The 2012 college football season begins next week, unofficially welcoming in fall in the sports world. Eight Big 12 teams will open their season on Sept. 1, leading off the Labor Day weekend. Baylor, one of the big surprises in the conference last season, finishing third in the league standings behind their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, the No. 1 pick of the Washington Redskins and the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, gets started on Sept. 2 at home against SMU.
Heading into the new season, six conference teams, including West Virginia and TCU, are ranked in the top 25 of the major national preseason polls. Only Oklahoma, however, is ranked in the top 10 in all of the polls. The Sooners are in the No. 4 spot in most of the preseason projections, although Phil Steele's annual College Football Preview issue has OU in the top spot and Sports Illustrated ranked the Sooners fifth.
Today, we will begin a week-long series taking a close look at each of the teams in the Big 12 and how things are shaping up as they get ready to kickoff the new season.
We begin the series close to home with an examination of the two local Big 12 schools, Kansas and Kansas State. Today we are profiling Kansas, and Saturday we will shift the attention an hour's drive west on I-70 to Manhattan, the Little Apple, and Kansas State.
On Sunday, we will look at two more teams, in ascending order, based on their projected order of finish in the final conference standings, then on Monday, we will offer a preseason analysis of two more conference teams. Tuesday through Friday, the spotlight will shift to the top four teams, counting down from No. 4 to the projected No. 1 team and the prohibitive favorite to win the Big 12 football crown come December.
Kansas Jayhawks (2-10, 0-9 in the Big 12 in 2011)
In two seasons under head coach Turner Gill, Kansas won exactly one conference game out of the 17 the Jayhawks played, and to get the lone win they had to come back from a 28-point fourth-quarter deficit against now-departed Colorado. Needless to say, Gill was out after last season's dismal performance, and the new man in the role is former Notre Dame coach and, following that, offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs Charlie Weis.
There are a number of experts that question what kind of success Weis can have turning around the broken down KU football program when he was unsuccessful in doing so at Notre Dame, historically one of the elite brand in college football history and a program with more talent and much greater resources than he will have in Lawrence, Kan.
One of Weis' first actions as the new coach of the Jayhawks was to bring in his own coaches, including former NFL coach Dave Campo, who will have responsibility for the defense, which ranked last among the 120 teams that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision series (formerly referred to as NCAA Division I).
Kansas had equal problems a year ago generating offense. The Hawks were 106th in the country in total offensive production and 95th in scoring.
Weis, who has built his football coaching legacy on directing offenses in both the NFL and at the college level and working with quarterbacks, took care of Kansas' short-term need at quarterback, bringing in Dayne Crist, who he recruited at Notre Dame, who will complete his final year of eligibility as the Jayhawk signal caller.
KU's top returning running back a year ago, junior James Sims, who ran for 727 yards and nine touchdowns, will miss the first three games of the season, the result of a suspension he received for a DUI arrest in the offseason. Sophomore speedster Tony Pierson will be the starter at the running back position while Sims serves his suspension.
Despite the loss of Sims to begin the season, Weis says he feels good about how both the offense and defensive are coming along in preseason practice.
"I'm not supposed to say that when you're coming off a 2-10 season," Weis said, "but I feel pretty good about both of them. I feel pretty good about the running game and the passing game."
As far as the receiving corps Crist will be throwing to this coming season, the Jayhawks have their top two pass receivers back from last season. The diminutive D.J. Breshears led the KU pass receivers in 2011 with 40 catches and an average of 10.9 yards per catch. Converted quarterback Kale Pick caught 34 passes last season. Both are seniors.
The player Weis is really looking to for a big year in receiving, though is senior Daymond Patterson. "He's one of the top guys we have," Weis said about Patterson, who sat out most of last year with an injury. "He's dependable. He gets open. He catches the ball with his hands, not his body. He's been one of the most dependable guys all through camp."
And Weis points out that he likes the depth the team has at the receiver position. He had particular praise for young receivers Chris Omigie, Andrew Truzilli and Tre Parmalee.
Three starters with considerable playing-time experience on the offensive line will help fill the loss of veteran offensive lineman Jeremiah Hatch and Jeff Spikes. Overall, the Jayhawks have seven returning starters on offensive and the same number on the defensive side of the ball.
In talking about the season ahead, which kicks off for the Jayhawks on Sept 1 with a home date against South Dakota State, Weis said, "I think we'd better get off to a fast start or we're going to have a long year.
"I think everyone else wants to look at the 12-game schedule," the KU coach said in answering media question following practice earlier this week. "I have a one game schedule (at this point), and it's South Dakota State. I think that my number one message is take them one at a time and put everything into just playing your best game against South Dakota State, and do not worry about any other team and do not listen to anyone talk about any other team."
It is a good bet that the 2012 Kansas team will be better and likely play with more fire and better consistency under Weis' direction and no-nonsense leadership style, but the reality is, the Jayhawks also face the distinct possibility that their improvement on the field will not be reflected in their won-lost record or their standing against the other Big 12 teams.
It will be another long year for the Jayhawks, and the odds are high they will again end up at the tail end, looking up at the rest of the conference. I see Kansas winning three games this season (South Dakota State, Rice and Iowa State, all home games) and going 1-8 in league play. Projected order of finish: Tenth.
Tomorrow: Kansas State
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