Time for another Kansas Jayhawks Q&A.
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This won’t surprise anyone, but this answer is going to have an analytical focus to it.
SB Nation’s Bill Connelly has done excellent statistical work with college football for years, and many of his stories have helped us better understand what is important and not so important when it comes to winning games. (For example, did you know penalties don’t correlate well to wins and losses? And that statistically, special teams is more like one-ninth of the game, rather than the often-cited one-third?)
Based on previous college football data, here are three reasons to be optimistic about KU football in 2018.
Connelly has studied this extensively, and the Cliff’s notes version is that experience correlates to winning, with there being a greater effect on defense than offense.
This KU team has returners on both sides. The Jayhawks rank second nationally (only behind Michigan State) when it comes to returning production, and if history is any indicator, that should portend better things in 2018.
Every circumstance is different, obviously. The numbers have played out this way over time because, typically, returning players get bigger, stronger and also become better with more time in their own system.
There’s no guarantee that KU bringing back players will lead to success. But it’s certainly a good place to start.
Another fun Connelly factoid: Each turnover is worth about five points based on the field position lost by an offense and gained by the defense.
One of the best (and easiest) ways to win more games, then? Stop giving other teams five-point head starts with mistakes.
And here’s where it gets interesting for KU. The Jayhawks have been horrendous lately when it comes to turnovers, ranking in the bottom 10 nationally in turnover margin per game each of the past two seasons.
There is some hope here, though. According to national averages for fumble recoveries and the ratio of interceptions to passes broken up, KU would have been expected to have a minus-8.3 turnover margin last season, according to Connelly’s numbers. Instead, the Jayhawks were at minus-17.
In other words ... KU could have a drastic turnaround simply by getting a little help from the random-chance/luck gods. If the Jayhawks actually fix their overall turnover issue on top of that? The Jayhawks would potentially have many, many points they could gain.
3. Offensive improvement
Did you know KU football has ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring average each of the last eight seasons? And that, during a time of explosive offenses in college football, the Jayhawks have never averaged 23 points per game in any of those years?
This actually could be seen as a positive. KU doesn’t have to improve this season from bad to good. It actually could make a big step if it went from “really bad” to “only sorta bad.”
The Jayhawks appear to have three good running backs. They have one of the top receivers in the conference in Steven Sims, and they also have more depth on offensive line following an offseason plan dedicated to bringing in transfers.
The point is, the bar is low for there to be improvement. If KU could become the ninth-best offense in the Big 12 instead of 10th, it could find itself competitive in quite a few more games.
A lot and yes. Our Gary Bedore wrote earlier this summer about how Garrett is working to fix his outside shot, and KU assistant coach Kurtis Townsend has a long list of recent success stories (Frank Mason, Svi Mykhailiuk, etc.) when it comes to players improving their form in Lawrence.
Garrett, remember, also was one of KU’s best players last season when it came to plus-minus production, as his strong defensive skills and instincts often led to the Jayhawks increasing their lead while he was on the court.
One other thing I thought interesting from this past week: Did you see ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla’s tweet?
When putting together his “KU notebook,” Fraschilla had Garrett listed as a starter, with Lagerald Vick coming off the bench. It seems like the most obvious thing to do with this exercise would be to put Vick back in the starting lineup (a spot he secured last season), so having Garrett there makes me think that Fraschilla probably made a call or two before writing down his list.
Things can change, and there are many practices to go before KU’s season opener.
But perhaps Garrett becoming a starter this season isn’t that far-fetched.
For those who missed the news: KU athletic director Jeff Long made his first hire this week, bringing in Mike Vollmar as an assistant athletic director to oversee the football team.
What kind of impact will he have? It’s probably too early to know that, but I think it does speak a bit to Long’s overall vision.
When we met in Long’s office on his first day, he was asked what some of his first priorities were after arriving at KU. I thought it was interesting then that he talked about evaluating whether KU was missing administrative help anywhere. Looking back, he seemed to even be hinting then that a hire like this might be coming soon.
The move seems to be a strong statement about football’s importance, if nothing else. I’ve been told KU shifted around different administrators into this football oversight role last season, and adding a new employee for the role seemingly labels it as more of a priority. Long also seems to be a big proponent of bringing in fresh ideas from outside sources, so Vollmar’s experience at places like Alabama and Michigan should only help KU in those terms as well.
Yes. I love the Elam Ending ... which we discussed with Nick Elam himself on the SportsBeat KC podcast last year.
I love seeing games end where the teams are actually playing basketball. I love the idea of a game-winning shot every contest, as opposed to a walk-on dribbling out of the clock we see all too often in college hoops. I love that when a final shot goes in, teams are free to run on the court to celebrate, as opposed to today’s game where officials play fun police and whisk players to their benches so they can go check out TV monitors.
Here’s a big thing, though: I’m not upset if the buzzer-beater goes away. This seems to be the biggest beef with the Elam Ending, and I can understand why some fans wouldn’t want that to go away.
The reality, though (as Elam has found with his studies), is that those plays just don’t happen as often as we think. And the Elam Ending adds a walkoff-type excitement to normal games that seems to improve the overall end-of-game experience.
The most important thing to me: If a new change leads to the end of the constant barrage of fouling and free throws we see at the end — where four game minutes often take 20 real minutes — then it’s a move worth making.
This should go without saying, but Allen Fieldhouse is great. It’s a must-see because of its history, and also because of the fact that people feel a bit like they’re stepping back in time when they enter the 63-year-old building.
It’s this “old” part of the Fieldhouse, though, that also makes for some issues that can’t be fixed easily. For one, the Fieldhouse is not air conditioned, and that makes it a brutal place to be during the summer and also on mild fall days when KU plays there. The upper concourse also has a shortage of bathroom facilities, but once again, that’s not an issue that can be fixed without a rebuild (which won’t be happening anytime soon).
So I guess I’ll pick something that hypothetically should be able to be fixed: Wi-Fi. I’ve noticed when going to Sporting KC matches or Royals games, part of the improved fan experience has been providing available networks that are easily accessible by fans. From my experience, it’s much more difficult to be on a smartphone or computer at the Fieldhouse, perhaps because of so many people being crammed into a tiny space.
In either case, this seems like one improvement that could be a big boost to overall experience in the future.
Austin’s probably the best overall city, as it has a hip vibe that makes it feel like a larger version of Lawrence.
As far as stadiums go ... I think Baylor’s McLane Stadium is my favorite to go to based on look/feel/environment, while Oklahoma and Iowa State are fun because of the atmosphere created by those fanbases.
And though you didn’t ask, here are five of top restaurants when traveling the Big 12, in no particular order:
Hickory Park (Ames, Iowa) — Known for its barbecue, but be sure to get dessert as well (peanut butter shake for me).
George’s (Waco, Texas) — A Jason King favorite is worth it for the chicken fried steak alone.
The Slow Bone (Dallas, Texas) — Located not far from Dallas Love Airport, this is the best Texas barbecue I’ve found on a Big 12 trip.
Torchy’s Tacos (Austin, Lubbock ... and others) — Best chips and queso I’ve ever had.
Kegler’s Sports Bar (Morgantown, W.Va.) — Good wings and a bowling alley attached to the back, just in case you have extra time to kill (Bedore’s a great bowler too, in case you were wondering).