The Lance Leipold era of Kansas football kicks off in just over a month on Sept. 3, and many Jayhawk fans are wondering what will come of this year’s team under this new coach and staff.
The national media has raved about the Leipold hire, and that has only heightened the hope and expectations for the program. Pro Football Focus went as far as to rate Leipold a top-10 coach in college football.
Despite the ballyhooed praise and well-earned pedigree Leipold brings to the table, that does not mean success will come early at Kansas in the form of wins.
While Les Miles, Emmett Jones, and other former staff members improved the roster with three solid recruiting classes of high school talent, a majority of this current staff had no opportunity to work with these players due to the unconventional timing of Leipold’s hire in late April. In fact, his first day on campus after being hired was the same day as the spring game.
Without that offseason time to evaluate players, install offensive and defensive schemes, it wouldn’t be fair to expect a set number of wins for this upcoming season – especially given the challenging rebuild we all know this will be.
There are plenty of other things to evaluate though that will determine if the upcoming season is a success.
Player development is something Leipold and his staff have hung their hat on at Buffalo and Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Those schools weren’t attracting the top talent in the country, but they won anyway because Leipold and his staff knew how to identify talent and develop those players into consistent winners.
Leipold needs to show the same thing here at KU.
Kansas isn’t a hotbed for football recruiting, and even if it was, KU is not currently likely to land many 4-star or top local players who have offers from bigger and better programs.
Like Mangino did in the golden era of KU football, Leipold needs to maximize the talent on this roster by developing the skillsets of the players they currently have and putting them in the best possible position to succeed.
The offensive line should look better than it did a year ago, thanks to some offseason additions and transfers. Let’s see that group get better as the year goes on. Let’s see them average less sacks allowed per game as we get deeper into the season.
Whoever is named the starting quarterback, let’s see them look more comfortable in the offense by late October. Let’s see them elevate the players around them instead of being a liability. Let’s see a better touchdown-to-interception ratio in the final month of the season.
These are some examples of how this team can be successful – not just this year, but in years to come.
It’s going to take time, especially under new offensive and defensive philosophies, but this roster has talent. They just need coaches who will make them better.
Controlling the controllable
More often than not, Kansas is going to be up against a talent disadvantage in the majority of games they play for the foreseeable future.
To offset that talent discrepancy, KU must do the little things in order to be competitive – things like limiting turnovers, limiting self-inflicted penalties such as holding and personal foul calls, and demonstrating basic fundamentals like proper tackling and blocking.
From a coaching perspective, this means having the team prepared each and every week.
KU is not going to outplay many teams this season due to superior talent, but they might have a chance if they have the superior coaching. That preparedness may just win them an unexpected game or two if the opposing coaches decide to overlook the Jayhawks like many have in the past.
These are all things that they can control and must control if they have any hope of making games competitive this year.
Leipold and his staff are not going to have all the answers in week one on who should be playing where, who should be starting, etc. They likely won’t have those answers by week two or week three either.
They need to be flexible this year as they determine the right fit for everyone, and they cannot be afraid to make adjustments as needed – whether that’s in-game or not.
Leipold has preached consistency since he stepped foot on campus, but consistency doesn’t mean sticking with something or someone that isn’t working.
They need to show the willingness throughout the season to make the necessary changes that are going to help this team be successful.
A major win for this KU team in year one under Leipold would simply be for them to improve as the year goes on.
That means not getting blown out week after week, narrowing the margins of defeat, and starting to become more competitive as the season continues.
Leipold expressed the importance of consistency and continuous improvement during Big 12 Media Days last week.
At some point, they just need to look like they belong on the same field as their opponents.
Too often over the past decade has Kansas looked so incredibly outmatched, especially in conference play, that it appeared as though they didn’t belong in the same NCAA division level, much less the same conference.
Kansas plays one of the toughest schedules in the country this year, but if they look like a team that has improved and is trending upward by the end of the season, that would be a success.
There is a lot to look forward to this year, and there will be clear signs if things are improving for this program, but the success of this upcoming season will not and should not be based on the number of wins and losses.