After snapping Big 12 losing streak, Jayhawks look to make further progress in 2017
LAWRENCE, Kan. — David Beaty fought back tears last season when Kansas, after enduring a winless and disheartening debut season under him, finally beat lower-level Rhode Island for his first win with the Jayhawks.
If that represented a baby step, a legitimate grown-up step came later in the season.
The Jayhawks had lost 19 straight Big 12 games when Texas rolled into town. They hadn’t beaten the Longhorns since 1938, and trailed 21-10 in the fourth quarter. But a spirited comeback forced overtime, and a field goal gave them just their second conference victory in 29 tries.
It was the highlight of a 2-10 season — and a crucial building block for the future.
“Obviously, we weren’t satisfied last year with our record,” Beaty said, “but we’re extremely encouraged by the progress that our team has made. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I love the energy and enthusiasm this team and our coaching staff shows.”
The rebuilding job Beaty inherited from Charlie Weis was arguably the most challenging in major college football. Kansas was well below scholarship limits, and many of those on scholarship hardly had Division I ability. The result was lopsided losses just about every time they took the field.
But after a few painstaking years on the recruiting trail, where Beaty mined not only deep contacts in talent-rich Texas but also the transfer market, the Jayhawks finally have a legitimate Big 12 roster.
They have legitimate Big 12 expectations now, too. Qualifying for a bowl game tops the list.
“This team knows that it has to earn everything that it gets. Nothing’s going to come easy in this league,” Beaty said. “It never does because it’s one of the finest leagues on the face of the planet. But these guys that we have, they’re committed to getting better every day.”
The biggest question heading into the Jayhawks’ opener Sept. 2 against Southeast Missouri State is who will be under center. Carter Stanley had impressive moments as a freshman last season, but Washington State transfer Peyton Bender has been neck-and-neck with him throughout the offseason.
Making the battle even more interesting is that Stanley and Bender are roommates.
“It’s been really a lot of fun,” Stanley insisted, “and I think obviously it’s amplified since we’ve been in fall camp. Every day you’ve got to bring it, because you know Peyton is a great player and I know he’s going to bring it.”
There are plenty of other competitions across the roster, from running back to wide receiver to the secondary, where five of the top six defensive backs from last season are gone. But whereas that would be reason to cringe in the past, these days it is merely a reason to be intrigued.
That’s another sign of just how much deeper the Jayhawks are this season.
“We have that same drive and passion some guys that went through that (0-12 season), obviously trying to prove a lot of people wrong,” defensive tackle Daniel Wise said. “Coach Beaty does a great job instilling in us that never-quit mentality, not only that we help instill it in each other.”
As the Jayhawks prepare for a new season, here are some of the other story lines:
RUNNING BACK BATTLE
Junior Taylor Martin and sophomore Kahlil Herbert are the front-runners to take over the starting job from the departed Ke’aun Kinner, but there are plenty of others nipping at their heels. Colorado State transfer Deron Thompson, JUCO star Octavious Matthews and three-star freshman Dom Williams have all looked good this offseason.
WHAT ABOUT WIDEOUT
Beaty dismissed veteran LaQuvionte Gonzalez for violating team rules, but there is still plenty of talent at wide receiver. Daylon Charlot is a transfer from Alabama and JUCO transfer Kerr Johnson Jr. has been working into the mix during fall camp.
CALLING THE SHOTS
Which running backs and wide receivers get the ball will be decided in part by Doug Meacham, the Jayhawks’ new offensive coordinator. He was plucked away from TCU to run the “Air Raid” offense that Beaty installed upon his arrival.
BIG BOY BALL
Wise and Dorance Armstrong Jr. give the Jayhawks perhaps the best defensive tackle tandem in the Big 12. They combined for 30 tackles for a loss and 13 sacks last season.
After their opener, Kansas plays Central Michigan before visiting Ohio, where it will try to snap a 40-game road losing streak. Big 12 play begins Sept. 23 at West Virginia.