What a successful 2022 season looks like for Kansas football

The 2022 season for the Kansas football team is nearly here and there a lot of storylines to look for in year two under head coach Lance Leipold.

The Jayhawks were able to have a full, structured offseason of training and development under the current staff that they weren’t able to a year ago due to the timing of Leipold’s hire in late April 2021.

That, combined with the addition of a top-25 transfer class, is giving the Jayhawks hope that they can improve upon their 2-10 season a year ago.

With Kansas having a young roster, a lot of new faces, a tough schedule, and only being in year two of a massive rebuilding process, their barometer for success will look different than most of their Big 12 peers – hence the reason they were picked last in the Big 12 preseason media poll for the 12th consecutive year.

However, there are several ways in which the Jayhawks can measure whether or not this upcoming season is a success.

Continued improvement

This was a goal for last year’s team and it’s a goal for this year’s team as well. The Jayhawks need to look like an improved team by the end of the year for several reasons.

It matters for recruiting, ticket sales (for this year and next), viewership, and possibly more dollars raised for stadium renovations that Kansas desperately needs.

Most importantly, it matters for fan support – something Kansas football also needs in order for this program to get turned around.

Fans need to buy in to this program in order for it to be successful. While some may support the program intrinsically because they’re die-hard fans, others are going to need more convincing through improved play and progress on the field.

Players need to show they have improved in year two and the team needs to show they have improved in order for this program to continue building back towards relevancy.

Finishing games

Last year’s team steadily improved from week one to week 12 and did so in a big way.

In the first three games of last season, the Jayhawks went 1-2 with a marginal win at home against FCS opponent South Dakota (17-14) and two big losses to Coastal Carolina (22-49) and Baylor (7-45).

In the final three games of the season, the Jayhawks looked like a completely different team.

First, they went on the road to beat Texas (a 31-point favorite) in overtime 57-56. It was the program’s first win in Austin ever, first conference road win since 2008 (breaking a 13-year drought), and it was the most points scored on the road in program history, according to KU records.

Then in the final two games, the Jayhawks lost by a combined nine total points on the road to TCU (28-31) and at home against West Virginia (28-34). The Jayhawks also had a shot at a massive upset against Oklahoma earlier in the year when they led the Sooners 28-17 with less than 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The Jayhawks will need to improve again this year, and there may be no improvement more critical than closing out games.

Finding a way to win tight games is the sign of a well-conditioned football team – which the Jayhawks should be thanks to a full offseason training program under head strength and conditioning coach Matt Gildersleeve.

That, combined with improved depth at multiple positions and key players like quarterback Jalon Daniels, running back Devin Neal, and others taking a step forward in their development, the Jayhawks should have a team that is better equipped to finish close games this season.

The win column

It wouldn’t have been fair to judge last year’s team off of wins and losses because of the situation they were in with the timing of the coaching staff hires, roster turnover, and other factors out of their control. Leipold has even admitted when speaking to the media that the staff was still evaluating players several weeks into the season.

But thanks to the late-season momentum from last year’s team and the players that are returning and have been added to this roster, it’s reasonable to hope for this team to improve their win total in 2022.

The Jayhawks have a real shot at matching – or possibly exceeding their 2021 win total – in the first four games of the season alone. Here’s a look at the first four games:

Week 1 – Tennessee Tech (home)

Week 2 – West Virginia (away)

Week 3 – Houston (away)

Week 4 – Duke (home)

KU should have no problem with FCS opponent Tennessee Tech in the home opener. The Golden Eagles finished last in the Ohio Valley Conference a year ago and were picked to finish fifth this year.

Taking on West Virginia in Morgantown – in what will be their season home opener – will not be an easy task. But the Mountaineers were picked to finish eighth in the conference for a reason, and KU does have the advantage of playing them early in the season before they’ve hit their stride. We’ll know more about this year’s West Virginia team after they play on the road at No. 17-ranked Pittsburgh in week one of the season.

The Jayhawks will then go on the road to take on a currently No. 25-ranked Houston Cougars team led by former West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. It’s difficult to see KU pulling this road upset off with the talent Houston has.

Then KU wraps up the first third of the season at home against Duke. The Blue Devils put up 52 points against the Jayhawks last year in Durham in a win, but this year’s Duke team looks very beatable.

Duke, who was picked to finish last in their division this year by ACC media members, is under the guidance of new head coach Mike Elko after long-time head coach David Cutliffe mutually agreed to part ways with the school at the end of last season.

If the Jayhawks can beat Tennessee Tech and avenge last year’s loss against Duke – which in all honesty, they should – that would match their win total from a season ago.

It is also worth noting that the Jayhawks have four of their first six games at home. So, if they can come out of that first stretch 2-2 or possibly 3-1 with an upset over West Virginia, then perhaps they can carry that momentum into another upset win over Iowa State or TCU in weeks five and six.

The back half of the season is rough, but the opportunity is there for Kansas to get to three or four wins by the end of the year.

For most teams, that would not be a successful season. But for a Kansas program in year two of a massive rebuild, three or four wins would be a big step in the right direction.