As a diehard TCU fan, Big 12 Media Days were fun to keep up with. Everyone was reliving last season, while having high hopes for 2015. With the season just over a month away, I'm digging out every purple shirt I own (my husband is tired of the two "lucky ones" I wore all last year), and my daughter found the purple and white pom poms I kept from homecoming 11 years ago. But while TCU was everyone's favorite last week, one team took a lot of criticism and faces incredible odds for a winning season: Kansas.
2014: The Way-Too-Close-For-Comfort Game
TCU and Kansas will meet on November 14, 2015. And the Frogs are easily favored to win. But let me take you back to November 15, 2014. We were favored to win that day, too. And we almost lost it all to those Jayhawks. TCU was down 27-17 in the third quarter, and things were looking grim. If you were like me, you were sitting at home with your mouth hanging open wondering how the then-number-4 Horned Frogs could be losing to a very-unranked Kansas. But in true Horned Frog fashion, our boys rallied for a comeback. A final score of 34-30 was way too close for comfort, though. Kansas Quarterback Michael Cummings racked up 332 yards and two touchdown passes in that game, versus Trevone Boykin 's 330 yards and a touchdown.
Building a Team:
According to this recent article by Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, "The Jayhawks, according to one preseason computer ranking, are projected to be the second worst team in all of Division 1 football. One Las Vegas sportsbook, Bovada, has set the over-under for victories at 1.5." Yikes. First year head coach David Beaty faced a lot of cynicism about the 2015 season outlook at Media Days. And he faced it like a champ. Earlier this month, Kansas had only 64 scholarship players on its roster. The NCAA allows a max of 85. They're expected to add a couple more players to that list, but nowhere near the maximum. Rather than see this as a major hit to their season, Beaty sees it as an opportunity. He believes it's about building the team over the long run, versus a winning 2015 season. He also believes in quality players, versus quantity. Sound familiar? We all remember that 2013 season, where TCU went 4-8 and didn't even end up with a bowl game. But we kept going; the younger players gained experience and their skill sets grew. And look where they are now. Take a good coaching staff, quality players, throw in a little extra heart, and you've got a recipe for success. But it won't happen in a season.
I fully expect TCU to beat Kansas when they meet on November 14. It will be a good game for the Frogs before facing Oklahoma and Baylor the following two weeks (Whose idea was that, anyway?). But I'm not counting out the Jayhawks completely. They may have a small roster, but they have some talented players. Senior defensive end Ben Goodman is hailed as the team leader and a top player for this season. Daniel Wise and Kapil Fletcher are defensive tackles who, at 6'3" and 271 pounds each, can definitely do some damage. The two of them could cause some problems for TCU's offense. ESPN's Brandon Chatmon calls Linebacker Courtney Arnick Kansas' "Most indispensable player," as one of the only experienced players on the team and a top tackler in 2014. Defense will be key this year, and Kansas will lean heavily on all levels of defense to protect their endzone.
In addition to Goodman, several other players have been named leaders on the Kansas team. Sophomore tight end Ben Johnson attended Media Days and is said to be a solid leader for the Jayhawks. When asked, Johnson named Arnick as another defensive leader. He also named running back Ke'aun Kinner, wide receiver Tre' Parmalee, and quarterback Montell Cozart for the offense. Beaty noted that quarterback Michael Cummings, who is recovering from ACL surgery after being injured in the spring game, plays a major role on the sidelines. Apparently, he was in Beaty's office the day after his knee surgery to discuss how he could best help the team this season. Remember that heart I talked about?
Kansas also possesses a dangerous tool: the unknown factor. With so much turnover and so many new players, no one knows what to really expect this season. It's a whole new group of players learning to be a team. But if Beaty is to be believed, they are quality players who have the potential to be a solid team ready to pull off a sneak attack on the Big 12. If not this season, soon.
The biggest challenge for Kansas might be keeping their limited number of players healthy. By November, they may have to do some juggling if their starters suffer any injuries earlier in the season. This isn't Ohio State with talented quarterbacks circling the field like sharks off the Carolina coast, waiting for a bite. Kansas already faces the loss of Cummings. Cozart will have lots of pressure to stay healthy, and the O-line will have to keep him protected. Kansas' fresh roster means that their players lack game experience. None of their running backs or receivers have ever scored a touchdown. It's time for the 18 junior college recruits from 2014 and 2015 to step up and start getting their hands on the football.
Score Prediction: WHO KNOWS??
We have no idea who will be starting for Kansas this year, with the exception of about 5 defenders. Heck, Kansas doesn't even know who their starters will be this year, since they're expected to add more junior college transfers to their roster in August. So a score prediction for this game is anybody's guess. I do think Kansas will score at least one touchdown, maybe even two. Depending on the health of their quarterbacks, their best offense might be their defense if they want to keep the Frogs from running up the score. If Kansas' defense fails to make a showing, the Frogs could make this a very high-scoring ball game.
The Frogs know what it's like to be the underdogs. Everyone loves an underdog. So while the game in November may appear to be an easy victory for TCU, we would do well to remember our roots. It may not be this season, but Kansas is rising. And you can bet they'll be gunning for the Frogs.