University of Kansas

KU Jayhawks Q&A: Les Miles’ antics, Bill Self’s optimism and football expectations

We’re back for another Kansas Jayhawks Q&A.

Thanks for the questions, and a reminder that this is the best way to avoid the paywall while helping support our KU coverage for The Star.

It was definitely a different Les on Monday, which I tried to describe in a story posted earlier this week.

I’m not sure the exact reason for it, but you could be right about Miles settling in at KU. He does seem optimistic about this year’s team, going as far as to say — almost unprompted — that this roster has more talent than the other squads he took over at Oklahoma State and LSU.

That’s a bold statement for sure. The LSU team he inherited in 2005 went 11-2 and won the Peach Bowl, meaning even the most cheerful optimist would have to believe he was using some hyperbole there.

Still ... the wacky ‘Mad Hatter’ that reporters saw Monday was entertaining if nothing else. The video below shows the highlights, which included Miles playfully chiding a reporter for wearing purple and fist-bumping another for asking his fourth question.

The results will have to come at some point obviously. But for now, Miles’ stature and shenanigans appear to creating a bit of interest — both locally and nationally — among folks who previously haven’t cared much about KU football.

Your question is a good one to ask, and for reference, folks can read Self’s full recruiting comments in Gary’s banquet story from Tuesday.

No matter Self’s true thoughts, he would have had to say Tuesday that he felt good about the potential for next season’s roster. Nothing is to be gained from sounding unsure of yourself in front of cameras, and this was one of those instances where Self was likely to say, “The future is bright” no matter if he believed it or not.

But, for the record, I do believe Self this time. I think he is motivated to assemble a better roster, and he sounded more encouraged than I would have thought about the team’s outlook for 2019-20.

Here was the quote that stood out most:

“How many slots do we have open? Six? Seven? That’s if everybody leaves. Everybody is not going to leave. Yeah, I’d say if we need to sign seven this spring, that wouldn’t probably be an ideal situation. You’ve got a chance to be better before the season even starts next year (if Devon Dotson, Udoka Azubuike, Silvio De Sousa decide to stay rather than enter the draft) without adding any recruits. I’m pretty optimistic things will fall in place.”

Self is basically throwing the worst-case scenario out with what he said above: that KU would lose all three of Dotson, Azubuike and De Sousa.

This is also a good time for me to back way off what I said in last week’s Q&A about Azubuike. I said then he was a near-lock to turn pro; that is no longer the case.

Indications now are that Azubuike is seriously considering a return to KU, which is something that was unlikely at best just a week ago. With his hand injury still limiting what he might be able to show in workouts, there’s at least the potential that he sees his best path as returning to Lawrence for one more season to boost his stock.

Either way ... if one of the players above comes back, Self should be able to fill in the periphery with graduate transfers and other incoming freshmen. If two come back, though? We’re probably looking at KU being the clear choice for Big 12 favorite again next season.

KU’s QBs combined to complete just 26 of 62 passes at Saturday’s Late Night Under the Lights, but I wouldn’t be too worried for a few reasons.

1. It’s just one scrimmage setting

2. The throwing conditions weren’t great with gusty winds

3. KU’s presumed starter Thomas MacVittie was 12-for-21, which should carry more weight than other players

4. Miles kept his promise to keep the offense vanilla, with KU not showing any of its run-pass option offense — something that should be a staple in 2019

5. KU’s secondary should be a strength this season and played well Saturday

6. The Jayhawks’ QBs don’t have to produce much to surpass what the team has gotten in the past

For reference, here’s where KU has ranked in ESPN’s Total QBR measure each year since 2010:

YearKU QBR rankNCAA teams


If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now: KU’s football program could take a huge step forward if it just goes from “horrible” to “below-average-ish” at the QB position in 2019.

Great question, and one that would be worth asking him sometime this offseason.

Start with this: Self and his staff deserve lots of credit for how nimble they’ve been. They’ve done a great job of catering to their players over the last two years in particular, which included a few midseason offensive shifts last season.

Honestly, I think Self loved how his team played offensively two years ago when it made the Final Four. He’s talked many times about how that roster — which had plenty of offensive freedom — was fun to coach, as it had outside shooting, aggressive players off the dribble and a big man inside (Azubuike) who became a matchup nightmare with a spaced-out floor.

For a long time, I think Self has considered a stretch 4 the toughest position in college basketball to guard. It would only make sense, then, that he’s begun to have a desire to get the same type of player on his own team.

Self is good enough to be successful offensively with either two bigs or four guards on the court. Given his choice, though, I’d say at this point he’d lean four guards with a dominant 5 man, which was the recipe for one of his best offensive teams two seasons ago.

I appreciate the question because it’s discussing nuance, which I think is important.

KU, over the course of the last decade, hasn’t just lost Big 12 games; it’s been mostly non-competitive. A few wins in 2019 combined with multiple 50-plus-point losses, for example, probably wouldn’t do much to leave fans encouraged about the immediate future of the program.

So only looking at a win-loss record isn’t the way I would do it. But to answer your question ... despite all Miles’ optimism, I’d put the bar at somewhere around 3-9.

The Jayhawks’ early schedule is favorable with home games against Indiana State and Coastal Carolina, but the team will have to replace nearly its entire front seven defensively while hoping that impact newcomers can contribute immediately. That’ll be a lot to ask of rookies going against Big 12 offenses.

If Miles could win the first two games, then, before picking off one in Big 12 play while keeping many of the others close ... I’d consider that a successful Year 1.

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.