Kansas football: Five bold predictions for the Jayhawks

Kansas Jayhawks offensive line. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
Kansas Jayhawks offensive line. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports /

The first Kansas football game is only a few days away, so naturally, it makes sense to make some bold predictions on how the season will go.

But before I get into that, Jayhawk fans must understand what Lance Leipold is dealing with this season. He didn’t get on campus until after the Spring Game, so this is a rather unusual situation as most new hire football coaches are hired before spring practices even begin.

It appears the first-year head coach at Kansas has done everything the right way in preparing for his first game, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be hiccups along the way. Wins and losses shouldn’t judge this season alone. It should be judged by progress, which can be seen in the form of fewer blowout losses, fewer penalties on offense and defense, and overall fewer mistakes, whether it be in bad playing calling or a broken-down play.

If the Jayhawks can show that type of progress in year one, it sets them up for a bright future under the new head coach, and eventually, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.

Until then, how about some bold predictions for the Jayhawks this year?

1. Best offensive line play since the Mangino era

Last year the Jayhawks gave up an FBS worst 5.22 sacks per game. According to Jesse Newell of the KC Star, that’s a feat so bad it hasn’t happened since 2009. It’s hard to imagine an offensive line that bad could make that much improvement, but really it can’t get much worse.

The former Buffalo offensive line coach and now new offensive line coach for the Jayhawks, Scott Fuchs, has been nothing short of incredible so far. And he will have the help of two Buffalo transfers in Mike Novitsky (RS-Jr.) and Michael Ford Jr. (RS-Fr.).

Novitsky was part of a Buffalo offensive line last year that only gave up one total sack in seven games and averaged 287.4 rushing yards per game. He was also up for the Joe Moore Award, given to the best offensive lineman in the FBS.

Obviously, one guy won’t make all the difference, but the Jayhawks also return a good amount of experience in Earl Bostick Jr. (Sr.), Malik Clark (Sr.), Chris Hughes (Sr.), Adagio Lopeti (Sr.), and Joey Gilbertson (Sr.). They also acquired another transfer in Colin Grunhard (RS-Jr.), son of former offensive line coach and Chiefs player Tim Grunhard, from Notre Dame.

Combine the returning experience, the new transfers, and the impressive resume of the new offensive line coach, and you have a recipe for success. Not only will the Jayhawks decrease their total sacks given up from last year by at least half, they’ll also have one of the best rushing attacks in the Big 12.

2. The Jayhawks will upset a top Big 12 team

There’s not much evidence to support such a claim that the Jayhawks will beat either Oklahoma, Texas, or Iowa State this year, but my gut says otherwise.

The Jayhawks haven’t beaten Oklahoma since 1997, Texas since 2016, and Iowa State since 2014. They almost upset the Longhorns and the Cyclones in 2019, both of which were away games.

Given the Jayhawk’s recent past, Big 12 teams won’t know what to expect this year. I also believe new head coach Lance Leipold has a few tricks up his sleeves.

If the Jayhawks can get rolling and become familiar with Leipold’s system by the time they play either of these teams, they’ll have a chance to shock the world.

3. Devin Neal will lead the team in rushing yards

It’s no secret that true freshman running back Devin Neal has been a star this fall camp. The coaches can’t say enough good things about him, and he seems to say and ask all the right things.

It was a bit of a surprise not to see him on the two-deep depth chart released earlier this week, but I don’t think that’s an indication he won’t get significant playing time. The Jayhawks do return three experienced running backs in Velton Gardner (Jr.), Daniel Hishaw Jr. (So.), and Amauri Pesek-Hickson (RS-Fr.).

Even with the competition Neal will have at his position, I don’t see an issue with playing time as this team will likely be run-heavy. I expect Neal to get on the field often and shine when he does.

4. Single season sack record will almost be broken

Hearing the coaches talk about Kyron Johnson is enough to get a Jayhawk fan pumped for the football season. And of all the players to watch this year, he will be the one to keep an eye on the most.

Matt Gildersleeve, the Director of Sports Performance for Kansas football, even called Johnson a “generational-type athlete.” Meaning, guys like him don’t come around often.

Johnson is finally in a defined position at defensive end, and I think he’ll flourish as one of the best pass rushers the program has ever seen. He has the speed, the experience, and a nose for the ball that will get him the backfield quicker than most players his size.

The only thing that could hold him back is his size, as he stands 6-1 and weighs 235 pounds. For a comparison, Dorance Armstrong was 6-4 and 246 pounds while at Kansas.

Size, or lack thereof, could actually play to an advantage for Johnson, allowing him to get around the edge quicker and sneak in behind the quarterback. He could also be overlooked and less intimidating to opposing offensive linemen, and by the time they are ready to respect his abilities, it may be too late.

This is a wild prediction, but I see Johnson ending up with 12 sacks on the year, only two and a half behind the all-time single-season sack leader at Kansas, Ron Warner.

5. Only three losses over 14 points

For most teams, this wouldn’t be that bold of a prediction. But last year alone, the Jayhawks lost by over 14 points in six of their nine games.

In fact, the Jayhawks had lost by over 14 points at least five games each season since 2009, when they only lost three games by more than 14 points. So yea, this might be the boldest prediction of them all. Possibly even a little crazy.

But when one looks at a Lance Leipold coached team, they see toughness and discipline. This Kansas football team also has a lot to prove. They’ll be playing with a chip on their shoulder, and all they needed was a coach that gave them the right tools to do so.

If I were a betting man, I’d say the Jayhawks only lose three games by more than 14 points this year. The rest will be decided by 14 points or less, making for one of the more exciting football seasons in years.