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Jayhawks try to remain focused on this opener, not the past

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, August 31, 2012, at 6:02 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Sep. 1, 2012, at 8:05 a.m.

South Dakota State at Kansas

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium, Lawrence

Radio: KFH, 1240-AM, 98.7-FM

TV: KMTW, Ch. 6

Three storylines to watch

1. KU’s retooled defensive line — including defensive end Josh Williams, a Nebraska transfer — should be unleashed against South Dakota State, which will likely start backup QB Eric Kline in place of injured starter Austin Sumner.

2. KU RB Tony Pierson will likely get the majority of the touches, but juco transfer Taylor Cox will make his debut in the No. 2 spot after a strong fall camp. Can Cox make up for the absence of suspended starter James Sims?

3. There are newcomers everywhere, from Dayne Crist under center, to 360-pound Aslam Sterling at right guard, to juco transfer Jordan Tavai at nose tackle, to Notre Dame transfer Mike Ragone at tight end. Which player will stand out most in his Jayhawk debut?

— September day in Lawrence. New coach brings in a fresh attitude. The optimism bubbling over as a team from the Dakotas enters Memorial Stadium for the season opener.

This, of course, will be the scene today when Kansas opens the Charlie Weis era against South Dakota State. But if this all feels eerily familiar, it’s because, well, it all happened two years ago.

You remember that day, right? The Jayhawks and new coach Turner Gill went through an agonizing football initiation in a 6-3 loss to North Dakota State. Unfortunately, it was a tremendous display of foreshadowing. But for Weis, it’s been an easy motivational tool as he prepares to coach his KU opener.

“It’s definitely been brought up,” senior defensive Toben Opurum said.

“I think they’re well aware of that,” Weis said. “I’m always jabbing them about a whole bunch of things.”

If Gill provided the perfect template on how not to introduce yourself to a fan base, Weis has his own personal ideas about how he’d like to start things off.

This is a beaten-down program. A victory would be nice. A statement performance would be better.

“It’s been a little while here since we came, and in the first game of the year, we had a very convincing performance,” Weis said. “And that’s what my intent is in the opening game.”

In this case, “a little while” is really only 2009, when KU opened with a 49-3 thumping of Northern Colorado, a Championship Subdivision team. But perhaps that speaks to how long the last two years have felt in Lawrence.

Weis has said that he often jokes with basketball coach Bill Self that the fans still love him because he hasn’t coached a game yet. Well, the honeymoon phase ends today.

Weis has voiced his desire to get off to a fast start — “We’d better…,” he said, “or we’re going to have a long year” — and the sight of a team from up north should also serve as a proper reminder: Even in Game 1 against an overmatched team, you can’t take anything for granted.

“I don’t think we’re worried about being overconfident,” Weis said. “We just lost a hundred in a row. … I think we’re just trying to win one.”

Check Rustin Dodd’s Jayhawk Dispatch blog at blogs.kansas.com/jayhawks. Reach him at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com.

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