Mark Mangino did some amazing things during his eight year run at the University of Kansas. He took over a moribund Jayhawk program and made them a player in the Big 12 North division with a high-octane, exciting spread offense.
Then, before you could say, “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk” everything came crashing down. Kansas was 12-1 finishing the season in the top 10 with a win in the BCS Orange Bowl as recently as 2007 when he was named national AP Coach of the Year. Last year started out just fine as Kansas was 5-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big 12 with wins that included rolling over UTEP (34-7), Duke (44-16) and getting by a quality Southern Miss (35-28) team.
But it all came unglued as KU lost its last seven games and Mangino lost his team, eventually resigning after allegations that he was mistreating and verbally abusing his players.
The team is trying to put these bad feelings in the rear-view mirror and kick off with a different attitude under new head coach Turner Gill. The former Nebraska Husker quarterback was only 20-30 in four years at the University of Buffalo, but most college football watchers considered that an admirable job considering the disadvantages Buffalo has.
Under the former regime, Kansas was a spread team with heavy emphasis on the air attack. Departed quarterback Todd Reesing set numerous school records in that scheme.
Reesing is gone and the front-runner to take the controls of the Jayhawk offense is sophomore Kale Pick. Pick played little last year, completing 4-of-5 passes for 22 yards. Pick does bring great mobility to the table as he picked up 167 yards on just 14 carries. Redshirt freshman Jordan Webb has challenged for the starting position in early drills and Gill had still not named a clear starter after the first week of fall drills.
How will Gill adjust the offense? Gill ran more multiple sets at Buffalo, but will work with the talent he has. His team has plenty of receivers, and hard-running Toben Opurum led the team in rushing as a true freshman last year with 554 yards.
During a scrimmage on Saturday, Gill emphasized the running game, running 50 times out of 70 plays. Last year Reesing passed for 498 yards against Missouri, and the Jayhawks still lost, 41-39 in the Border War.
“We have to be able to control the clock with our running game when we have a lead,” Gill said.
Along with a stable of running backs, Kansas returns all five starters on the offensive line.
The defense returns five starters to a squad that ranked No. 76 in the nation in total defense and No. 85 in scoring defense. The strongest part of the defense is the secondary where there are eight players competing for playing time, led by three-year starter Chris Smith, a senior. The ones that don’t win starting slots will get plenty of action in nickel and dime coverage in the pass-happy Big 12 South. Seniors Jake Laptard at defensive end and Drew Dudley at linebacker are also returning starters.
Dudley was the team’s second-leading tackler last year and played most of the season despite an arm injury that required surgery in the off-season. Dudley is healthy now and the coaches expect an all-conference type season out of him.
Jayhawks at a Glance
Last year: 5-7, 1-7.
Total Offense: 422.4 ypg. No. 25
Total Defense: 383.3 ypg. No. 76
Plus: The Jayhawks should have one of the deepest, most experienced defensive backfields in the pass-happy Big 12. The team is excited about new head coach Turner Gill. All five starters return on the offensive line.
Minus: Most teams struggle in the first year of a new head coach, and Kansas ended last year on a seven-game losing skid. The rushing attack was pitiful last year, averaging just 3.5 yards per rush and ranking 101 in the nation at 112.1 ypg.
Circle the Dates: Sept. 11 — An early non-conference test, as the Jayhawks host one of the top teams from the ACC in Georgia Tech. KU will be a big underdog at home. Oct. 16 Kansas State — It seems unlikely that either team will make a run at the Big 12 North title, and the in-state rivalry game may be the biggest of the season for both teams.
CSM Prediction: Turner Gill made a mark as one of the most promising young coaches at Buffalo where he was 20-30 in four years at a school where it will always be tough to win. Can Gill take the team that Mark Mangino built up – and then tore down – back to competing for a Big 12 North title? We don’t think so this year, but it will be interesting to see if the team shows signs of a bright future. Six wins and a minor bowl will be a major accomplishment for the Jayhawks.
This CSM original article was written by Grant Tolley