It was a bittersweet day for Husker fans when Turner Gill was named head coach at Kansas. Sweet because Husker fans were happy to see Gill get a head coaching job at a BCS school, but sad because the Huskers would have to square off against Gill's teams. But just six months later, Nebraska departed the Big XII for the Big Ten, meaning that Gill will only face his alma mater once in the regular season.
I'm not sure what to think of the Jayhawks this season. With the departures of Todd Reesing, Kerry Meier, Dezmon Briscoe, and Jake Sharpe, Kansas is going into 2010 needing to fill a lot of holes in the lineup on offense, and a defense that wasn't very good either. But don't dismiss Gill's squad. He's put together a pretty good staff in Lawrence, and when you consider his track record in Buffalo, he's likely to find success eventually. But maybe not in 2010.Replacing Reesing at quarterback is the unfortunately named Cale Pick. Pick, a sophomore, beat out redshirt freshman Jordan Webb to win the job. Pick went 4 for 5 as a freshman last season, and seems to be valued for his poise and consistency. Running back appears to be, well, a bit of a mess. If I had written this preview last month, I'd be discussing Toben Opurum, who exploited Nebraska's nickel and dime defenses last season. But last week, Opurum switched to linebacker, replaced by former linebacker Angus Quigley. In fairness, Quigley started his career at running back and switched to linebacker last season, only to switch back in the spring. Quigley rushed for 309 yards and three touchdowns on 59 carries in 2008. Look for redshirt freshman Deshaun Sands to also get some carries as well; he's the son of Tony Sands, the Big Eight's player of the year in 1991. He's a 5'7" 190 lb. back who'll do his damage on the outside.
The likely receivers this season are senior Jonathan Wilson, sophomore Bradley McDougald, and junior Daymond Patterson. Wilson and McDougald caught 35 and 33 passes last season respectively. McDougald played a little defense as well last year, with an interception against Texas Tech. Patterson also is a convert from defense, with Phil Steele naming him to his "fourth team all-Big XII" last season. Junior tight end Tim Biere returns as a part-time starter during his first two season.
For all the inexperience at the skill positions, the entire starting offensive line returns in a reverse from last season, when everybody was brand new. Sophomore left tackle Tanner Hawkinson was a freshman all-American last season.
On defense, seven starters return from a defense that ranked near the bottom of the Big XII last season in just about every defensive category. (Remember Nebraska scored 31 points on the Jayhawks last season, the most in conference play.) Senior defensive end Jake Laptad was honorable mention all-Big XII last season and is the biggest name up front. Now comes word that expected starting fullback Steven Foster will also experiment at defensive end. Are all of these two-way players a sign of athletic talent, or that this coaching staff is playing a huge game of musical chairs, not sure who can fill what holes on this team.
At linebacker, senior Drew Dudley contributed 68 tackles last season, earning honorable mention all-Big XII honors. He'll have to lead this group now that sophomore Huldon Tharp is out for the season due to a foot injury. Then redshirt freshman Jacoby Thomas was dismissed from the squad last week due to academic issues. The Rock Chalk Talk guys seem optimistic about the young talent, but it remains to be seen who'll step up next. Opurum, perhaps?
Senior Chris Harris is a three year starter at cornerback, with 71 tackles last season. Sophomore safety Lubbock Smith added 32 tackles last season, but it's all downhill from there as far as experience goes. But they're counting on youngsters like redshirt freshman Prinz Kande to provide a burst of talent.
I like Kansas' coaching staff; a good history of success everywhere. And you can't help but root for Turner Gill. But all of these position changes from offense to defense remind me in part of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Maybe Mark Mangino had these guys all wrong; certainly Bob Stoops did the same thing at Oklahoma when he arrived. But for this season, I think Kansas is still trying to find answers to a lot of questions. That's not necessarily a good thing for 2010.
Bill Connelly from Rock M Nation notes that Kansas has seen an influx of talent the last couple of years, so there may be a solid base of young talent to fill these holes. That probably bodes well for Kansas long-term, and that's something most Husker fans can root for after this season. After all, I think it's fairly safe to assume that Kansas will be the Big XII team Husker fans want most to succeed in 2011 and beyond, once the Huskers make the move to the Big Ten.