LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Head coaching debuts at Kansas have rarely been kind.
Only two of the last 10 coaches dating to Bud Moore’s hiring in 1975 have won their opener. Along the way, newbies have been shut out twice, held to a single field goal twice more, and lost to North Dakota State, a powerhouse in the Football Championship Subdivision.
In other words, David Beaty is keenly aware that getting off to a good start Saturday against South Dakota State is crucial for his rebuilding effort.
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Beaty has taken over over a program on its third head coach in five years, with a roster in desperate need of rebuilding and an apathetic fan base that has been more likely to sit at home on fall Saturdays awaiting basketball season than spend time in Memorial Stadium.
”It’s hard to win any Division I football game. It’s hard to do it. You have to put your entire focus on that,” Beaty said. ”This is a very important game for us because it’s the next one, notwithstanding the type of opponent we’re playing.”
The biggest challenge for the Jayhawks this weekend may not be the Jackrabbits, though, so much as the unknown. More than two dozen players are expected to make their Division I debut.
Kansas at least has some experience at quarterback, where Montell Cozart beat out Ryan Willis and Deondre Ford for the starting nod. Cozart started last year before losing the job to Michael Cummings, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in the spring game.
There are some other veterans speckled on the depth chart, but Beaty will be relying heavily on freshmen and transfers as Kansas tries to instill a winning tradition.
”This is a great opportunity for us moving forward,” he said, ”because it’s the beginning of our team’s new beginning here. So it’s great for that. But at the same time we’re in an evaluation this weekend. It’s going to help us moving forward. We’re going to be able to get a little bit better based off the information we get from this game.”
South Dakota State, which coincidentally lost to Kansas in Charlie Weis’s debut in 2012, is coming off its third straight trip to the FCS playoffs. And while the Jayhawks lack experience, the Jackrabbits have plenty on both sides of the ball.
”We don’t change a whole lot, but they changed their whole staff, whole system,” South Dakota State coach John Stiegelmeier said, ”so we’ll have to be ready to go down there and adjust.”
As the Jayhawks and Jackrabbits prepare to meet again, here are some things to remember:
MISSING STARS: While several players are back, graduation still took a heavy toll on South Dakota State. Career passing leader Austin Sumner, three-time 2,000-yard rusher Zach Zenner and Jason Schneider, the second-most prolific receiver in school history, have all departed.
DEPTH CHART: Beaty declined to release a depth chart ahead of his opener, though he said it had less to do with gamesmanship than competition. There were still numerous jobs up for grabs, mostly among backups, and Beaty is hoping things will settle.
CONFIDENCE IN COZART: Poor quarterback play has been among the only constants at Kansas the past few years. Now, with a version of the ”air raid” offense in place, the Jayhawks need Cozart to have confidence that he can handle the responsibility. ”We all do our jobs better when we’re confident,” said offensive coordinator Rob Likens, who also serves as the QB coach.
BIG EXPECTATIONS: South Dakota State is among several Missouri Valley teams picked in the Top 25 of the FCS, raising expectations for a breakthrough year. With heavyweight North Dakota State, Illinois State and Northern Iowa also ranked, a win over Kansas would turn some heads.
BIG EXPECTATIONS, PART 2: Many fans believe Saturday is the Jayhawks’ best chance to get a win this season. But one thing Kansas has going for it is swagger, despite all the losses over the years. ”This season is the foundation of what this program is going to become,” said defensive coordinator Clint Bowen. ”We need to establish what we want that to be.”