearly Neal has garnered the respect of his Big 12 Conference foes.

It hasn’t quite resonated on a national scale. Neal, a junior who entered Saturday having already rushed for 1,103 yards and 13 touchdowns thus far this season while averaging 6.4 yards per carry, was not named a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award given to the nation’s best running back.

The list of 10 semifinalists includes four other Big 12 rivals, including Jonathon Brooks of Texas, Tahj Brooks of Texas Tech, Ollie Gordon II of Oklahoma State and RJ Harvey of UCF.

Neal reacted to the news on X with three shrug emojis as teammates Cobee Bryant and Dominick Puni and a slew of aggrieved KU fans responded with incredulity. Linebacker Rich Miller wrote that the non-selection was “all the motivation you need.”

Neal added to his resume with 106 yards and two more touchdowns on just 10 carries in the win over Cincinnati, and he will have another chance to prove his mettle before the end of the season when KU plays in a bowl game next month.

Hall of Famer

Michael Painter, who serves as the Kansas director of football operations, is in Cincinnati’s James P. Kelly Athletics Hall of Fame. Not as an individual, but as a member of the 2009 football team under Brian Kelly that went 12-0 in the regular season and featured 29 players who would go on to play professionally.

Painter was a graduate assistant on that squad and so entered the hall of fame in 2019 alongside the likes of Kelly, quarterback Zach Collaros, wide receiver Mardy Gilyard and of course the Kelce brothers, Jason and Travis.

Painter worked under Kelly again at Notre Dame, then spent time at Minot State, UMass, UConn and Western Carolina in a variety of on- and off-field capacities before linking up with Lance Leipold at Buffalo. He was then one of the many staffers who followed Leipold to KU.

“One of the best compliments you can pay a coach is how long the people around him stay with him,” Painter said on a bye-week edition of “Hawk Talk” last month.

His role as director of football operations effectively centers on managing the logistics of everything surrounding the football program and tailoring them to Leipold’s vision.

“He knows what it should look like when our players walk in the building in the morning, when we get on a bus and travel on a road trip, when we take the field, every part that touches our team, he knows what it should look like,” Painter said, “and then he just challenges his staff to go out and execute that plan for him.”

Three’s a crowd

Leipold said in his press conference Monday that he wanted to know how many Football Bowl Subdivision teams have had to start three different quarterbacks this season — a fate that has befallen KU thanks to injuries to Jalon Daniels and Jason Bean, which forced freshman Cole Ballard into action.

Well, the answer entering this week of action was a dozen. KU was one of 12 schools to have started at least three quarterbacks this season, as Navy and Arizona State led the nation with four each.

Bean returned to action Saturday in Cincinnati following his head injury suffered two weeks prior against Texas Tech. His return allowed Ballard to increase his chances of redshirting, as he has already played four games. It’s not clear yet whether the NCAA will issue another blanket waiver allowing redshirts to play in bowl games, as it did last year, in case Ballard might be needed in the postseason.

This and that

Kansas played three of the four new additions to the Big 12 for the 2023 season — all but Houston, which it had recently faced prior to the Cougars’ change in conference membership. With four more schools joining the league next year, KU will take on Houston and Colorado at home and Arizona State on the road in 2024, then Utah at home and Arizona on the road in 2025. By then it will again have played every conference foe.

Cincinnati hosted its Senior Day Saturday, bidding farewell to a group including players who, under former coach Luke Fickell, played in two New Year’s Six bowl games (including a College Football Playoff semifinal) and experienced some of the most successful seasons in Group of Five history.


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