Nine months ago when Mark Mangino departed the University of Kansas so too did most of the pieces that took the Kansas Jayhawks to an Orange Bowl championship and back to back bowl games for the first time in the schools history. Gone are Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier and Darrell Stuckey. In their place a host of unknowns, a new coach and a team that Jayhawk fans have been speculating and pondering over throughout the offseason.
Saturday all that changes. When the Jayhawks take the field against North Dakota State the waiting game is over. How will Kale Pick handle replacing a Jayhawk great? Who will handle the running back duties and how much more of a focus will the running game actually be? Can the Kansas defense improve or are the depth challenges just too big?
Saturday Kansas has the opportunity to begin to answer those questions and establish the identity of Kansas football going forward. While the result and final score when playing a FCS school might not tell much about the ultimate outcome of the season, it will present the first glance at what Kansas can expect from a Turner Gill led team.
A year ago, Kansas was a pass happy team that wanted to outscore opponents, keep the pace of the game moving and spread the ball around. The overwhelming feeling is that there will be a change to an extent in this philosophy.
Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long and Gill have both talked about establishing a running attack. One back, multiple backs, that isn't a concern at this point. What is a concern, is committing to the running game, controlling the line of scrimmage, controlling the clock and being a more balanced football team in general.
What does that look like? Formations, play calling, personnel and packages all enter into the equation and the questions swirling around the fanbase.
On the defensive side of the ball coordinator Carl Torbush talks about creating turnovers with an attacking mentality. Since that Orange Bowl season and the departure of Bill Young, Kansas has been doing much more reacting as opposed to forcing the issue. With little in the way of depth on the defensive line and at linebacker this will prove a pretty substantial challenge.
Torbush also talks about manufacturing depth through rotation and creating pressure by blitzing. Most Kansas fans have welcomed the talk of change, but North Dakota State presents the first chance to see if the Jayhawks can actually accomplish that.
Saturday marks the beginning of a new era and in a strange way a fresh start for a program that just two years ago was achieving new heights. Saturday Kansas will seek to put the final stamp on the story of a program revived only to stumble in a big way. Saturday Kansas starts a new story. Turner Gill brings a new energy, a different approach and at least based on the early talk, a new identity on the field. Establishing that identity and showing fans what they can expect is the opportunity sitting out in front of the players and coaches on Saturday and it's an opportunity that you get the sense they've been waiting for since December 12th 2009.