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Jayhawks Season Preview: Hawks Eager to build off last year's success

The Jayhawks are coming off their best year since 2008, when they won the Insight Bowl. That 2008 season also marked a turning point in Jayhawk football. A turn for the worse, as the Hawks proceeded to post some of the worst performances in Big 12 and NCAA Division 1 football history.

Five head coaches in 12 years. Jim Harbaugh was passed up for Turner Gill. The disaster that was Charlie Weis's tenure. A 22.4% winning percentage from 2009-2021. Not to mention the scandals, like the Les Miles sexual harassment allegations, David Beaty suing the school, and the Mangino firing. Most significant, the abject failures of former athletic directors Sheahon Zenger and Jeff Long, which plagued this program to the point that the Kansas football team became a meme representing suffering.

The "I Am Sad" kid who attended the brutal beatdown Baker Mayfield gave Kansas on their Senior Day garnered international attention, and practically became the logo for Kansas football from that point on.

After last year, however, there is hope. And that kid, whose name is Cam Werner, will instead potentially be happy for the foreseeable future. In 2022, for the first time since 2008, Kansas became bowl eligible, and though they may have lost that Liberty Bowl matchup in a historic shootout versus Arkansas, Kansas fans finally have something to look forward to for football season.

Head coach Lance Leipold and the Jayhawks head into the season returning 9 of their 11 starters on offense, 8 of their 11 on defense, as well as adding some transfer portal pickups in former Auburn EDGE Dylan Brooks, former LSU corner Damarius McGhee, former Minnesota defensive linemen in Gage Keys and Austin Booker, and perhaps the cream of the crop out of all of them, former Wisconsin OT Logan Brown, among others (Per This transfer class ranks 32nd in the On3 Transfer Portal Rankings. With this roster, expectations are higher than they've been in over a decade for this program, and they certainly have the potential to meet (or even exceed) them.

can the offensive fireworks continue?

Quarterback Jalon Daniels finished last year with 2,014 yards passing on a 66.1% completion percentage, recording 18 TDs and 4 INTs. Not to mention, he rushed for an additional 7 TDs and 425 yards on 77 attempts (Per A dark-horse Heisman candidate, Daniels was named Preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and was added to the Maxwell Award Watch List.

Running back tandem Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw will also be a force to be reckoned with, as Neal joins Daniels on the Maxwell Watch List. Hishaw will be eager to bounce back from an unfortunate hip injury last season that sidelined him from a potential career year.

To top that, Preseason All-Big 12 first-team OL Mike Novitsky, as well as standout pass catchers WR Luke Grimm, WR Lawrence Arnold, and TE Mason Fairchild, all return. This is a squad looking to outdo what they did in 2022, which ranked 21st in PPG, 23rd in rushing yards/game, 6th in third down %, and 33rd in yards/game (Per Fox Sports).

can the defense prove they are not the "weakest link"?

The defense was the glaring issue for the Hawks last year, as it is with most Big 12 teams. The so-called "weakest link", Kansas placed no higher than 27th in all defensive stat categories. Losing centerpieces along the defensive line, like Lonnie Phelps, Caleb Sampson, and Sam Burt, certainly won't help. But replacing them with solid transfers in Dylan Brooks, Gage Keys, and Austin Booker will.

Returning linebackers Craig Young, Taiwan Berryhill, Jr., and Rich Miller will be headaches for opposing running backs and quarterbacks and will command this defense as seasoned veterans. The secondary will be a force to be reckoned with as Preseason All-Big 12 corner Cobee Bryant and senior standout safety Kenny Logan, Jr. patrol the skies.

This defense did give up a less-than-desirable 35.5 average PPG last year. Expect them to learn and grow from that, especially given how many returning pieces they have and the many impact transfers they snagged out of the portal.

can special teams prevail after key player losses?

Some of the more significant losses for this Kansas football team are on the special teams unit. Kansas lost starting kicker Jacob Borcila to Vanderbilt and starting punter Reis Vernon showed mediocre accuracy and power during key moments in a few of last year's contests.

They also lack an explosive returner that can break open a run at will. However, the team could find a surprise breakout given how much speed is on this roster. Kansas struggled to put together special teams units last year, but that could all be remedied with the addition of new special teams coach Sean Snyder, the son of Kansas State legend Bill Snyder.

Overall, the Jayhawks will look to build off of last year's welcome changes to the program. Athletic Director Travis Goff and head coach Lance Leipold are a breath of fresh, winning air that this program and this university has needed to bounce back from years of ineptitude. The Jayhawks are planning to make substantial renovations to their stadium complex to accommodate the new era, and we may soon see a Kansas football team that regularly competes for Big 12 Championship in a house that they built (Provided the Big 10 move doesn't happen as rumored, of course). The Jayhawks are projected by many to finish 7-5 and between 5th and 7th in the Big 12 standings this year. But don't be alarmed if they end up exceeding those expectations. Big things are happening in Lawrence, Kansas, and for once, it's not just the basketball team making noise.



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