Bob Lutz: Saturdays could be nervous times for us all this fall

08/28/2010 12:00 AM

08/28/2010 4:33 AM

Thank you, Daniel Thomas.

Thank you for being there and for bringing some sense of expectation to the college football season in these parts. For being a guy we know and can depend on. For being one of the best running backs in college football and giving hope to a Kansas State fan base that, despite unknowns elsewhere, knows you're there for them.

Because without you, D.T., none of us would have a clue what to expect.

And if that's true at Kansas State, it's doubly true at Kansas. The Jayhawks lost the most productive passer in school history, Todd Reesing, who threw for 11,194 yards and 90 touchdowns — far and away KU records — during his brilliant career.

The Jayhawks lost receivers Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier, who rank 1-2 on the Jayhawks' career list for yards and touchdowns.

And they lost running back Jake Sharp, who despite an injury-plagued senior season still ranks No. 10 on KU's career rushing list.

I'm telling you, I have no idea what to expect from Kansas or Kansas State this season. There are so many balls still in the air, so many new players in new positions. There's a new coach at KU and an old one trying to turn back time at K-State.

The Jayhawks lost their last seven games in 2009 and it — plus an investigation into abuse of his players — cost Mark Mangino his coaching job. Now Turner Gill is trying to find his way with a mostly-new cast of skill-position players who shouldn't even try to mirror their predecessors.

K-State sloshed to a 6-6 record last season and failed to win a road game. The Wildcats never found a rhythm in the passing game and were too reliant on Thomas.

Well, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Thomas, who carried the football 247 times last season and averaged 5.1 yards per carry, might get it shoved into his gut 300 times this season.

Like KU, the Wildcats have turned over the offense to an unproven quarterback. But if Carson Coffman's the starter, at least he started some games for K-State early last season before being replaced by Grant Gregory.

Coffman, though, wasn't effective as the Wildcats struggled for points early. Now he may be getting a second chance. I don't know if that speaks well for Coffman, who was outstanding in K-State's spring game, of if it speaks poorly for the two quarterbacks — Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamur — who so far haven't beaten him out. We'll find out next week when coach Bill Snyder names his starter.

To make matters more interesting, K-State will throw to a new crop of receivers. Senior Aubrey Quarles, who missed last season, has the only recognizable name. For the Wildcats to improve offensively, Brodrick Smith and Chris Harper will have to become familiar names.

Smith is a transfer from Minnesota while Harper, a Wichitan, left Oregon after his freshman season.

There was a time when Harper stubbornly refused to acknowledge he was anything other than a quarterback; now he's on board as a potentially important receiver for the Wildcats.

K-State's quarterbacks won't be asked to do anything fancy. Or will they? We all know Snyder has a few tricks up his sleeve and the versatile Harper could be a sneaky offensive alternative as a runner, pass-catcher or even a thrower.

If Coffman's the QB, another slow start could make him susceptible for another long ride on the bench. Klein (6-foot-5, 233 pounds) and Lamur (6-4, 221) look the quarterback part. Lamur, especially, is a throwback to the kind of mobile, power-running quarterback Snyder loves.

Imagine Lamur, Thomas and Harper wreaking havoc. But there's something holding Lamur back, something Snyder doesn't like.

At Kansas, redshirt freshman Kale Pick — besides having the worst possible surname for a quarterback — gets to replace the most exciting QB in KU history. And he gets to do so without proven skill-position help.

Oh boy.

Angus Quigley, who has been in Lawrence longer than Hallmark, begins his sixth season with the Jayhawks, thanks to a couple of years missed due to injury. Quigley has been moved more than the couch in your living room and finds himself back where he started — at tailback.

The player everyone expected to be the tailback — sophomore Toben Opurum — is a linebacker. When Gill took over as coach, he promised no job was safe. And he's been true to his promise.

It's difficult to imagine Quigley being the solution at tailback, so look for redshirt freshman Deshawn Sands and freshman Brandon Bourbon to be in the mix.

Last season's No. 3 receiver, Johnathan Wilson, moves to No. 1. Junior Daymond Patterson, whom I remember having difficulty catching punts earlier in his KU career, will now be depended upon to catch passes. We'll see. And sophomore Bradley McDougald, whose fast start in 2009 turned into a slow finish, will also be one of Pick's targets.

The most lethal of Pick's weapons might be tight end Tim Biere. But will K-State and KU have enough punch to improve on last season? Are Coffman and Pick long-term solutions, or are they holding down the fort until a better arm arrives?

You can make the case that both teams are in transition periods, even though Snyder is in Year 2 of Phase 2.

Coffman is, at least, a safe quarterback to start with. If Snyder can develop the receiving corps to complement Coffman, Kansas State's offense will be better. There is upside.

KU's Pick gets a chance to show what he can do, which is what Reesing got in 2007 after a couple of cameo appearances the previous season. That worked out pretty well.

But Kansas' offense doesn't have an upside. You don't lose two receivers to the NFL and a quarterback to immortality and even stand your ground.

About Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz has been The Eagle's sports columnist since 1996. A native of Derby, he has worked for the newspaper since 1974 and covered a variety of beats, from high schools to Wichita State to pro sports. If you want to get in good with him, mention the St. Louis Cardinals. Provided they're winning, of course.

Contact Bob at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com

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