Coach:Mark Mangino (37-36 in six seasons) | Staff In 2007:12-1, 7-1 in Big 12 (tied for first in North Division)
Highlights Returning starters: Offense—6. Defense—9. Special teams—0 | Depth Chart Key losses: Offense— T Anthony Collins, TE Derek Fine, WR Marcus Henry, RB Brandon McAnderson, T Cesar Rodriguez. Defense — T James McClinton, CB Aqib Talib. Special teams — P Kyle Tucker, K Scott Webb.
Final 2007 Rivals.com ranking: 7th | Complete Final 2007 Rankings
THE SCHEME: Mark Mangino's one-back, no-huddle spread attack has produced three of the top six season-scoring averages in school history. Last season, the Jayhawks set school records in total offense (479.8 yards per game), pass offense (291.0 yards per game) and scoring offense (42.8 points per game).
STAR POWER: Junior quarterback Todd Reesing emerged as a bona-fide star in '07 by leading the Jayhawks to their best season. In the process, he completed 62 percent of his passes, for 3,486 yards and 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The loss of 2007 leading rusher Brandon McAnderson should be eased considerably by the addition of junior college transfer Jocques Crawford. Last season at Cisco Junior College in Texas, Crawford – a 6-foot-1, 230-pounder originally from Memphis – rushed for more than 1,900 yards and 19 touchdowns and was named NJCAA player of the year.
IT'S HIS TIME: After spending most of his career at quarterback, junior Kerry Meier moved to wide receiver last season and had a decent year with 26 catches for 274 yards. Now, with some experience under his belt, Meier is primed to show he has NFL potential.
STRONGEST AREA: Although Marcus Henry - who led the Jayhawks in receiving yardage in '07 - is gone, KU still looks good at wide receiver. Dexton Fields and Dezmon Briscoe both had more than 43 catches and caught at least six touchdown passes in '07. Add Meier and five other returning lettermen, and Reesing obviously has a solid list of targets.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: The Jayhawks must replace a three-year starter at one tackle position and an All-America at the other. Furthermore, they're looking to do that with a combination of relatively untested talent: redshirt freshman Jeff Spikes, junior college transfer Nathan D'Cunha, senior Matt Darton and sophomore Ian Wolfe. Darton and Wolfe each started once last season. At least the three starting interior linemen are back.
OVERVIEW: The return of Reesing, Fields, Briscoe and the three starting linemen creates great optimism. But there should be some degree of apprehension based on what the Jayhawks lost. The absence of McAnderson and Henry doesn't figure to be too costly because productive returnees and heralded newcomers are on hand to replace their production. Filling holes at tackle and tight end could be another matter, though. Tackles Anthony Collins and Cesar Rodriguez combined for more than 65 career starts, and tight end Derek Fine was a three-year starter who had a strong '07. They won't be easily replaced. Reesing's presence alone should ensure Kansas has a formidable offense in '08, but the Jayhawks likely will have trouble matching last season's production.
Kansas led the nation in turnover margin in 2007. The Jayhawks forced 35 turnovers, while committing only 14.
THE SCHEME: The Jayhawks' 4-3 defense has been tough against the run of late. They have ranked among the nation's top 30 in run defense in each of the past four seasons, including No. 8 in 2007 and No. 3 in 2005. This spring, they experimented with a dime package that has a safety in a hybrid linebacker position. That would seem like a good idea with pass-oriented Missouri and Texas Tech on the schedule. The new coordinator is Clint Bowen, who had been safeties coach. Bowen replaces Bill Young, who departed for Miami.
STAR POWER: After playing outside linebacker in '06, Joe Mortensen moved inside last season and established himself as one of the Big 12's best. He earned first-team All-Big 12 acclaim after leading the Jayhawks with 106 tackles and 15 tackles for loss. He also posted three sacks. He missed the spring with a knee injury, though, and linebackers with knee injuries aren't a good thing.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Incoming freshman tackle Darius Parish, a three-star prospect, has excellent run-clogging size at 6-0 and 325 pounds. And he's coming in at a position where the Jayhawks could use some help.
IT'S HIS TIME: Senior outside linebacker Mike Rivera is big and fast and good for a couple of "wow" hits every game. But he tends to miss tackles and assignments, too. More consistency will make him a strong contender for postseason honors. The Jayhawks also are counting on him to take over the leadership role vacated by Aqib Talib.
STRONGEST AREA: Linebackers Mortensen, Rivera and James Holt were full-time starters last season, and each posted at least 96 tackles. All three are seniors, and they give Kansas the best group of linebackers in the Big 12.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Some issues could surface at tackle with the loss of James McClinton, the conference's defensive lineman of the year in '07. Backup Todd Haselhorst left the team. The Jayhawks' interior won't be as talented without McClinton and doesn't project to be as deep, either. Caleb Blakesley started all 13 games last season, but he could lose his starting job. The projected starting tackles are sophomore Jamal Greene and redshirt freshman Richard Johnson.
OVERVIEW: Defense came up big in Kansas' remarkable '07 campaign. The Jayhawks allowed an average of just 16.4 points per game and held eight opponents to fewer than 20 points. But last season's schedule was dotted with several offensively challenged teams. This season, the defense faces a sterner test with seven opponents ranking among the nation's top 28 in scoring offense a year ago. Mortensen, Holt and Rivera form one of the best linebacker groups in the country, both starting ends return and three starters are back in the secondary. But one of those starters – strong safety Patrick Resby – won't start the season on the two-deep, an example of how much more depth the Jayhawks have developed in recent seasons. Still, the losses of McClinton and Talib, without question the two best players on last season's unit, raise some doubts about whether the Jayhawks can equal last season's performance. Young's departure hurts, as well.
Kicker Scott Webb and punter Kyle Tucker must be replaced. Webb made 18 field goals and scored 120 points last season, so his production will be hard to duplicate. Redshirt freshman Stephen Hoge likely will take over the kicking duties. Tucker will be replaced by sophomore Alonso Rojas, who averaged 35.6 yards per punt at Bowling Green in 2006. The punt-return team needs to improve. The coverage units were adequate, though KU did give up a kick return for a TD and a punt return for a TD. While those might be areas of concern, the kickoff-return game is solid with wide receiver Marcus Herford, who ranked 15th in the country in '07 with a 28.6-yard average. Herford was the Big 12 special teams player of the year last season.
Mangino is a big man who has orchestrated a big change in Lawrence. Seven years ago, he took over a Kansas program that had endured six consecutive losing seasons. The Jayhawks now have posted at least six victories in four of the past five seasons, including the 12-win breakout of a year ago, which earned Mangino national coach of the year honors. He's the only coach to lead Kansas to three bowls. With 37 victories, he already is the fourth-winningest coach in school history. But in 2008 he'll be without a couple of key lieutenants: Young left for Miami, and passing game coordinator/receivers coach Tim Beck moved on to Nebraska.
Sam Houston State
at Iowa State
Missouri (at Kansas City)
Not to take anything away from Kansas' wonderful showing in '07, but the fact remains the schedule couldn't have been more advantageous. The Jayhawks' non-conference schedule did not include an opponent from a "Big Six" league, and they avoided the top three teams in the Big 12 South. This season, the Jayhawks have a significantly tougher road. The non-conference agenda features a trip to South Florida, and this year's inter-divisional foes are Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. Still, if the Jayhawks can get out of Tampa with a victory Sept. 12, they project to start at least 5-0. The second half of the season will be much more challenging.
What a year for Kansas athletics, huh? The Jayhawks won 12 football games, including the Orange Bowl, then followed that up with a basketball national championship. It doesn't get much better than that. In truth, the Jayhawks don't figure to be better – and maybe not as good – in football in 2008 as they were in '07. The losses from last season's starting lineup were few, but they were significant. Those absences plus a more challenging schedule will make it difficult for the Jayhawks to match last season's success. Ten victories likely is this team's ceiling, and KU should win at least eight. Kansas never has made back-to-back bowl appearances, and that should happen this season. There is so much excitement among the fans that 56 easy chairs inside a covered area in the south end zone were offered at $2,000 for the season. Fifty were sold in the first two days.