Kansas coach David Beaty hopes learning process from his first to second season will translate into wins in the tough Big 12 Conference this season.
The Jayhawks were 0-12 last year and have nowhere to go but up. The Jayhawks lost to Oklahoma State 10-58 last year and 7-62 to Big 12 champs Oklahoma. Baylor beat Kansas 66-7 in 2015.
“Year one to year two, (it’s) night and day in terms of just how we practice, how we look, how we’re conducting our business in spring,” Beaty said. “They just have a little bit more maturity about them, which experience gives you, and really understanding kind of what we want, playing smarter. It’s been night and day in that regard.”
Oklahoma is 11-0 against Kansas under Bob Stoops with no outcome closer than 15 points and the combined score the last two years has been 106-14.
A return trip to Norman in 2016 could bring back bad memories for Kansas. In a pouring rain, OU running back Samaje Perine rushed for 427 yards on 34 carries, busting an NCAA record set just a week earlier by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. That was a single-game rushing record previously held by Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State. Perine averages 12.6 per carry and scored five touchdowns.
OU outgained Kansas 549 yards to 103 (510-19 on the ground) and won the game 44-7.
First-year OU defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux will be facing his old team when the Sooners host Kansas this year. Thibodeaux spent last season with the Jayhawks in the same role. He also spent three years at Tulsa and one season at Dartmouth.
Last year at Kansas, Thibodeaux tutored defensive end Ben Goodman to honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Goodman started all 12 games at defensive end and totaled 51 tackles and team highs of 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
Junior tight end Ben Johnson is on the preseason watch list for the 2016 John Mackey Award. A native of Basehor, Kansas, Johnson was one of two tight ends from the Big 12 Conference, and one of the 45 total nominees, selected for the committee’s preliminary watch list. Johnson is one of eight returning starters for the KU offense in 2016.
Johnson earned honorable mention All-Big 12 honors by the league coaches as a sophomore in 2015. He played in all 12 games, starting nine contests, while hauling in 13 passes for 115 yards.
Beaty is trying to turn around a Kansas program that won an Orange Bowl title as recently as 2008.
The Jayhawks return eight starters to their offense, which employs an “Air Raid” system. KU ranked 122nd in scoring offense last year at just 15.3 points per game. Leading rusher Ke’aun Kinner (566 yards and five TDs) and quarterback Ryan Willis (1,719 yards, 9 TDs and 53 percent passing) return to anchor the Jayhawk offense.
The Jayhawks have nowhere to go but up on the defensive side of the ball, having finished last in the FBS in total defense and scoring defense in 2015, giving up 568 yards and 46.1 points per game.
Kansas returns eight starters on that side of the ball, including leading tackler Fish Smithson. The second-team All-Big 12 safety made 111 total stops a year ago. Linebacker Joe Dineen, who recorded 86 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks in 2015, also returns.
Kansas needs to improve on offense and defense.
Safety Frank Seurer, Jr., had a team-best eight tackles, while the defense intercepted four passes in a spring scrimmage.
Transfer wide receiver LaQuvionte Gonzalez had a team-best six catches for 115 yards and a 61-yard score in the scrimmage. Gonzalez sat out in 2015 due to transfer rules.
“I think he’s got some explosiveness that I don’t think we possessed last year, so it’s good to see him out there,” Beaty said. “That dude looked like a kid in a candy store this morning. I think he was here at about 6 a.m. because he hadn’t played football in forever. He was so excited to get on that field, and he loves the game, so that was fun to see.”
Kansas has a moderate nonconference schedule with Rhode Island, Ohio University and Memphis.