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Kansas Game-By-Game Conference Preview: A New Look Conference For a New Look Jayhawks Program

Updated: Aug 24, 2023


The Big 12 has a new look to it. Four schools were added this past year in BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston, as well as new arrivals coming next year in Arizona, Colorado, Arizona State, and Utah. More schools potentially will be added from the PAC-12 and Mountain West, specifically San Diego State. It is a new era for the conference once thought to be likely dead in the water once Texas and Oklahoma announced their departure was set for Fall 2024.


A new era in the Big 12 is upon us, and as if on cue, a new era of Kansas football is upon us as well. One that may usher in another Big 12 football powerhouse to complement the likes of TCU, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State. First though, comes this year, the year of the litmus test for this revamped Jayhawk program. The first half of this game-by-game preview took an in-depth look at Kansas' non-conference schedule. This second half of the game-by-game preview feature for the Jayhawks will look at conference matchups.


Game 4 - September 23rd - Kansas Jayhawks vs BYU

The Jayhawks will not have to wait long to face off against one of their new conference rivals. BYU will come to Lawrence for the first time ever in the second-ever matchup between the two squads. The first came in 1992 when the Jayhawks squared off against the Cougars in the 1992 Hawaii Bowl, where the Jayhawks would win 23-20. BYU had a roller-coaster season last year but ended up finishing 8-5 and has long since been a strong football school. With Pitt transfer QB Kedon Slovis taking the reins as well as a solid receiving corps even after losing Puka Nacua, BYU's air attack versus KU's secondary is the matchup to watch. If KU's secondary can even be so much as serviceable against this strong passing offense, then Jalon Daniels and company should have little issue putting points up on the board against a weaker BYU defense that gave up 29.5 points per game and 408 yards per game last year. The main weakness for BYU's defense is the rushing attack, a weakness Kansas can easily exploit with the big-time backfield of Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw as well as the running capabilities of Daniels. Top that off with BYU having back-to-back road games, and there may be some fatigue on top of all that. So long as KU's defense can hold up against the pass and produce on the ground, expect this to be a conference-opener victory for the Hawks.


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 38 - Cougars 28

Game 5 - September 30th - Kansas at Texas

Now comes KU's biggest test yet, and potentially, the biggest test all season. How do the Jayhawks respond after getting stomped last year on their home turf 55-14 against Texas? Well, doing much of the same to Texas on their home turf would suffice, but frankly, that's unrealistic. Texas has one of the best teams they've had in a long time. Quarterback-receiver duo Quinn Ewers and Xavier Worthy are both Heisman contenders and can blow open any game if they get in rhythm, and with the pass rush being a major question for the Jayhawks this year the pressure will likely fall on the secondary to hold the line. They will have to play absolutely perfect for the Kansas Jayhawks to have a chance, the same really goes for the offense. Jalon Daniels and the backfield duo can only do so much, and while Coach Andy Kotelnicki's RPO packages and trickeration have worked impeccably well, he'll have to pull out Houdini-like plays to keep an experienced Texas defense guessing. The Jayhawks will look for revenge and will put up a good fight, but it's tough to see them getting past the CFP contenders. This WILL be their last chance to face Texas in conference play though, so that may count for something. They have shocked them in the past... for now though this one is the first game to go into the loss column.


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 27 - Texas 42

Game 6 - October 7th - Kansas vs UCF

Onto the Knights, the Jayhawks have actually never faced off against UCF in football, making it not only the debut conference matchup between the two teams but the debut matchup in general. The Jayhawks will go up against a quarterback that is quite similar to their own in John Rhys Plumlee. With 2,586 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air as well as being UCF's leading rusher with 862 yards and 11 touchdowns, he is the very definition of a dual threat. Expect the KU linebacking corps to run a lot of spies and for Plumlee to keep them honest. Don't expect Plumlee to be the only threat on the ground, however, as the Knights also have three running backs that can run all over the field if allowed - RJ Harvey, Johnny Richardson, and transfer portal addition Demarkcus Bowman. They do have new faces at play calling which could make a difference but expect this UCF offense to give KU fits with its questionable run defense. This being said the Jayhawks have a strong running offense to counter a weaker UCF run defense as well. Perhaps the most even matchup on paper for the Jayhawks this year, this one is set to be a barnburner in all facets, and it will come down to who can run it down the other's throat the best. In what will be an extremely physical matchup, give the edge to the Jayhawks being at home and having a stronger air attack that can exploit a UCF secondary that lost a few key pieces.


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 35- Knights 31

Game 7 - October 14th - Kansas at Oklahoma State

Back to the familiar, the Jayhawks will travel to Stillwater to take on the Cowboys in a midseason matchup. The Jayhawks will look to build off the success the defense had against a Cowboys offense that was uncharacteristically bad last year, mainly due to the Cowboys being riddled with injuries. This Cowboys team, however, is not the one from last year, far from it actually. Returning only nine starters and adding tons of transfers, as well as a new defensive coordinator in Bryan Nardo, this is a new-look Cowboys squad. This new look though could play to the Jayhawks' advantage, as new quarterback Alan Bowman is not a threat to run and the backfield has lost its bellcow in Dominic Richardson, which covers for the weaker run defense the Jayhawks have. That leaves the receiving corps, who also lost 4 of its 5 starters from last year. Top that with the potential loss of who would, in all likelihood, have been their one of their top receivers in Arland Bruce IV, and there are plenty of holes in this Cowboys' offense once again. They do still have Biletnikoff watch list member Brennan Presley but doing it all on his own against this KU secondary is a big ask. In terms of the Cowboy defense, KU had no issue gashing them with the run game and some big-time pass plays last year and can expect much of the same this year with many questions that remain surrounding this defense. The Cowboys did not add much in the transfer portal in regard to defense and really have no standouts on that side of the ball aside from Bednarik watch list linebacker Collin Oliver that could give the Jayhawks trouble. Though new coordinator Bryan Nardo brings a new 3-3-5 system to the table, the Cowboys' defense was still 115th in total defense last year with 435.7 yards allowed/per game. With no big improvements aside from new coaching potentially breeding new life, don't expect it to change much. Homefield advantage won't matter too much either. Hawks by 14 here.


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 42 - Cowboys 28

Game 8 - October 28th - Kansas vs Oklahoma

The Jayhawks came so close to beating Oklahoma in Norman for the first time since 1996 and for the first time since 1997, when the Jayhawks staged a comeback attempt led by Jason Bean, only to lose by 10. This year, with not only this being the final time the Jayhawks will play the Sooners in conference play, but it being homecoming for the Jayhawks as well, the Jayhawks will look to ice the Sooners in a historic victory that will have The Booth rocking. It will not be easy though, as Oklahoma and second-year head coach Brent Venables have made improvements. Can these improvements counteract the losses sustained in player continuity? The Sooners lost star receiver Marvin Mims to the NFL and running back Eric Gray as well, which could lead to potential trouble. Jovantae Barnes and Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony will have to step in to fill big shoes. Dillion Gabriel will have to find new weapons to complement his own star power, which will probably happen by this point. The 99th-ranked defense from last year will also not stay that way too, in all likelihood, as it does return conference leader in total tackles Danny Stutsman and brings in Freshman All-American and Indiana transfer Dasan McCullough. If KU can contain the run game, there's certainly a chance to make this a tight game all the way through, but they're going to have to do that in order to not let it get out of hand like it did last year. They were thrashed on the ground, giving up almost 300 yards and five touchdowns. The Jayhawks do once again return more players than the Sooners, and Jalon Daniels will hopefully be healthy for this matchup, but will it be enough to overcome what will be a strong, as always, Oklahoma team? It will be a great game and extremely tough to call at this point. However, the atmosphere will be on the Jayhawks' side as well as still remaining questions on defense. Jayhawks nab a close one on Homecoming.


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 38- Sooners 35

Game 9 - November 4th - Kansas at Iowa state (TBD)

Iowa State is one of the more peculiar games on the schedule for the Jayhawks this season. They're dealing with a ton of controversy, as many of the program's players, including multiple starters like QB Hunter Dekkers and running back Jirehl Brock, are under investigation for allegedly betting on Iowa State football and basketball games, a practice illegal in Iowa and forbidden in the NCAA, per CBS Sports' Dean Straka. This has led many to believe that Iowa State will in all likelihood be bottom feeders of the Big 12 this season. Not like they were much higher predicted before, the Cyclones were steadily going through a rebuild before all of this occurred. This does not mean the Jayhawks should take them lightly, however. KU barely scraped by with a victory against a fierce Cyclone defense 14-11 last year, and with a stellar secondary and linebacking corps returning all the Cyclones have to do is fill the void left by pass rushers Will McDonald IV and MJ Anderson. KU has to produce on offense in order to win this game still, while much of the worry will be taken off the shoulders of the defense this game if Dekkers and Brock are indeed going to be suspended or worse, the defense will still have to be presentable as well. Xavier Hutchinson is no longer there, yes, but the secondary will still have to be on guard against receivers Jaylin Noel and Dimitri Stanley, who have shown flashes. Overall, though, the Jayhawks should come away with a victory in Ames for the first time since 2008. Potentially, this could be a tune-up match for the next two games, where the Jayhawks will face two strong teams back-to-back.


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 24 - Iowa State 7

Game 10 - November 11th - Kansas Vs Texas Tech (TBD)

Texas Tech is also a program looking to shock a few people this year, and they certainly have the tools to do so as well. With 8 offensive starters and six defensive starters returning including star defensive tackle Jaylon Hutchings, as well as key transfer additions on defense such as EDGE Terrell Tilmon from Oregon and EDGE Steve Linton from Syracuse to replace the hole left by Tyree Wilson, the Red Raiders looked poised to make a dark horse run at the Big 12 title, much like the Jayhawks. The Red Raiders beat the Jayhawks 43-28 in last year's matchup in Lubbock, but they should not expect a win to come as easily when they come to Lawrence this year. The Jayhawks have a great secondary to compete with the arm of Tyler Shough and the loaded cast of receivers featuring Jerand Bradley, Xavier White, and Myles Price, all returning starters with over 1,800 combined yards and 11 touchdowns between them. This will be the matchup to watch, but another matchup will be how Tahj Brooks handles the lion's share of carries against KU's run defense. Brooks ran for 691 yards and seven touchdowns last year while sharing the carries with SaRodorick Thompson, but now as the undisputed bell cow back how will Brooks fare? It will all depend on how the KU run defense shapes up to be, which has already been labeled as a weak point. It comes down to containing the run once again and making sure the top is covered so Shough can sling the ball downfield, while also forcing what was a turnover-prone offense last year into mistakes this year as well. Taking advantage of a weak secondary will help the Jayhawks as well, as running against this Tech team could be tough with a strong front seven led by Hutchings for the Red Raiders. This could come down to health and who shows up for either squad, and will in all likelihood be one of the better games the Big 12 will see this year. If the Red Raiders stay mistake-free though, find their pass rush, and can take advantage of a weak run defense, it could spell trouble for the Jayhawks. Judging by what it looks like now, it's another coin flip with too many what-ifs. Jayhawks drop this one but will look to redeem themselves in the Sunflower Showdown...


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 38 - Red Raiders 42



Game 11 - November 18th - Kansas Vs Kansas State

The Sunflower Showdown is shaping up to be one of the best matchups in years for this rivalry. A resurgent KU team vs a Kansas State team looking to solidify Big 12 dominance. This game, if all goes well for both programs, could prove to be the biggest regular game of the Big 12 season. Let's look at the tale of the tape. Kansas State brings back quarterback Will Howard, who stepped in for an injured Adrian Martinez and excelled against ranked opponents, notching a 5-2 record, 1,633 yards in the air, 22 on the ground, 18 total touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a QBR of 149.6 across 7 games played last year. Compare that though to Jalon Daniels, who while playing 2 more games than Howard notching a 5-4 record, tallied 2,014 yards through the air, 419 yards on the ground, 25 total touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and a QBR of 162.0. Pretty even if you account for the two less games Howard played, but let's look at returning players as well as players added from the portal next. KU is returning the bulk of their lineup along with Doak Walker preseason watch list members Daniel Hishaw and Devin Neal, as well as Rimington watch list member Mike Novitsky. Jalon Daniels is also on watch for the Walter Camp, Manning, and Davey O'Brien awards, making this a star-studded offense to be reckoned with. They racked up 27 points and 307 total yards against last year's defense who ranked within the top 30 nationally. Speaking of the defensive side of the ball for the Wildcats, returns only 49% of their production. Their secondary did suffer the bulk of that loss; however, they did add North Dakota State transfer Marques Sigle and return 2nd Team All-Big 12 safety Kobe Savage. They also have a strong linebacking corps led by Daniel Green and Khalid Duke. If Jalon Daniels and Andy Kotelnicki can exploit a defense that has taken a step back in continuity this year both on the ground and in the air, then the Jayhawks have an advantage they can work and bank on to win this, however what of the Jayhawk defense facing this Wildcat offense? The Wildcats feature the aforementioned Howard, as well as Florida State transfer and Doak Walker watch list member Treshaun Ward. They also feature Preseason All-Big 12 members Ben Sinnott, Phillip Brooks, and Cooper Beebe. The key for the Jayhawks, once again, will be if they can stop a stellar run game. Howard can certainly throw the ball, yes, but the Jayhawks were ravaged by Deuce Vaughan last year, where he rushed for 147 yards on 5.9 yards/carry, had 2 receptions for 82 yards, and 1 rushing touchdown. Keeping the backfield contained will once again be a headache for the Jayhawks, a headache they may not be able to overcome with offensive firepower. Treshaun Ward is an elite back and will be extremely tough to contain. It will be close, but the Jayhawks will have to likely wait another year before they beat the juggernaut, Wildcats.


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 35 - Wildcats 45

Game 12 - November 25th - Kansas at Cincinnati (TBD)

Capping off the season with a road trip to Cincy, the Jayhawks will look to end their season on a high note. They can do just that against a Cincinnati team that though still will need to be reckoned with, is not the same team that made the College Football Playoff two years ago. Cincinnati has returned a conference-low 8 total starters. They also bring in new head coach Scott Satterfield, who had a pretty average run at Louisville before making the trip north. Replacing Luke Fickell would be no easy task, and to say this move underwhelmed the Bearcat faithful would be an understatement. Cincinnati will likely still be adjusting to the new conference, new lineup, and new head coach, which is why they're picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12. A roster full of transfers and inexperienced players, though it is the final game of the season, plays to KU's advantage with all the experience and good turnover they have this year. Another couple of keys to stopping Cincinnati will be exploiting their weak linebacking corps on offense and shutting down an inexperienced and pieced together offense on defense. KU can do both those things with ease. Expect them to finish off the regular season with a bang.


Predicted Final Score: Jayhawks 42 - Cincinnati 21

Conclusion

The Jayhawks will finish 9-3 with a passing grade on the litmus test to see if they are truly "for real." Key players for the Jayhawks will be quarterback Jalon Daniels, running back duo Daniel Hishaw and Devin Neal, defensive backs Cobee Bryant and Kenny Logan, Jr., linebacker Craig Young, and underrated tight end Mason Fairchild. Their receiving corps will also play a big role in their success as they will be taking a step up from last year's impressive numbers. All starters at receiver will be returning and bringing with them a combined 1888 yards and 15 touchdowns from 2022, a stat they can likely build upon. The key for the Jayhawks this year will be building off their experience and chemistry, with 9 of 11 starters returning on offense and 8 of 11 on defense the expectations are high for last year's successes to continue. While they faltered in the back half of the season due to injuries and their schedule being fairly backloaded, they've learned many lessons and have built something that fans can be excited for. That's a first in a very, very long time for the Jayhawk football program, and it's certainly recognized by the university and its alumnus. So much so, actually, that the athletics department is investing in new football stadium renovations that will allow the program to properly present as a Power 5 after having years of a smaller, unattractive stadium and facilities reminiscent of FCS programs. "It shows that this university and administration is committed to being successful in Power 5 football." Head Coach Lance Leipold said to Sports Radio 810 WHB. More on the new stadium will be featured in a later article. High expectations are upon the Jayhawks this season, but so is the love and adoration for this program, as shown by the KU athletics department's and alumni base's dedication and newfound positivity. The Jayhawks aren't coming anymore, they're here.


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