Rustin Dodd breaks down the Jayhawks

08/22/2014 7:00 AM

08/22/2014 12:00 PM

In two seasons at Kansas, Charlie Weis has won four football games. The Jayhawks are 1-17 in the Big 12 during that time. The program hasn’t notched a road win since 2009.

You may be familiar with most of these numbers, of course, and the rot inside the Kansas program stretches back nearly five years, well before Weis stepped onto campus in Lawrence.

But in December 2011, when Weis was introduced at Allen Fieldhouse during halftime of a men’s basketball game, he offered the following promise. He was here to clean up a football program, to guide the Jayhawks back to respectability.

“I’m not going to make a promise of how fast,” Weis said then. “But I’ll make a promise that it’s going to happen.”

Respectability, of course, would be a good place to start. But questions remain: After a 3-9 finish last year, is Kansas really in position for a long-awaited breakthrough?

The optimism begins on defense. Senior linebacker Ben Heeney, a Hutchinson native, fronts a veteran unit that made major strides last season. The Jayhawks return at least nine defensive players with starting experience, and the secondary is perhaps Kansas’ most talented unit since 2007, when future NFL talents Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Darrell Stuckey helped KU to the Orange Bowl. Add it up, and this should be the Jayhawks’ best defense (on paper) since the final years of Mark Mangino.

But yes, that offense. In two years, Weis’ offenses have ranked among the worst in the country. (Last year, the Jayhawks were dead last in the Big 12, averaging 15.3 points.) Weis fired himself as offensive coordinator in the offseason, and new offensive coordinator John Reagan has installed a college-style spread system.

Will it lead to better results? Maybe. But sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart is still mostly unproven after getting his feet wet last season. In the end, it’s pretty simple: The Jayhawks need to produce a passable passing game to have a chance to move forward.

Cozart, though, should have more weapons at his disposal. Senior receiver Tony Pierson is healthy again after battling concussions, and transfer receiver Nick Harwell is eligible after sitting out last season. The Jayhawks also added a graduate transfer in Nigel King, a former receiver at Maryland.

And even after losing leading rusher James Sims, the Jayhawks return experienced rushers in seniors Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox, who took a medical redshirt last season.

Questions marks remain, though, especially in the trenches. For the most part, Kansas is still trying to compete with patchwork units on the offensive and defensive lines.

“This is the best we feel by a wide margin about the talent we have here,” Weis said as fall camp began. “But that being said, we’ve done very little to back that up, me included.”

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger says it’s time to show some “momentum” on the field. In other words: It’s time to win more games.

The Jayhawks possess the talent to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big 12, but the schedule could be their undoing. Kansas will travel to face a rising Duke program on Sept. 13, and then there’s a nine-game Big 12 schedule. Put it this way: Unless Kansas can pick off multiple Big 12 victories, Weis could be looking at three victories again.

If that’s the case, the question remains: Where does Kansas go from here?

Reach Rustin Dodd at rdodd@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.

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