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TGS 2012 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW...KANSAS JAYHAWKS
by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor


In truth, Turner Gill really didn’t get much of a chance at Kansas, but his dismissal after just two seasons underscores the impatience prevalent in college football these days. Just ask incoming HC Charlie Weis (left), who was fired at Notre Dame four years into the new ten-year deal he signed barely halfway into his first season in South Bend. It used to be that incoming coaches were given at least three or four years to implement their rebuilding program. No more. Gill was sent packing (ending up at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University) after just two campaigns in Lawrence. Despite the fact that Gill was able to notch two MAC East titles at the struggling college football outpost of Buffalo, he was unable to make enough progress in two years at KU, with the Jayhawks going 5-19 overall and just 1-16 in league play. More importantly, Gill’s teams usually looked awful doing it. Last season in the QB-rich, pass-happy Big 12, Kansas finished last in the country in total defense (516 ypg) and scoring defense (44 ppg), 117th vs. the run, and 118th in passing efficiency defense. Eight times KU allowed more than 40 points.

After having sampled the heady nectar of the surprising, sterling 12-1 season in 2007 under Mark Margino before the “ample” coach subsequently got himself in trouble, patience with Gill quickly ran thin at Kansas. Gill’s replacement last winter was somewhat surprising, with Weis deciding he wanted another chance in charge after spending 2011 as the frustrated offensive coordinator for the post-Urban Meyer offense in Florida. Weis promised to put his new KU team through a “grueling offseason” and to “change their mentality.” Thus, it was a somewhat strange sight that Weis, bothered by several physical ailments late in his life, raised his metal cane while addressing Kansas fans at a Jayhawk basketball game after his appointment as HC in December.

To his credit, Weis (35-27 at Notre Dame) has toured the Sunflower State in an effort to rebuild ticket sales, and he has made strides trying to establish a national recruiting program such as the one he enjoyed while with the Irish. Meanwhile, a pillow and inflatable mattress have reportedly found their way into Weis’ Lawrence office as he seeks to dream up ways to accelerate his team’s development.

No one doubts that the Jayhawks have worked hard leading up to 2012. But so have 98% of the rest of the teams. Hard work, in and of itself, has never been enough to win in college football. Even more so today. Teams need speed, size, design, skill, power, leadership and depth in order to succeed. Given the situation at Kansas, Weis has chosen to enhance those elements for the Jayhawks as fast at possible, adding a slew of veteran transfers from other four-year schools, plus a haul of junior college transfers, and an NFL/Notre Dame-flavored coaching staff that includes former Dallas HC and longtime assistant Dave Campo as his defensive coordinator. All told, Weis’ first recruiting class has consisted of six NCAA-level transfers, nine JC transfers, and only 11 freshmen. At least ten 2011 Jayhawk players have been dismissed from the team.

Thus, there are plenty of questions as to how fast the Jayhawks can improve in 2012. Even though Weis has collected four Super Bowl rings during his NFL coaching career, the college game has evolved into a hurry-up, spread-offense, no-huddle style where offenses seek to exploit tiring, out-manned defenses unable to substitute situational units or fresh players fast enough or often enough. Weis’ found this out to his dismay last year at Florida. And Weis’ ND defenses were victimized frequently during his years at South Bend.

Moreover, Weis is counting greatly on Notre Dame transfer sr. QB Dayne Crist (left) to move the ball, eat some of the clock, and help protect the still-undermanned KU defense. However, the fact is that Crist (recruited to ND by Weis) is big (6-4, 235) and slow, and is already twice injured (ACL under Weis in 2009; torn patellar tendon under Brian Kelly in 2010). Thus, regardless of Crist’s once-impressive talent and his current respected experience and leadership, the QB will be an inviting target for the Big 12's upper-echelon defenses. Fortunately, one of the strengths of the KU offense (five starters back) is an OL with sr. LT Tanner Hawkinson, sr. LG Duane Zlatnik, and sr. C Trevor Marrongelli. And there is a veteran group of receivers that should be enhanced by juco WR Josh Ford and Notre Dame transfer TE Dave Ragone (eligible immediately, but owning a history of knee troubles). However, top RB James Sims (727 YR in 2011) is suspended for the first three games of the season, and the talented Darrian Miller (559 YR) has been kicked off the team. That places lots of immediate pressure on speedy but tiny 170-pound RB Tony Pierson (396 YR in 2011). Soph Marquis Jackson was moved from WR to RB in spring. [As an aside, QB Jake Heaps has transferred in from BYU and is expected to take over the KU offense next season.]

Insiders say the respected Campo (right) has dived head first into the challenge of developing a defense (more man coverage) to counter the plethora of dynamic attacks in the league. Campo has some veteran DBs to work with in sr. CB Greg Brown, jr. CB Tyler Patman, and sr. S Bradley McDougald. Last year’s overwhelmed KU defense had only eight interceptions, but that trio nabbed five of them. However, without much speed up front, KU defenders managed just ten sacks. With that in mind, the Jayhawks have brought in three juco DTs of some potential, and they have added sr. transfer grad student DE Josh Williams from Nebraska and sr. transfer LB Anthony McDonald (who was recruited to South Bend by Weis) from Notre Dame. Campo will be spending the summer searching for the best ways to optimize sr. OLB/DE pass rusher Toben Opurum (4 sacks last year; once a RB), while undersized soph OLB/DE Michael Reynolds (def. MVP in spring) has shown potential as a speed rusher in Campo’s NFL-style variations.

Summary...Weis was matter of fact exiting spring work, saying, “Offensively, we’re ahead of our defense, but I truly believe that we’re going to be much improved on defense. Not only philosophically do I believe in what they’re doing, but I do believe that with some of the guys coming in, interjected with the people here, we’ll be much improved.” Even with some expected improvement, there don’t appear to be a lot of chances for victories on the taxing 2012 Kansas schedule, even with Texas A&M and hated historic rival Missouri departing for the SEC, replaced in the Big 12 by rugged TCU and dynamic West Virginia. Heading into the upcoming campaign, only Iowa State in Game 11 (in Lawrence) seems vulnerable to KU in conference games. That does not seem to be a favorable prescription for the portly Weis, who has a history of physical problems and has become used to the higher talent levels at Notre Dame and Florida, in addition to his years of service in the NFL. The most likely 2012 forecast for Kansas? Frustration.


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