Well, it's March.
For college football fans, that means we have made it through at least part of our collective football-less winter of discontent. The good news is that Spring football is starting around the country.
With that in mind, it doesn't seem like an entirely bad idea to take a quick glance over Kansas' 2010 football schedule and their opponents. I have organized each team below in the order that the Jayhawks will face them. I have also tried to include some observations on how they might stack up against new head coach Turner Gill's Jayhawks.
At the end of this breakdown, I might even take a very premature gander at predicting Kansas' win/loss total for the 2010 season.
North Dakota State (home)
Head coach of Nebraska Cornhusker heritage Craig Bohl's North Dakota Sate Bison will come into Lawrence to kick off the beginning of the Turner Gill era at Memorial Stadium and the University of Kansas on September 4.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference Bison on paper look like an easy tune-up game for Kansas, but the Jayhawks should not get too confident. If Gill's players have not bought into his system by this point or come out rusty, it could get ugly fast in Lawrence.
North Dakota State has played the Big Ten's Minnesota Gophers to the wire in the last few seasons, and don't forget that their conference partner Northern Iowa would have upset the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first game of the 2009 season had it not been for a blocked last second field goal. Now that I have tried to build some intrigue for the game, Kansas should win this one convincingly.
Georgia Tech (home)
This is the kind of game season ticket holders love to see on the schedule early. You wait all offseason for some football excitement, and boom here is a really exciting match up in the second game of the season. The Yellow Jackets had a great season in 2009 and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl, but dropped two disappointing losses to close the season vs. in-state rival Georgia and Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
Most preseason top 25 polls for 2010 have Georgia Tech ranked in the top 10 or top 15 in the country. This will be an excellent opportunity for the Jayhawks to beat a ranked nonconference opponent at home early in the season.
Georgia Tech has some serious issues to work out for the 2010 season, including replacing RB Jonathan Dwyer and shoring up a weak defense, if they don't have those problems fixed convincingly by mid-September the Jayhawks might just be able to score the upset.
Southern Miss (away)
This will be a very interesting game for two major reasons: 1) It will be Turner Gill's team's first road trip and 2) It will be against a quality opponent. Southern Miss has wrecked the weekends of a couple Big 12 teams the past few years, including beating Nebraska in Lincoln in 2004 and schellacking Oklahoma State in 2001.
Southern Miss is expected to improve on a 7-5 2009 campaign and beating a Big 12 opponent at home would be a good way to get started doing that. An interesting spice to add to this matchup is the fact that current Golden Eagles head coach and former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator, Larry Fedora, was rumored to be a serious candidate to replace Mark Mangino at Kansas.
New Mexico State (home)
DeWayne Walker (who will be entering his second year at NMSU) and his Aggies are hoping that 2010 will be a better year than 2009, where they suffered through a long losing season.
Arguably, NMSU is KU's easiest nonconference opponent on the schedule this season, but like with many WAC teams, the Aggies' aerial assault may test early in the season the Jayhawks' secondary in ways that a team like Georgia Tech for example, will not.
The Jayhawks will open 2010 Big 12 conference play in Waco. Baylor is getting alot of buzz this year because their heralded quarterback, Robert Griffin, will be returning to the gridiron after missing most of 2009 with a torn ACL. If Griffin is healthy, the dual-threat QB will be a major challenge to the Jayhawks' defense.
The Bears' are having to replace some major parts, especially at linebacker, on their defense from last year, so you have to expect this is a vulnerability Turner Gill will be looking to exploit.
All in all, this will be a very important game for both programs. Baylor and Kansas are going to be looking to erase the demons of the 2009 football season and get off to a fast start in conference play.
Kansas State (home)
The loss to Kansas State last year in Manhattan was debilitating for the Jayhawks. They will have a chance to redeem themselves in Lawrence against the Wildcats this year. Turner Gill understands the importance of rivalries in Lawrence, and say what you will, I really think that beating KSU is equally important to beating MU for many Kansas fans.
Kansas State returns in 2010 all-conference running back Thomas (1,265 rushing yards last season), who is expected to be the driving force of the offense again. Asides from Thomas, K-State is a team with many questions, especially at quarterback and with the defense, where they will be breaking in a new defensive coordinator after Vic Koenning left for Illinois (I still don't understand that move).
Like always, it seems with the Wildcats, their season will hinge on how well certain JUCO players transition to the game. Look out for Hutchinson Junior College defensive end Adam Davis, who committed to KSU this spring, to make an impact in the Sunflower Showdown. I grew up in Pretty Prairie near Hutchinson and word was in Hutch this winter that Davis could be a special player in the Big 12. We'll see.
Texas A&M (home)
Say what you will about Texas and Oklahoma hogging all the media attention normally, Baylor's Robert Griffin and Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson are considered in many circles to be the two best quarterbacks in the Big 12 for the 2010 season.
Like Griffin, Taylor possesses a range of freakish athletic abilities and a strong arm that serves the Aggies' high powered offense well. Even though the Aggies' will bring into Lawrence a formidable offense with NFL talent at all the skill positions, their defense in 2009 was nothing short of a mess.
This fact has motivated a switch to a 3-4 defense. Like with Baylor, Kansas is probably going to have to win some battles against this team's weaker defense if they want to win a shootout with the offense.
Iowa State (away)
Iowa State was not a very good team talent-wise in 2009, but they still managed to overachieve and win a bowl game under the impressive guidance of first year coach Paul Rhodes. 2010 looks to be a similar season for the Cyclones, at least, talent-wise. Even though veteran QB Austin Arnaud returns, the offense he leads has much to improve on from their 2009 season.
On defense, the Cylones lose many key players, including tackling machine Jesse Smith. Interestingly enough, the Cyclones seem to be a team that always plays Kansas well. In 2008 in Ames the Cyclones jumped out to a 21-point lead over Mark Mangino's team, before the Jayhawks launched an impressive comeback.
If there was a national preseason award for dysfunction, the Colorado Buffaloes would be a top contender. Head coach Dan "the Hawk" Hawkins was not fired, because well, Colorado could not afford it so the entire program is operating under an ominous cloud.
This year, Hansen figures to be the starter at quarterback, but we all know how fond the Hawk is of switching quarterbacks so don't be surprised if by this time in the season the coach's son is starting at quarterback.
Colorado's one upside for this season has got to be running back Rodney Stewart, who ran hard behind a poor offensive line last year for impressive numbers and will likely do the same in 2010.
For Kansas fans too, this game might have some special interest because it could be one of the last times Kansas meets Colorado if the Buffaloes do jump ship and join the Pac-10 this summer.
The near unanimous favorite to win the Big 12 North will probably warmly greet a Cornhusker legend, Turner Gill, when he leads his Kansas Jayhawks football team into Lincoln. This figures to be a very tough game for the Jayhawks, but the Cornhuskers are not without serious chinks in their armor.
Nebraska's entire offense was horrendous last season and has alot to work on in 2010 if the Cornhuskers want to return to the national state. On the good side of things for KU, at least they won't have to face the Nigerian Nightmare Suh again as he figures to be the top pick in the NFL Draft in April.
Oklahoma State (home)
Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy hired Houston offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to rev up the Cowboys' offense after the unit dropped off in play significantly last year from the year before.
Detractors in Stillwater were saying, though, that the fault was not with the system but the Big 12's improvement in quality defensive play.
In any case, Holgorsen will bring into Lawrence a Mike Leach style-spread that the Jayhawks have struggled with defending in recent years. The Cowboys will also have a new face at QB, as 26-year-old Brandon Weeden, a junior, is expected to take over at the helm for Zach Robinson.
An interesting spice to this game will be that former Kansas defensive coordiantor, from the 2007-08 Orange Bowl season, Bill Young will be directing a possibly very formidable Cowboys' defense.
Missouri (Kansas City @ Arrowhead Stadium)
Well, this game will mark the anniversary of Mark Mangino's last best shot at keeping his job in 2009. The 2009 Kansas vs. Missouri game was a classic, but many are probably anticipating that the 2010 matchup will not be as close.
Missouri is returning nine starters on both offense and defense, along with quarterback Blaine Gabbert who tossed the ball for 3,500 yards last year in his first season starting. If the Tigers' have any weakness that the Jayhawks might be hoping to take advantage of it has to be their defense.
In 2009 the Mizzou defense was simply not good. This was made embarrassingly apparent when the Tigers got roughed up by a Navy team who rushed for 385 years and beat them 35-13 after Missouri officials and fans loudly complained about not being placed in a better bowl.
This is very early, but I will take a shot at guessing how the Jayhawks' will do in 2010. However, don't expect me not to change my prediction. First of all, I think this is a much easier schedule than what the Jayhawks faced in 2009. No Texas or Oklahoma.
In my opinion, that makes this year a major opportunity for Kansas to try and earn a return to the postseason. A conference schedule like this doesn't come along very often, so when it does you have to take advantage of it.
Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, this schedule coincides with the loss of several key players like Kerry Meier, Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe and the first season of a new coach, Turner Gill, who will be looking to change the offensive and defensive systems and culture of the team.
I think its more than realistic to expect that the Jayhawks come out of the non-conference schedule 3-1. If they can score an upset against GT, then 4-0 is a real possibility. That said, stumbling against Southern Miss in Turner Gill's first year is a real possibility too.
As far as conference wins go, I predict the Jayhawks will go 3-5. Wins will come against Kansas State, Colorado, and Iowa State. Losses will be to Baylor, Texas A & M, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, and Missouri.
All that said, I think it is a very distinct possibility that the Jayhawks have a worse conference schedule, maybe dropping games to Iowa State (a tough road game) or Kansas State. Baylor seems to me to be arguably the most important game on the conference schedule psychologically.
If the Jayhawks' can beat the Bears in Waco and score one against the Southern Division, then they would certainly enter those winnable games in the Big 12 North with much needed confidence.
3-5 in the conference would leave the Jayhawks at 6-6 on the season, and likely getting a spot in a low tier bowl. In my opinion, that would be a good first year for Turner Gill. The real question is though, if that will be enough to win back KU's splintered fan base and more importantly, rake in donations for Lew Perkins' ambitious Gridrion Club addition at Memorial Stadium.
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