Kansas football is set to enter year two of the Turner Gill era, and many fans are expecting the team to start making strides towards a return to respectability. After all, it wasn't too long ago that Mark Mangino was able to accomplish a similar feat. After suffering through a 2-10 season in 2003, the Jayhawks rebounded to qualify for the Tangerine Bowl in Mangino's second season. Will Turner Gill be able to pull off a similar turnaround from last season's 3-9 finish? The odds are certainly against him.
While Mangino inherited a program that had struggled for several years, he was able to quickly build an offense that made the Jayhawks competitive. Bill Whittemore joined Mangino at Kansas, and quickly established himself as a playmaker at QB. Whittemore had plenty of weapons to work with as well, most notably wide receivers Brandon Rideau, Mark Simmons and Charles Gordon and running backs Clark Green and John Randle. Kansas still struggled defensively, but KU's offense was good enough for the team to win six games - a remarkable turnaround from 2003's 2-10 record.
Unfortunately for Gill, KU doesn't have much to hang its hat on entering the 2011 season. Kansas was awful on offense, defense and special teams last year, and as a result, they did not keep many games close. While Mangino relied on a talented quarterback to lead a potent offense in 2003, Gill and his staff are still searching for someone who is worthy of being the team's starter under center. Kansas will continue to struggle on offense until it finds a good quarterback, and it doesn't appear that is happening anytime soon. Throw in an inexperienced receiving corps and an offensive line that struggled in 2010, and it is hard to believe that Kansas' offense will be a whole lot better next season.
Not only did Mangino have a solid offense at his disposal in 2003, but the schedule made it possible for an average-at-best Kansas team to sneak into a bowl. KU had four winnable non-conference games to start the year, and the Jayhawks ended up winning three of them. In 2011, Kansas opens with McNeese State before facing two teams that made a bowl last year in Georgia Tech and Northern Illinois. The 2003 Big 12 schedule was also kind to the Jayhawks - Kansas defeated two weak opponents in Baylor and Iowa State and knocked off an average Missouri team to get to six wins. In 2011, Kansas doesn't appear have any easy league games on the schedule and the league as a whole is stronger.
The turnaround Mark Mangino accomplished at KU was remarkable, and it is hard to believe that Kansas made a bowl game only one year after a 2003 season in which the Jayhawks finished 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the Big 12. Turner Gill faces an even bigger challenge than Mangino did, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to experience the same success Kansas enjoyed in 2003. Kansas has too many holes and too tough a schedule to crash a bowl, so Gill's breakthrough will likely have to wait until 2012 or later.