After losing seven consecutive games to end the 2009 season, which resulted in coach Mark Mangino being fired, few expected much from the Jayhawks in their first season under Turner Gill.
Early on, that was about right. Kansas began its season with a loss to an FCS team, but followed it up with a win over the defending ACC champions. For the next month, though, it looked mostly inept.
The Jayhawks were outscored 159-24 in their first three league games, and the prospect of an 0-8 season in Big 12 play looked like a possibility. That was until they put together one of the Big 12's signature moments with a comeback that ranks among the best in college football history.
Trailing 45-17 to Colorado with just over 11 minutes to play, the Jayhawks rallied to win 52-45, a win that cost Buffaloes coach Dan Hawkins his job. Kansas took advantage of its best chance to win a Big 12 game, and looked competitive more often than not, which is a good sign for seasons to come under Gill.
Offensive MVP: James Sims, RB. Sims didn't play in the Jayhawks opener, but took over the starting job against Georgia Tech and kept it after Kansas pulled the upset. He had three 100-yard games in scored four touchdowns in the win over Colorado. Best of all, he's a true freshman.
Defensive MVP: Jake Laptad, DE. He's probably capable of better numbers if the talent around him were a bit better -- i.e., solid cover corners -- but Laptad managed 4.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles to earn the Jayhawks only All-Big 12 non-special teams selection. That includes honorable mention. By contrast, Texas A&M had 23 players earn all-Big 12 honors.
Turning point: The season opener. I wasn't sure if I should be shocked or not, but the Jayhawks 6-3 loss to North Dakota State prompted personnel changes on the field and made it obvious that the football fans in Lawrence were in for a stormy maiden voyage on the U.S.S. Gill.
What's next: I've said it before, I'll say it again: What Turner Gill does over the next nine months before the 2011 season is infinitely more important than anything that happened on the field in the last three. Simply put, Kansas didn't have the talent to compete on a week-to-week basis in the Big 12, and if that's going to change, he's going to have to reel in a few recruits who can contribute immediately. Huldon Tharp will be back next year after missing the entire season with an injury, and James Sims looks like a solid four-year starter at running back, but Kansas never settled its issues at quarterback, and will be losing senior defensive leaders Chris Harris, Drew Dudley and Justin Springer. More pieces to build around like Tharp, Sims will have to show up and make themselves known in fall camp next year. Receiver Daymond Patterson and tight end Tim Biere should offer good complements on offense after making major contributions in 2010.