Kansas got off to another rough start last season. After struggling to beat SE Missouri State, getting stomped by Duke, and then blanked by Texas two weeks later, the Jayhawks fired head coach Charlie Weis just four games into the season.
KU ended up finishing the season 3-9, and with a big win over Iowa State, the Jayhawks finished one spot above the Cyclones in the standings. It’s the first time Kansas has finished outside of dead last in the league since 2009!
It’s clear the Big 12’s basketball juggernaut is serious about getting better in football, so what’s the outlook for the Jayhawks in 2015?
In December Kansas hired Texas A&M’s receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, David Beaty, as their next head coach. Beaty took over for defensive coordinator Clint Bowen after he was named interim head coach following Weis’ firing. It’s not often that a power five conference school hires a head coach with such little experience, but Beaty is has spent two stints with the Jayhawks before. He was their wide receivers coach from 2008-2009, and returned in 2011 to co-coordinate the Jayhawk offense.
I spoke with David from SB Nation’s Kansas blog, Rock Chalk Talk, and he was kind enough to share his thoughts about the hire and KU’s outlook for 2015. A big thanks to him, and be sure to check out Rock Chalk Talk for more coverage on Kansas!
What’s the feeling around Lawrence about the David Beaty hire?
Kansas football fans have been through too much in recent years to get truly excited about the hire. David Beaty is young, positive and energetic, so there is a general feeling of optimism, but it’s mitigated by the relative inexperience of Beaty and much of his staff. If I had to label the overall feeling, I’d have to say fans are taking the “wait and see” approach.
Before the season starts, Beaty has to figure out who’s going to QB his new uptempo offense. What can you tell us about the competition, and who do you think will have the job come fall?
I’d say the competition is fairly open, but by all accounts the incumbent Michael Cummings is taking the majority of the snaps with the first team this spring. Last year’s opening day starter was Montel Cozart, but he lost the job to Cummings after four games. Offensive Coordinator Rob Likens has really preached the importance of accuracy for QBs in his system, which would seem to rule out the erratic Cozart. UCLA transfer TJ Millweard is also in the mix, but he’s been on campus for over a year and has yet to do anything that would suggest he will take over. Two true freshmen with very different skill sets in Ryan Willis and Carter Stanley will arrive this summer.
At this point, I’d say the job is Cummings’ to lose. However, he’s a senior and this team is unlikely to do much in this rebuilding year anyway, so if Cummings struggles and one of the freshmen really impresses, I think there’s a chance the starting job could change hands as the season goes on just to get a head start in building for the future.
What key position battles, other than QB, are you paying attention to this spring?
With so much roster turnover, we haven’t been seeing position “battles” so much as positions that are completely up for grabs. Every receiver who made a significant contribution to the offense in 2014 is gone, leaving mostly unknown freshmen and sophomores in the mix for major playing time. The running back spot could be an interesting one, and a rare position of strength on this team. DeAndre Mann and Corey Avery both showed some upside last year, and now highly regarded JUCO transfer Ke’Aun Kinner will be pushing both for carries, as well as sixth year senior Taylor Cox, who returns after a medical redshirt year.
Defensively, the starting line is somewhat set, but between the linebackers and secondary convinced, only one starter returns. These will also be positions where the focus is less on the battle for the starting spots and more on whether anyone can emerge as a playmaker for this young, inexperienced, and largely unknown defensive unit.
With real depth concerns in the defensive secondary, how big of a blow was safety Isaiah Johnson’s decision to leave the program?
Losing Johnson really hurt. Like you mentioned, depth in the defensive backfield is a huge concern, so losing anyone would sting. Losing the lone returning starter and senior is crippling. Beaty has mentioned that we’ll probably see a new graduate transfer or two in fall camp, and I’d be willing to bet at least one is a DB after Johnson’s departure.
And finally, I have to ask, what are expectations for the Jayhawks in 2015? What would be a good season, what would be a disaster?
I don’t think anyone expects much in the win column this year. The team went just 3-9 in 2014, and lost virtually every experienced playmaker on the roster. Thanks to Charlie Weis’ JUCO-heavy gamble two years ago, Beaty is rebuilding the roster to the extent that it will take a couple of recruiting cycles just to fill all the available scholarships.
With that in mind, expecting immediate results this year would be unreasonable. Fans will be watching what happens this year with a focus on what it means for the future. After five years of ill-conceived scheming and poor play calling, will Rob Likens’ air raid offense run smoothly? Will the new faces on this year’s team look like they belong on a Big 12 football field? Will the blocked field goals, missed extra points and kickoffs taken to the house by the opponent finally become a thing of the past? It’s sad, but the answers to those questions will define success for the team this year.
For this team, a disaster would be seeing more of the same disorganization and lack of a cohesive plan that plagued Charlie Weis and Turner Gill at Kansas. As far as record is concerned, the bar is set low enough that it would probably take a winless season to be considered a disaster. A good season would simply be a competent effort, in which the team shows competitiveness and obvious improvement. It’s not pretty, but that’s where the program is right now.
– Cover Photo Credit: Ready To Go | Flickr | Camron Flanders