If there's one fanbase that understands misery and futility, it's that part of the K-State fanbase that was around before Bill Snyder. And that's why, even though the fake birds from Lawrence are sworn enemies, it's hard not to feel some sense of sympathy for their current situation. We hooked up with the main football mind over at Rock Chalk Talk, the amiable misterbrain, to have a go at where Kansas is, where it's going, and what to watch for today.
Jon: Kansas has real issues right now, most of which we're perfectly aware of. But we're probably less cognizant of how things are really proceeding beyond the record. What have you seen so far during this nightmare of a season that you believe is legitimately good for the program going forward?
MB: The main thing is that this team has never quit (well, except for when they were down 42-0 at the half against WVU last week). It's been said that a team takes on the personality of its coach, and that was never more evident than when Charlie Weis was head coach of this team. Many times our team would just stop trying, and once the season was lost it was nearly impossible to see an honest effort out of the team.
That has completely turned around with David Beaty. This team believes that he is the guy to turn around the program. A lot of the problems we have come from a lack of bodies and yet-to-be-developed talent of the younger guys, but the team sees the light at the end of the tunnel, and we've started to see some flashes of what could be.
Jon: The Jayhawks have had to deal with a roster which isn't even technically on the level of a fully-stocked FCS program. Right now KU's being forced to play an unfair game, and the comparison to K-State prior to Bill Snyder's arrival is pretty apt in that respect. Given the current construction of the roster, when do you think KU will actually get back to full strength with a solid base (rather than just grabbing JUCO mercenaries), and how do you think David Beaty plans to get there?
MB: I think that by the time we get back to a full slate of scholarships, we should start to see real strides. That will probably take another 2 or 3 years, just due to scholarship limits. The main thing will be getting the main areas manned (QB, OL, DL), as we seem to be able to find RBs like crazy. We've gotten a jump on that, with Ryan Willis looking to be the QB of the future for this team. We have several lineman in the pipeline, and our walk-on program looks to be a good way to churn through a lot of roster filler to try and find a few extra players worthy of a scholarship. That ability to avoid some big busts will help us get back to full strength even quicker.
Jon: Speaking of Beaty, does he have the full support of the fanbase and a recognition of just what sort of situation he inherited, or is there already unrest due to this year's struggles? What do you guys think of him, and what sort of guy is he?
MB: There is no unrest whatsoever. A lot of that credit goes to the expectations set when Beaty was hired, and the rest to a fanbase that has seen rock bottom and survived. Beaty is exciting to watch and listen to, as you can tell that he not only cares greatly for his players and staff, but is genuinely excited to be here at the University of Kansas. Mark Mangino was the last coach that even seemed happy to be here, as Turner Gill seemed to treat this as the next step on his ascension in the profession (what a big miscalculation there) and Charlie Weis just seemed to be looking for a paycheck. Beaty has shown that he knows how to address his program's weaknesses and has a plan to move forward. The only question is how long it will take to overcome the situation.
Jon: Tactically, what's KU running on offense and defense? What sort of trends have you noticed with Beaty's play-calling and schemes?
MB: We run an air raid on offense, but the offensive line has been enough of an issue that we haven't really been able to see it work extremely well. The offense has started to open up a lot more and hopefully we'll get to see some of the things that they can do today. The defense has been getting bashed repeatedly, and it's been hard to discern a definite system as they continue to try to adapt to life in the Big 12. But as time has gone on, the team has gotten more aggressive, and they've had mixed results.
Jon: What pieces are in place for the future? And turning specifically to this game, who do we need to keep an eye on?
MB: At this point, everyone to keep an eye on is someone who is building for the future. Ryan Willis is the aforementioned QB of the future, and he will be looking to build on strong performances in preparation for next year, when he should have an OL that can provide protection. Ke'aun Kinner will be around for another year, and he should provide a rock to base our rushing attack on next year. We lose our leading receiver Tre' Parmalee to graduation, but the next 5 on that list (all but 1 average 10+ yards per catch) are coming back and looking to build on big performances this year. The defense will lose Ben Goodman, but Joe Dineen Jr and Fish Smithson will lead an improving squad next year.
Jon: Finally, how much hope do you have that the Jayhawks might finally get in the win column today?
MB: I'm not extremely optimistic, but the game against TCU gave some hope that the Jayhawks may be able to get rid of that zero. If the team can play inspired defense and the offense can give Willis some time to execute, then the Jayhawks could pull off a much sought after win. Just because I can (but not that I really should), I'm going to go with Kansas in an upset 21-20.
Thanks for the candor and the time, MB, and here's hoping KU can finally get its feet back on the ground. But maybe not too quickly. That's an awfully optimistic prediction, but we can't fault you for it. Meanwhile, Jon answered questions for the folks at RCT, too, which you can catch over here.