LAWRENCE — In Charlie Weis’ first season at Kansas, the Jayhawks might as well be college football’s version of the Rorschach Test — the famed inkblot exam where subjects are shown a series of amorphous and vague figures and asked for their interpretation.
On Saturday afternoon, Kansas played competently for nearly four quarters before letting Texas snatch a 21-17 victory in the final minutes. Now it’s time for the test. What did you see? Some more first-year progress under Weis … or a 1-7 team that’s predestined to its old losing ways.
On Monday morning, a form of this question was offered to Texas coach Mack Brown, a Big 12 patriarch who almost left Lawrence with a resume-staining loss on Saturday. Brown says KU is improved this season — better coaches and better schemes. And while it’s easy to see this as some calculated coachspeak after almost losing to Kansas, Brown’s seal of approval must count for something.
“They’re gonna beat somebody at home, for sure,” Brown said on Monday.
Fair enough. But Kansas’ remaining schedule doesn’t give Weis and Kansas much room for error. When KU begins the final third of its schedule with a road game at Baylor on Saturday, the Jayhawks, 0-5 in the Big 12, will begin a stretch of three of four games on the road, with a Nov. 17 matchup against Iowa State the only home date left.
That sets up two of the most intriguing questions for a coach and program that, from an official standpoint, don’t have much left to play for this season. After moments of progress against TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas, can the rebuilding process continue if KU doesn’t have any wins to show for it? And speaking of wins, where exactly can those come from over the next four weeks?
“I think a win helps validate all the hard work and effort they’ve been doing,” Weis said on Tuesday.
From a statistical standpoint, the schedule doesn’t bode well for Kansas, which has been at its best in its three Big 12 home games. In losses to TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas, the Kansas defense allowed an average of 20.3 points while losing by just eight points per game.
Meantime, KU has lost its two Big 12 road games by an average of 42.5 points. We’ll pause to consider the schedule discrepancy: KU played at K-State and Oklahoma. But the schedule should even out over the last month as KU plays host to Iowa State and goes on the road to play Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia.
In some very tangible areas — mostly on defense — the Jayhawks have been slightly improved compared to the team that finished 2-10 and 0-9 in the Big 12 last season. But no matter what you see in the Jayhawks’ eight weeks of inkblots, the standard measurement of college football — wins and losses — says KU could still finish one game worse than last season. That fact, more than anything, is what will likely keep Weis churning over the season’s last four weeks.
“No matter what everyone sees about games getting closer and improvement and everything,” Weis said, “you can’t believe you’ve truly turned a corner until you have something more definite to show for it.”
Sterling in again — Junior Aslam Sterling, who has been in and out of the rotation at both right guard and right tackle this season, will likely start at right tackle this weekend against Baylor, Weis said on Tuesday.
Sterling, a 6-foot-6, 360-pound lineman, has been battling with both Randall Dent at right guard and Gavin Howard at right tackle. Weis said Tuesday that Sterling has continued to improve since arriving to KU as a juco transfer in August.
“When he goes home at Christmas time people aren’t going to recognize him,” Weis said “He’s really changed his body as much as anybody.”
• Weis said Tuesday that senior receiver Daymond Patterson, senior defensive end Toben Opurum and freshman linebacker Jake Love should all be ready to play this Saturday. Patterson missed the last two games with lingering issues from a concussion, while Opurum and Love were both injured late in the game against Texas. Weis said Love passed a concussion test this week, while Opurum had also improved after suffering a leg injury against Texas.
Sophomore Jimmay Mundine claimed the top spot on the depth chart at tight end, replacing senior Mike Ragone.