Kansas has been on a linear regression since that year that didn’t happen because of the war. In 2007, Kansas won 12 games. They followed up that season with eight wins, five, three, two, one and zero in 2015. As Buster Moon says, “When you've reached rock bottom, there's only one way to go, and that's up!”. Kansas improved in 2016 with two wins including ushering Charlie Strong out of Texas with a 24-21 upset of the Longhorns in overtime. The victory was the first Big 12 win for the Jayhawks since beating the Iowa State Cyclones on November 8, 2014, a span of 19 Big 12 games and 742 calendar days. In between beating Rhode Island to start the season and Texas in the next to last game of the season, Kansas was outscored 774-145.
Who did they lose?
The Jayhawks lose senior quarterback Montell Cozart. Mountaineer fans might remember Cozart as the freshman quarterback who beat West Virginia in 2013. Cozart never had a strong handle on the job at Kansas but he was there all four years. The Jayhawks also lose leading rusher Ke’aun Kinner, who rushed for 738 yards on 140 carries (5.3 YPC) and 3 touchdowns. On the defensive side they lose safety Fish Smithson. Smithson led the team for the second straight season in tackles with 93, including 70 solo tackles. Fish picked off 4 passes in 2016 to also lead the team. Along with Smithson, the Jayhawks lose starting cornerback Marnez Olgetree. Olgetree led the team with 8 pass breakups. On the whole, Kansas loses 23 seniors from their 2-10 team.
Who do they return?
Despite losing so much senior leadership, the Jayhawks actually return a bit of talent. First they return quarterback Carter Stanley. Stanley took over for Montell Cozart against the Mountaineers and never looked back. He engineered back-to-back touchdown drives to make the game slightly more respectable. Stanley followed that game up with a 31-24 defeat against Iowa State before engineering the come-from-behind win against Texas. Stanley will be joined by junior Taylor Martin in the backfield. Martin served as Ke’aun Kinner’s primary backup. Martin rushed for 324 yards on 91 carries. Stanley will have the benefit of throwing to junior receiver Steven Sims, Jr. Sims was the leading receiver for the Jayhawks last year with 724 yards and 7 touchdowns.
On the defensive side, Daniel Wise and Dorance Armstrong, Jr help anchor a defensive line that caused teams to run the ball when they were in passing downs. Armstrong was a unanimous All Big-12 selection after notching 10.0 sacks and 20.0 tackles for loss. Daniel Wise added 10.0 TFL and blocked 2 kicks.
Why should West Virginia be worried?
David Beatty pulled a miracle when he convinced Doug Meachum to leave TCU for Lawrence, Kansas. Meachum, the offensive coordinator who turned receiver Treyvone Boykin into the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year at quarterback in 2014, takes over a struggling Kansas offense with pieces to build upon. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen has somehow taken the pile of manure that has been the Kansas offense and made his defensive units respectable. Bowen was able to turn experience along the defensive line and secondary into a unit that finished in the top 40 in passing metrics. Bowen gets to craft even more nightmares thanks to having Armstrong and Wise return.
Why should West Virginia not be worried?
Kansas, despite having solid pieces return and a new offensive coordinator is still looking at a talent gap. Head coach David Beatty has had to rely on junior college players just to fill out his roster. Beatty is almost like a high school coach who is allowing any and every player who wants to play. The game will be in Lawrence but it won’t be cold. Kansas also has to replace 5 of the 6 cornerbacks from last years team. Defensive back is a position that requires time to become cohesive and 3 games may not be enough to develop the nuances.
Key player for Kansas
Dorance Armstrong, Jr. will be the player to watch. A junior who generated 10.0 sacks and 20.0 tackles for loss, Dorance has the ability to break through double teams and move quarterback Will Grier off his launch points. If Armstrong is in the backfield all game, West Virginia will be required to dedicate more players to blocking him, which always hinders spread teams.
Key player for West Virginia
If the key player for Kansas is their defensive tackle, then the offensive center is going to be the key player for the Mountaineers. Right now, redshirt sophomore Matt Jones is slated to be the starter for the ‘eers. He will be the focal point for the team. If he can handle Armstrong, then Will Grier should have all day to pick apart a young and inexperienced secondary. Jake Spavital has to be licking his chops and thinking to himself about the chance to put up 500 yards passing against a weak secondary.