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Dawg Season Review: Kansas Jayhawks 'Ad Astra Per Aspera'

The Kansas Jayhawks went into the 2023-24 season with high expectations. The Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Jalon Daniels, was the starting quarterback, they had just come off their best season in over a decade where they were competitive against basically every opponent, they returned pretty much their entire roster, and a project to build the football team into a true powerhouse of the Big 12 was officially undertaken via the Gateway Project. A far cry from their 10+ years in the basement of not only the Big 12 but the FBS. Excitement was in the air and with the expectations, came the pressure to be great, something the Jayhawks were more than ready to take on to usher in a "New Era" of Kansas Football. However, nobody would have guessed the amount of pressure, obstacles, and noise that would surround this program in the coming months, some good, some bad, some in between. In the end, it culminated in an 8-4 record, the Jayhawks' best record since that legendary 2007 why are there some people feeling like they could have done more?

Pressure Makes Diamonds...

It all started with Kansas backup offensive lineman Joe Krause. Krause allegedly had made a bomb threat to the Anderson Family Football Complex on July 21st. This had brought unnecessary and unwanted attention to the Kansas football program, and that was before the season even started. Krause would later be sentenced to a two-year diversion program and be kicked off the team for this incident, per the Lawrence Journal-World's Chris Conde.

With this new national attention the program was receiving for the right reasons, it was important to stay out of the headlines for all the wrong ones. Unfortunately, the bad news and the bad noise wouldn't end there. Starting quarterback and Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Jalon Daniels would suffer a back injury in practice, an injury that, unbeknownst to the coaching staff as well as the Jayhawk fanbase, would effectively end Daniels's season. This was not known at the time though, so many speculated what exactly was the status of the star QB. This brought upon rumor after rumor of Daniels not wanting to play for Kansas, sitting out because he wanted to transfer, Daniels having a potential career-ending ailment, the lot, and most of it being completely unfounded. You can read more on those rumors here and here on College Football Dawgs.

Daniels would go on to play three games this season, however, it would be the Jason Bean show for the rest... or at least, MOST of the rest. Bean would also end up getting hurt early in the week 10 game against Texas Tech. He would suffer a head injury that would keep him out the rest of that game and the entirety of the Sunflower Showdown matchup against Kansas State in week 11, a matchup many believe that if Bean had played, Kansas would have won convincingly. This brought upon even further quarterback controversy, as the communication about whether or not Bean would be available for that game was a hot topic for that week. Top that with rumors circulating that Lance Leipold would leave for Michigan State, and you had a year chalked full of a lot of controversy, pressure, and adversity. It didn't stop there though, as once the season was over the what-ifs began circulating. What if Jalon Daniels stayed healthy? What if Jason Bean had played in the Sunflower Showdown? What if this team had won the Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State matchups that were one-score games that could have gone either way? Constant pessimism and doom and gloom from even those inside the Jayhawk fanbase. However, Kansas wasn't focused on the what-ifs, or any of the noise surrounding this program, which is why this 8-4 record is much more impressive than what it seems.

'Ad Astra Per ASpera'

Kansas could have laid down and died this season if they wanted to. The Jayhawk football fanbase, quite frankly, was used to disappointment, so much so that many expected it even after the first news of Jalon Daniels's injury came to light. However, this program, after all the work they had done and had planned to do in the future, wasn't going to flounder that easily. Quarterback controversies, transfer rumors, coaching rumors, and all the what-ifs be damned, this season would not be lost. Kansas would come out of the gate and win their first 4 games, Jalon Daniels starting in 3 of them. Then, after the sudden news of Daniels not being able to play just over an hour before the Texas game, the doom and gloom ramped up once again, and the rumors and questions only became more prevalent. Why the sudden change of heart from Jalon? Was this a coach's decision or his decision? Is this signaling the end of Daniels's time at Kansas? Leipold would later clarify that back issues such as these are hard to predict and that Daniels was in a lot of pain before the game, reasoning that should have justified why he didn't play. Nonetheless, the rumors persisted about both him and Daniels leaving throughout the season. It didn't matter to the Jayhawks though, they would play on.

The game against UCF would prove to be a major bounceback and show just how strong Kansas's offense, mainly their rushing attack, can be. Arguably their best performance put a lot of doubters to bed, and while the Jayhawks would go on to lose a couple of nailbiters throughout the rest of the season, they showed that they could fight through adversity and ignore the outside pressures. They also proved they could hang with the best of them, pulling off a huge victory over Oklahoma 38-33, who was #8 at the time, their biggest win this season. The offense in general showed that they would get along just fine without their star QB, posting the 29th best scoring offense in the FBS and 28th best team offense. Their defense too would, yes, have their faults, but show light years of improvement over last year's squad. Senior leadership and one of the best secondaries in the country headlined their strengths, and they would end up 64th in team defense. A far cry from their 2022 ranking of 124th. Defensive end Austin Booker would earn Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors after an 8-sack season, and the accolades continue to file in for the Jayhawks as the All-American and All-Conference teams roll out. Dominick Puni, Cobee Bryant, and Booker would all earn 1st Team All-Big 12, Devin Neal and Kenny Logan Jr. would earn 2nd Team honors, and a handful of other Jayhawks would receive Honorable Mentions.

Conclusion Kansas Jayhawks Season 2023-24

This season went about as well as it could have gone for the Jayhawks given everything that happened. While we can dwell on the what-ifs and the bad that happened, looking at all the good that happened will make you see that Kansas had an excellent season this year, their best in over 15 years to be exact. The offense showed that they could fight through adversity and that it was a true force to be reckoned with, led by a guy widely regarded as an offensive genius in Andy Kotelnicki. While Kotelnicki may be departing for Penn State after this year, it is a well-deserved payday for one of the best in the business and the Jayhawks will continue to thrive under OC Jim Zebrowski; of whom knows the Leipold/Jayhawks system, being the quarterbacks coach since Leipold got here and being under Leipold since his days at Wisconsin-Whitewater. More on that here. The defense also, under Brian Borland, showed miraculous improvement over the year and will continue to do so with the amount of youth they have up and coming. The special teams even, under new coordinator Sean Snyder, showed big-time improvement, and while there were some gut-punching mistakes here and there, there were plenty of reasons to smile when talking about the unit as well. They'll continue to get better too.

The state motto of Kansas is "Ad Astra Per Aspera" which in Latin means "Through hardships to the stars." Kansas exemplified that state motto this year, fighting through hardships and struggles to be one of the Big 12's tougher teams throughout this year. With a significant amount of players returning next year including Jalon Daniels, Austin Booker, and others, Lance Leipold vowing that he wants to retire here at KU, one of the best recruiting classes Kansas has ever had coming in, and a new stadium in the works, things are looking up for the Jayhawks. Other Big 12 programs need to be wary, as this team is certainly, shooting for the stars.

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