LAWRENCE – OK, here it comes. Kansas football. First year under David Beaty. A program searching for solid footing after six straight losing seasons.
As we begin the season countdown, here are five important questions facing the Jayhawks:
1. Who will start the season at quarterback?
Is junior Montell Cozart a lock to be under center for the opener? Do freshmen Ryan Willis and Carter Stanley have a chance to push for time early in the season? What about junior T.J. Millweard, the former UCLA transfer? One thing is clear: With senior Michael Cummings out indefinitely with a knee injury, the competition is on.
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2. How rooted is the malaise around the Kansas program?
It’s been a rough four years for Kansas, arguably the worst four-year stretch in program history. On the field, there is not much reason for optimism, either. At least not in the short term. Beaty, though, has been the human personification of a shot of Red Bull (or Screaming Eagle, if you frequent a few Lawrence establishments.) He’s been tireless on social media. He’s been all over the state of Kansas — and the country — meeting KU alumni. He’s rebuilt relationships with high school coaches across the state.
The question: How much will that goodwill help the bottom line? In 2014, the Jayhawks’ average attendance fell to 34,077 fans per home game. If the Jayhawks start slow, the attendance decline may continue.
3. How will Kansas combat an unusual numbers crisis?
The official numbers aren’t in yet, but the Jayhawks could be below 70 scholarship players when the season starts.
Here is a reminder of how Kansas got to this point — including some major attrition in the 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes.
Scholarship players left
Juco recruits left
4. What players will surprise this year?
After finishing 3-9 last season, the Jayhawks must replace players that accounted for 70 percent of their passing yards, 64 percent of their rushing yards and 93 percent of their receiving yards. That’s a lot. So, yes, this is a roster with few proven players. In fact, it might be the least experienced KU roster in recent memory. Here are a few players who might step up this season: Sophomore tight end Ben Johnson; junior cornerback Brandon Stewart; senior safety Fish Smithson; freshman receiver Chase Harrell; and junior defensive end Damani Mosby.
5. What’s a realistic and reasonable win total for Kansas?
OK, let’s see here. Earlier this summer, one sports oddsmaker, Bovada, set Kansas’ over-under for victories at 1.5. If you’re the kind of person who takes the over, you’re likely counting a victory over South Dakota State in the opener and expecting one more victory along the way.
The road to two wins, though, could be difficult. The non-conference season features a home game against a rising Memphis program and a road game at Rutgers. (Remember: Kansas hasn’t won a road game since 2009.) And then there’s the game against South Dakota State. Sports books do not set lines for games between FBS and FCS teams, but in July, a representative from Bovada said Kansas would likely be a 6 1/2-point favorite over South Dakota State if such a line existed. In short: Beaty faces a monumental task in his first year. It starts Sept. 5.