Why there may be hope yet for beleaguered Kansas football
Even though it has been more than six years since the Jayhawks last won a road game and almost a full year since the team won any game, there is some reason for optimism around Kansas football these days.
The Jayhawks (0-6) gave a potent Texas Tech team all it could handle last week in Lawrence before losing 30-20. KU’s young squad battled out of a 20-0 halftime hole and narrowed the gap to 23-20 before losing. It’s still a loss, but having gotten to observe the young Jayhawks up close while doing the game for FS1, I was impressed by how hard the team played, showing all sorts of grit and energy while down 20 and capitalizing on any little thing that could possibly be construed as having gone their way
First-year coach David Beaty came from Texas A&M and took over a dismal situation from Charlie Weis, who was canned at midseason after a short but disastrous run in Lawrence. The Jayhawks start four true freshmen on offense, including QB Ryan Willis, who was very impressive against Tech, throwing for 330 yards while going 35-of-50.
The 6-4, 210-pound Willis actually committed to the old KU staff. When Beaty got hired, he wanted to sign another QB. Willis told him, "You can go recruit three or four of ’em, and I’ll beat them all out." That swagger — along with what Jayhawks coaches describe as his "NFL arm" — bode well for the future. Willis got his first start earlier this month against Baylor of all teams, and his coaches liked what they saw.
"Best thing for me about Ryan the QB is how he handles the adversity," Beaty told FOX Sports last week.
Willis can grow up in this KU system with two classmates, Steven Sims Jr. and Jeremiah Booker, a pair of true freshmen receivers who were both on A&M’s recruiting radar. Sims is the most dynamic player on the KU team, while the 6-3, 195-pound Booker is a big target with strong hands from College Station. Those two combined for 12 catches against Tech.
In all, though, it’s a roster with a lot of holes and a glaring lack of impact guys. KU has just 67 players (including all of their freshmen they just signed) on scholarship and 47 walk-ons.
Perhaps the biggest reason for hope is Beaty’s own rep for evaluating and recruiting talent. The former Texas high school coach once had Seth Russell committed to KU when he was an assistant years ago. Beaty didn’t get kept on staff by new coach Turner Gill, and Russell signed with Baylor, where he’s blossomed into a star. Beaty also recruited Driphus Jackson to Rice, where he’s been a standout QB for the Owls. At A&M, Beaty helped recruit five of the Aggies’ starters, including bookend DEs Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall along with WR Josh Reynolds and DBs Devante Harris and Armani Watts.
So far KU has 10 commits for 2016, including Chris Hughes, one of the best O-linemen in the state of Texas, a guy with offers from Texas Tech and some Pac-12 schools. Hughes visited Lawrence two weeks ago, saw the Jayhawks get blown out by Baylor and still committed to KU after his trip.
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His new book, “The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.