Philadelphia, PA – 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: The Jayhawks experienced yet another in a long line of disappointing seasons in 2012, winning just a single game in head coach Charlie Weis' first year at the helm.
Kansas logged a 5-7 record in 2009, but has won a total of six games in the three years since. The hiring of Weis created both excitement and skepticism, and his debut in Lawrence was a successful one as the Jayhawks knocked off FCS foe South Dakota State in last year's season opener, 31-17. Unfortunately, KU would fall in the next 11 games, appearing competitive in some, and completely overwhelmed in others.
The Jayhawks haven't won a Big 12 bout since getting past former conference mate Colorado on Nov. 6, 2010 -- a span of 21 games -- and they are considered by many to be the worst team in the country.
Weis spoke recently about the lack of respect his team receives, which in his estimation is completely justified.
"I told our players and told our coaching staff that, until they start winning some games in the conference, that's just the way it's going to be."
OFFENSE: Not surprisingly, Kansas ranked among the worst teams in the conference and country last season in several offensive categories, but there was a glimmer of hope as the team finished third in the Big 12 and 22nd nationally in rushing (211.7 ypg). The return of 1,000-yard rusher James Sims (218 carries, 1,013 yards, nine TDs) should help bolster that form of attack, but any really success the team has this fall will likely hinge on the development of former BYU Cougar quarterback Jake Heaps.
Kansas had a total of only seven touchdown passes last season, a stat Weis hopes increases dramatically this season. For that to happen though, Heaps will need to play well, as will the receiving corps, which lost last year's top pass catchers Kale Pick and Daymond Patterson (combined 47 receptions, 559 yards, no TDs). Junior Andrew Turzilli (17 receptions, 287 yards) should be more productive, and the wild card in all this could be talented Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay.
The offensive line has a bunch of holes, and it will be interesting to see if senior tackle Aslam Sterling can mentor the slew of new faces that will join him in the rotation.
DEFENSE: Stopping the opposition was a major challenge for the Jayhawks in 2012, as foes averaged 36.1 points and 481.8 total yards per game. Defending both forms of attack proved equally futile, and Weis hopes that a totally revamped unit will perform better this time around.
The one known commodity the KU defense has is junior linebacker Ben Heeney, the team's leading tackler last season whose 112 stops ranked him third in the conference.
A slew of newcomers, more than handful of which were junior college standouts previously, could provide for some moments of excitement, but also some tenser times as they find their footing at the FBS level. One guy in particular to keep an eye on is 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive tackle Marquel Combs, who was considered by some to be the crown jewel of all juco transfers this past offseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Jayhawks' kicking game was horrendous last season, prompting Weis to again reach into the junior college ranks to pluck a pair of talented guys in placekicker Michael Mesh and punter Trevor Pardula, both of whom should be able to stave off the competition and win starting jobs.
As for the return game, there are some speedy guys who could wind up doing a nice job, including the versatile Tony Pierson.
OUTLOOK: Kansas opens in Lawrence against FCS foe South Dakota before heading to Rice and then back home to tangle with Louisiana Tech. The Big 12 slate offers its usual array of significant challenges, and it will be difficult for the Jayhawks to put an end to their lengthy conference losing streak.
Weis believes in his guys, but knows they face an uphill climb, "Obviously, inside closed walls or inside our walls and closed doors, our expectations are much higher than everyone else, but the proof's in the pudding," He continued, "Until we start beating some teams in the Big 12, which is quite a challenge with the ability and talent throughout the league, we're going to be put in the same spot every year."
If Heaps turns out to be the real deal, the running game continues to be an area of strength, and the defense improves enough to make the team more competitive, then upping last year's win total is certainly possible.