We're exactly 13 days away from the start of the 2020 college football season. I didn't think I'd be getting to say that four months ago, but here we are and I couldn't be more excited.
We're continuing our Pokes Report preview series around the Big 12 and we're taking a look at the Kansas Jayhawks.
Former Oklahoma State and LSU coach Les Miles is entering his second year at the helm for the Jayhawks and is looking to have a better season than last year.
The Jayhawks finished the 2019 season 3-9 overall, 1-8 in Big 12 play with their lone win coming against TCU, 27-26 in late October in Lawrence. It was Les Miles first losing season in nearly two decades.
Kansas kicks the regular season off Sept. 12 against Coastal Carolina, a team they lost to last season 12-7 in Lawrence.
Unless they stun the world, Kansas is probably slated to finish towards the bottom of the conference again this season, but they definitely have some bright spots on the team.
First things first, let's discuss the brightest of spots: Pooka Williams Jr.
Pooka Williams is a Beast
Pooka is easily one of the best backs in the country and is poised to have an even bigger year in 2020. Williams is coming off his second-straight 1,000-yard season, becoming just the second player in KU history to post at least 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
He was named to a number of national preseason watch lists and will most likely exceed expectations once again.
The 5-10, 170-pound back out of New Orleans, LA has had great success in the Big 12 the past two seasons, but the Cowboy defense has found a way to stifle him. This past season he rushed for a net of 26 yards and 97 yards the year before. He did, however, record two solo tackles in the 2019 game.
There's no doubt Williams will be one of the best backs in the conference again, if not the country.
The Jayhawks will be looking to an inexperienced quarterback for the 2020 campaign. Carter Stanley is trying to make a name for himself at the next level, so the Jayhawks have a few options, though most are inexperienced at the DI level. There's two quarterbacks who's the most likely candidates for the job, Thomas MacVittie and Miles Kendrick.
MacVittie checks in at 6-5, 225 pounds and Kendrick 5-10, 205 pounds.
Neither have a ton of experience as MacVittie saw action in just five games last season and went 9 of 17 for 114 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. As for Kendrick, he didn't play last season, but saw some action in four games during his redshirt year in 2018 when he completed 11 of 18 passes for 100 yards and one touchdown. He also carried the ball 16 times for 47 yards and one touchdown.
Everything's going to come down to who can keep the ball moving for the Jayhawks.
“Those guys are just competing. That’s the biggest thing I stress to them is being a leader, competing and knowing your assignment,” offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon said. “And if you can do those three things you can lead the football team.”
Receivers to Relieve Running Back Pressure
There's no doubt KU's offensive bread and butter is Pooka Williams, but he can't do it all. As long as they can find a quarterback, the Jayhawks have some talented receivers that can help get the job done.
The trio of Andrew Parchment, Stephon Robinson Jr. and Kwamie Lassiter II combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2019.
Parchment, a 6-2, 180-pound senior, led the way for the Jayhawks with 65 receptions for 831 yards, and averaged of 12.8 yards per catch, with seven touchdowns. That was his first real season of DI ball as he transferred in from Iowa Central C.C. in 2018. He played for Northern Illinois in 2016 and 2017, but caught only one pass for six yards. Expect an even better season for the senior.
Big Questions on the Defensive Line
The Jayhawks return a few defensive linemen who saw some experience in 2019, Sam Burt, Malcolm Lee and Caleb Sampson, but they're pretty green other than that.
Burt saw action in 10 games and recorded 15 total tackles, Lee combined for 18 total tackles and 0.5 sacks and Sampson combined for 12 total tackles, three quarterback hurries and two sacks.
Expect to see a lot of youth on the front line that includes redshirt freshmen Da'Jon Terry, Marcus Harris and true freshman Jereme Robinson.
Linebackers Bring Sigh of Relief
If Les Miles had a position that could take care of itself, it would be the linebackers. They return Kyron Johnson, Dru Prox and Gavin Potter, all three combining for 150 tackles. Prox missed a majority of the season with an injury, so that's where Oklahoma native Gavin Potter got his chance as a true freshman. Potter was impressive making 56 total tackles, which included 3.5 tackles for loss.
They also have redshirt freshman edge rusher Steven Parker out of South Oak Cliff in Dallas.
Parker was a four-star prospect out of high school and should make an impact.
Defensive Backs Need to Step Up
The Jayhawks return some experience on the back end and is led by junior Davon Ferguson. Ferguson is a 5-10, 197-pound safety who had a solid sophomore season last year. He recorded 57 total tackles, 42 of which were solo stops, as well as three tackles for a loss for a team-high 28 yards.
There's a group of upper classmen who have had some playing time over the past few seasons, but mainly late in games.
"It is about next guy up,” safeties coach Jordan Peterson said. “The guys who are experienced have a second year in the system and they haven’t had to do it live when balls are flying. It is about feeling comfortable and taking charge of the defense. The guys are growing, we are not where we need to be yet by any stretch of the imagination but we are making tremendous strides."
As for the corner position, fifth-year senior Kyle Mayberry leads the way. He enters this year with 35 career appearances and 11 starts during his career and he recorded 41 total tackles this past year, five pass break ups and one quarterback hurry.
However, it's a fairly young group of mainly freshmen as there's senior Elijah Jones who could make some noise and they lost junior Corione Harris earlier in the year as he was arrested and suspended indefinitely.
Some young names you could expect to see this year as they'll need to step up could be redshirt freshman Valerian Agbaw, Karon Prunty, Duece Mayberry, Ra'Mello Dotson and Johnquai Lewis.
Punting is Solid
The Jayhawks won't have to worry about punting though as they return senior Kyle Thompson. Thompson, who was tabbed preseason All-Big 12, averaged 44.5 yards per punt this past year, with 17 punts of 50-plus yards and 18 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.