I hate to make too many projections regarding how the football team will perform in 2008 and hopefully into 2009, but now seems an opportune time as the Big12 basketball season gets underway tomorrow and is sure to consume most of our time. Then again, since recruiting classes haven't even officially signed and there are 8 months between now and the games, needless to say, some things could change. But for now we know that with the early defections of Aqib Talib and Anthony Collins, the Jayhawks are down to 15 returning players, none of which earned All American status this year. As for the schedule, if they traverse this one as they did this past year, one of two things will happen; 1) They will have as much respect as anyone in the nation and could be playing for all the marbles, or 2) The Big 12 will suck some serious ass. With many projections typically listing 5 league teams in the top 15 I'm not betting on the latter.
Since it's a bit daunting, let's get the schedule talk out of the way first.
8/30 FIU – Will probably go much the same as this year's bout went
9/6 La. Tech – They're certainly better than FIU, but went 5-7 this year, so…
9/13 @ S. Florida – And herein lies the game everyone in the nation wishes had happened this year. Grothe is back and so is George Selvie, who the Hawks will have to find Reesing some protection from.
9/20 Sam Houston St. – And I thought Rhett Bomar had avoided Lawrence with that silly game at Arrowhead a few years back.
10/4 @ ISU – Four straight years opening on the road in conference. Chizik had them playing better near the end and they love filling the shithole Jack Trice Stadium, so it could be interesting. Let's hope not though as the rest gets rough.
10/11 Colorado – They have a great recruiting class coming in and while I'm of the belief they are still at least a year away, this won’t be easy.
10/18 @ OU – Similar to Methzou last year, if the Hawks are able to win their first 6, Gameday could be in Norman to witness their first L. Then again, Stoops seems to have trouble preparing for teams he doesn't see regularly and it will have been two years…
10/25 Texas Tech – I'll need to know more about the Jayhawks' pass rush, but if it's working and they aren't drained from the week prior, I'd like to think they'll be fine in Lawrence.
11/1 Kansas St. – Long story short, I don't see Ron Prince/Josh Freeman winning in Lawrence.
11/8 @ Nebraska – It would be great to get a win in Lincoln, but with sexy man Pelini at the helm, it's impossible to predict right now.
11/15 Texas – I really, really wish they had not hired Will Muschamp. I felt a lot more comfortable with this game when Duane Akina was calling the shots. Fortunately Mack is still there and Vince is not.
11/29 Methzouri – Could again be for the north and a chance to play at Arrowhead 2 straight weeks. I can't see any other team being in the top 2, but Methzou has a much easier schedule to conquer (toughest @ UT, 2nd…@ Neb?).
As for the team that has to play this schedule, there will be 15 returning starters, but nearly every position returns a player with differing levels of experience. They lose the most on the offensive side of the ball.
Left Tackle (Anthony Collins) This will be the hardest position to replace as he offered tremendous blindside protection for Hot Toddy. My best guess for a replacement would be 4 star juco recruit, Nathan D'Cunha (*).
Right Tackle (Cesar Rodriguez) His experience will be missed the most. I have heard great things about Ian Wolfe though, who is thought to be the replacement.
Wide Receiver (Marcus Henry) A non-issue as there are replacements all over. Jonathon Wilson didn't get any playing time this year, but was said to have the best hands on the team and at 6-3 190, I like to hear that. Also, I'd expect Kerry Meier to see some more time. And lastly, they are expecting to sign 4 star Juco talent Rod Harris(*) who had interest from USC and LSU.
Tight End (Derek Fine) He will surely be missed, but I really don't know how much, because we haven't seen much else. RS Soph. to be, Bradley Dedaux is big and fast, which everyone likes. And he will likely be challenged by incoming 4 star recruit Tanner Hawkinson(*).
Running back (Brandon McAnderson) He was great and will absolutely be missed. But the stock pile here leaves me plenty comfortable. Jake Sharp is proven (147 for 821 for 5.6 per and 7TDs), and there are at least 2 in line to compete with him in Angus Quigley and Carmon Boyd-Anderson. If they happen to add Cyrus Gray to that mix, things will be looking even better.
Defensively, they lose only 2 starters. Unfortunately, those two happened to be the best defenders on the team.
Defensive Tackle (James McClinton) Was basically a poor man's Glen Dorsey when he was healthy commanding and often beating a double team. Haselhorst and Blakesley rotated at the other spot and could start alongside each other. Though Jamal Greene got a lot more snaps once McClinton was injured and could easily make himself a starter. I also wouldn't be terribly surprised if freshman-to-be Darius Parish competed for some time.
Cornerback (Aqib Talib) Whoever they stick out there won't be as good as Talib who was arguably the best all-around corner in the nation the past 2 years. But fortunately Chris Harris looked great in this, his freshman year and Kendrick Harper looked solid when healthy, though I think he needs to get faster. Barring injury these two should be the starters, but there is a slew of others looking for snaps as well (Anthony Webb, Ryan Murphy, Gary Green, Greg Brown).
On special teams, Kansas loses both its kicker and its punter.
Kicker (Scott Webb) Sophomore to be Stephen Hoge will likely take over. All I know about him are his high school stats. 76/80 career PATs. 25/30 career FGs. All State and District (OK) his sophomore and senior years.
Punter (Scott Webb) As you noticed in the Orange Bowl, he could have done A LOT more than he did last year, but if he just wanted to save his best for last, then he couldn't have chosen a better time to exhibit his ability. As for a replacement, Kyle Davis (RS-So.) is the only one on the roster, and I don't have a clue about his talent level.
As is to be expected, the reason to be excited about this team is what it has returning – which is a lot. But as you can see, there really aren't too many huge concerns in replacing what has left either. Certainly the biggest void right now has to be at left tackle. And though they seem to have solid corners, they won't have a shut-down one like they did in Talib. It remains to be seen how the DTs can replace McClinton, but it's nice to know they have some options. I would doubt we see much of a drop-off anywhere else and if the recruiting class turns out as good as it sounds, I would expect a few of them to contribute as well.
* Just know that I place no validation on any star status that Rivals arbitrarily hands out. As for Harris, I have seen his highlight tape, and it is extremely impressive. I don't know much about D'Cunha except that he is an Aussie and is 6'7" and 310. Again, Hawkinson looks good from what I've seen and he's listed at 6'5", 230 and running a 4.88 – all good signs.
In case I bored the hell out of you with that,do yourself a favor and read this. Absolutely fantastic.