Big 12: Anthony Pierson

You can't rebuild a football team with one player. It's got to happen piece by piece and position by position. Kansas has a long way to go and one of the Big 12's most difficult rebuilding jobs, but one thing is sure after today: One position group is assured as one of the Big 12's best for the foreseeable future.

Darrian Miller was arguably Kansas' most talented back in 2011, rushing for almost 600 yards in limited duty behind James Sims. But when Charlie Weis arrived at the end of the season, he made Miller one of 29 players told to continue their careers elsewhere.

The Jayhawks announced Miller's return on Tuesday morning, which gives Kansas the Big 12's deepest backfield for sure. He joins Sims, who logged his first 1,000-yard season last year, but he'll have to compete for time with a whole group of talented backs, too.

Tony Pierson found a niche in the passing game and was one of Kansas' most explosive players in an offense badly in need of a big-play threat last season. Taylor Cox and Brandon Bourbon should provide further depth for a Jayhawks backfield with five players who could be very productive carrying the ball in Big 12 play.

For me, only Baylor and Texas have better running backs than Kansas. TCU's right there battling for that third spot, too. But this is the only position right now where you can guarantee Kansas has the personnel and production to be in the top half of the Big 12.

Weis would like his junior college haul to make the defensive line crack that list, and it may happen, but for now, the Jayhawks have added a huge talent in Miller and added further depth to a position Kansas knows it can count in in 2013, 2014 and perhaps beyond.

That's a place to start building and should loosen up defenses for Jake Heaps to make an impact in the passing game.

There's the matter of Miller's discipline issue, but it's amazing what a year away from the game players' love will do for their decision-making off the field.

"When I left Kansas after the 2011 season, I was in good academic standing. I was dismissed for off-the-field issues that I take full accountability for," Miller said in a statement. "I made mistakes as a freshman that not only led to my dismissal, but hurt the Kansas football team. I regret this happened, but I have learned a great life lesson during this ordeal."

It sounds like Miller's focus has narrowed, and for Kansas, so has their list of problems, even if it's just one position for now.

"My only goal now is to help Coach Weis return Kansas football to respectability,” Miller said.

Kansas Jayhawks spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
2012 record: 1-11
2012 Big 12 record: 0-9
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: RB James Sims, RB Tony Pierson, LB Ben Heeney, LB Jake Love

Key losses: OL Tanner Hawkinson, DL Toben Opurum, DB Bradley McDougald, WR Kale Pick, QB Dayne Crist, DB Lubbock Smith

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Dayne Crist (1,313 yards)
Rushing: James Sims* (1,013 yards)
Receiving: Kale Pick (390 yards)
Tackles: Ben Heeney (112)
Sacks: Kevin Young* (2)
Interceptions: Bradley McDougald, Tyler Patmon (3)

Spring answers

1. No questions at quarterback. As expected, there's not much of a quarterback competition this spring. Michael Cummings stepped in last season and earned a few starts after Dayne Crist struggled, throwing nine interceptions to just four touchdowns, but BYU transfer Jake Heaps has claimed the job this spring. He had to redshirt last season after transferring, but dominated on the scout team. The former blue-chip recruit started two seasons at BYU before transferring.

2. Big growth at linebacker. Kansas needs improvement everywhere, so anywhere it happens is a welcome development. Defensively, linebacker should be a clear strength for a KU defense that improved last year but still struggled. Linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love had strong springs and looked much improved. Heeney already played well last season, but he may be a serious All-Big 12 first-team talent next season considering the amount of talent at the position that's left the league since 2012.

3. Defensive playmakers emerging. Kansas brought in tons of junior college talent this offseason, but a few have already stood out in the spring. Defensive back Dexter McDonald left the team and went to junior college last season, but he's back and making an impact, and defensive lineman Ty McKinney stood out during the spring, along with defensive back Cassius Sendish, one of the nation's best juco players at Arizona Western a year ago.

Fall questions

1. Will the streak end? This is by far the most important question of Kansas' 2013 season. The current Big 12 losing streak stands at 21 games, and odds favor it ending before too long. If we're still talking about a 30-game losing streak in Big 12 play this time next year, coach Charlie Weis will be on very, very thin ice. KU came close in losses to Texas Tech and Texas last season, but a win is a win. The Jayhawks haven't experienced that in Big 12 play since a 2010 win against Colorado, and haven't beaten a current Big 12 team since beating Iowa State in the 2009 conference opener.

2. Is Jake Heaps really any different from Dayne Crist? Optimism is high around Heaps after KU's other transfer quarterback, Crist, flamed out last season and lost his starting job to a freshman. Heaps has better weapons than Crist, highlighted by Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, but KU's offense is short on depth at the offensive skill positons, and the offensive line has to prove it can block for him and create holes for the running game to soften up defenses. We'll see how well Heaps ultimately does.

3. Can Kansas find offensive weapons? McCay is a big upgrade, but you can't hide from the fact this team went 12 games last season without a touchdown catch from a receiver. That's simply not good enough in the Big 12 and not a problem one receiver can solve. Tony Pierson and James Sims offer a great 1-2 punch in the running game, but will other receivers like Tre Parmalee or Andrew Turzilli step up?
Two Big 12 teams will cap their spring with an annual spring game on Saturday. Here's a closer look.

  • Kickoff at 2 p.m, televised on Fox Sports Southwest and Fox College Sports
  • Admission: $10
What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks: Blake Bell definitely has the experience advantage, but Trevor Knight has quick legs and could leave a lasting impression in Sooners fans' minds with a big day. There has been no formal announcement on who the Sooners' starter will be, but coach Bob Stoops' answers to those questions after the game will be intriguing.
  • The defensive line: Oklahoma lost three starters along the line, but you'll be able to see what kind of progress the Sooners made this spring on Saturday. Blue-chip recruit D.J. Ward is finally eligible, and linemen Jordan Phillips and Rashod Favors should be interesting to watch, as well as Geneo Grissom.
  • The young receivers: Jalen Saunders should lead the group, but most of the Sooners' older players won't get much work on Saturday. Younger guys with potential like Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard need to continue their work from last season. Trey Metoyer was a spring star last year before having minimal impact in the fall. Can he change that this year?
  • Kickoff at 1 p.m
  • Admission: Free
  • Kansas players will also conduct a football clinic on the practice fields the morning of the game.

What to watch:
  • All the new faces: That's the story of KU's entire spring, and we'll get a chance to see more of the new Jayhawks up close on Saturday. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay will be a must-see attraction for the offense.
  • QB Jake Heaps: If KU is going to improve, it has to start at quarterback. Dayne Crist's transfer didn't work out, but Heaps should have a bit more help at receiver, and we'll see how much he has progressed with a year in the system under his belt.
  • The offensive line: It's one of the biggest question marks for the Jayhawks, and has to look good to pave the way for the most talented position on the team: Running back, headlined by James Sims and Tony Pierson. Three starters are gone from last year's unit, and the rotation and depth will be interesting.

Weak and Strong: Kansas Jayhawks

April, 2, 2013
Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Kansas.

Strongest position: Running back

It seems like this has been the case for awhile at KU, but don't expect it to change in 2013. Say what you will about Turner Gill, but the man recruited the heck out of the running back position, and the Jayhawks are reaping the benefits now. James Sims and Anthony Pierson highlight the group, and both were among the Big 12's top 10 at the position. Before Lache Seastrunk's late-season emergence, Sims had a pretty good case ahead of Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle as the Big 12's best back.

Sims topped 1,000 yards on just 218 carries and scored nine times, averaging better than 4.5 yards per carry with an offense that had zero passing threat for opposing defenses. The closest thing to a passing threat was the Jayhawks' No. 2 back, Pierson, who ran for 760 yards and four scores on just 117 carries, averaging better than 6.5 yards a touch. Pierson helped the passing game tremendously, catching 21 balls for 291 yards and two scores. KU's backs run pretty deep, too. Taylor Cox added 464 yards on 91 carries, scoring three times. Brandon Bourbon has had issues staying healthy, but he can provide even more depth.

KU's still trying to get over the hump and end its 21-game Big 12 losing streak, but without the running backs, the close calls in 2012 like games against Texas and Texas Tech wouldn't have been possible. If KU wins a league game this time around, the running backs will be a huge reason why.

Weakest position: Receiver

If I told you a Big 12 team fielded an offense in which no receiver caught a touchdown pass in 12 games, I'm betting you wouldn't have a hard time believing that Big 12 team won exactly zero conference games. You've got to be able to produce big plays and score points in the Big 12 to be competitive, and KU couldn't do that with its passing game.

The lack of a passing threat was something of a chicken-and-egg situation last season, but as much as Dayne Crist struggled, he got zero help from his receivers. Kale Pick led the unit with 390 yards on 26 catches, but he's gone this year and Pierson's actually the team's leading returning receiver. So is Daymond Patterson and D.J. Beshears, but KU's got to restart at the position and find a new set of threats. Returning players Andrew Turzilli and Tre Parmalee have some potential, but for KU, now is the time for Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay to step up. New quarterback Jake Heaps needs all the help he can get, and McCay's the most physically gifted player in the group. Newcomers Rodriguez Coleman, Mark Thomas and Ishmael Hyman don't have much standing between them and playing time, though. Receivers across the Big 12 are great. KU doesn't have anyone who fits that bill. It needs to change fast.

Best and worst of 2012: Kansas

December, 28, 2012
Time to continue our series on the best and worst moments of 2012 for each team in the Big 12. Next up: Kansas.

Worst moment: Oh, So Close

There's a ton of candidates here in Charlie Weis' first season. Was it losing to Rice on the last-second field goal in the second game, becoming the first Big 12 team since the league's birth to lose to the Owls? Blowing a double-digit lead in a loss to BCS-bound Northern Illinois? What about rallying from a double-digit deficit to force overtime in Lubbock against Texas Tech, only to lose?

Nope, I'm going with the one conference game KU absolutely should have won: Texas. The Jayhawks hosted the Longhorns and David Ash played one of his worst games of the year, being benched after completing just 8-of-16 passes for 63 yards and a pair of interceptions. Case McCoy stepped in and the Longhorns used the ground game to tie the game at 14, but with 2:28 to play, Nick Prolago kicked what looked like a game-winning field goal. McCoy had other ideas. He hit Mike Davis for a 39-yard bomb and won the game in the final seconds with a one-yard touchdown pass to TE D.J. Grant. Just like he did against A&M in 2011, McCoy rescued the Longhorns on the road, but in the process, provided the most painful moment of KU's season in a year full of them, helping extend the Jayhawks' Big 12 losing streak to 21 games, where it will sit until 2013.

Best moment: Tasting Victory

There's really only one candidate here, even if it's a small one. KU hasn't done a lot of winning lately, but it got to taste victory in its season opener. Running backs Anthony Pierson and Taylor Cox combined for 245 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-17 season-opening win against South Dakota State. Dayne Crist even hit former Notre Dame teammate Mike Ragone for a touchdown. It was a bit of a shaky start for Crist, who completed just 17-of-36 passes for 169 yards, but there was still plenty of hope that he'd pick it up as his chemistry with his receivers grew.

More best and worst of 2012:

Big 12 did you know: Week 14

November, 30, 2012
Time for one more week of fun facts, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info and various sports information departments around the Big 12.

We love you. You make your readers the smartest folks at their tailgate. Let's get to it!

Did you know ...
  • Since Mack Brown and Bob Stoops have been at Texas and OU, only three teams have ever beaten both teams in the same season. All three, however, have been in the past two years (Oklahoma State and Baylor, 2011; Texas A&M 2010). With wins on Saturday, TCU and K-State could both add to that list.
  • If Texas loses to K-State, it will be 11-15 in Big 12 play in the past three seasons. It will be the first time Texas has lost at least four games in league play in three consecutive seasons since 1935-38.
  • Kansas State had given up zero points off turnovers in the first nine games and three quarters of its season. In the last five quarters, it's given up 21 points off turnovers, falling from first to third nationally in the stat.
  • The Wildcats commit an average of 3.6 penalties a game, but had five in the first half against Baylor two weeks ago, not counting two that were declined.
  • Kansas State averaged 213 rushing yards in its first nine games. It had 76 against Baylor.
  • Bill Snyder is 4-2 vs. Mack Brown, and K-State is +14 in turnover margin in those six games.
  • Three of those four wins came by double digits.
  • Texas is giving up an average of 99.5 rushing yards per game ... after contact. That's the most in the Big 12.
  • The Longhorns have missed 107 tackles this year, the most in the Big 12.
  • Kansas State has missed 71 tackles this year, the fewest in the Big 12.
  • Collin Klein attempted 17 passes longer than 15 yards in the loss to Baylor. He'd never attempted more than 10 in a game.
  • He completed three of those 17 attempts to K-State teammates and three of those attempts to Baylor defenders.
  • Of the 14 incompletions, 10 were overthrown.
  • Klein had completed more than 60 percent of those throws on the season for eight scores and two picks. He completed 17.6 percent of those attempts against Baylor for three interceptions and no touchdowns, and was 0-of-6 on third-down pass attempts longer than 15 yards.
  • Case McCoy is completing 70 percent of his throws longer than 10 yards this season with three touchdowns and an interception.
  • David Ash is completing 49 percent of those same throws, for eight touchdowns and six interceptions.
  • On those throws against TCU, Ash was 2-of-8 for two interceptions.
  • McCoy is 3-1 on the road as starter in his career.
  • When facing five or more pass-rushers, Landry Jones is completing 67.4 percent of his passes this season. That's up eight percentage points from 2011.
  • K-State has beaten Texas in their last four meetings, and is 7-5 all-time vs. Texas. The Longhorns have played 23 different teams at least 10 times, and only three of those teams have winning records against Texas in those meetings: Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and K-State.
  • Oklahoma has gone three-and-out just 16 times this season, second-fewest in FBS.
  • TCU leads the nation with nine of its interceptions coming on throws longer than 20 yards downfield.
  • Jones has thrown three interceptions on 60 attempts at this distance.
  • TCU converted 44.7 percent of its third downs in its first seven weeks. Since then, it has converted just 25 percent of its third downs, 118th in FBS.
  • Baylor receiver Terrance Williams has 22 catches longer than 25 yards and 14 catches longer than 40 yards this season. Both marks lead FBS.
  • Baylor receiver Tevin Reese has six touchdown catches longer than 40 yards. Only USC's Marqise Lee has more, with seven.
  • Since becoming a starter, Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf is completing 76.9 percent of his passes off play-action for three scores and no interceptions.
  • Last week against Oklahoma, he was 11-of-14, including a 75-yard touchdown pass to Josh Stewart.
  • That 75-yard touchdown was OSU's longest play from scrimmage this season.
  • Baylor quarterback Nick Florence has 21 touchdown passes thrown longer than 15 yards downfield, the most in FBS.
  • Baylor's 13 three-and-outs this season are the fewest in FBS.
  • The Big 12 has 50 percent of its teams in the top 12 nationally in total offense.
  • Baylor has had 400 yards of offense in every game this season, and over 600 yards in five games.
  • Kansas has a rush of 55 yards or more in four consecutive games.
  • Landry Jones owns all three 500-yard passing games in Oklahoma history.
  • Since 2005, TCU is 48-1 when winning the turnover battle. That's the best mark in the nation.
  • TCU is 4-1 on the road in Big 12 play, but 0-3 at home.
  • Texas is now 51-23-2 when playing on Thanksgiving.
  • Texas Tech receiver Darrin Moore's 146-yard first half against Baylor last week was the most in a half since Michael Crabtree had 152 at Oklahoma State in 2007.
  • Jakeem Grant's kickoff return for a touchdown was Texas Tech's first since Vincent Meeks returned one against Oklahoma all the way back in 2002.

Big 12 Upset Alert: Week 12

November, 14, 2012
Each week, I pick the one game in the Big 12 this week that is most likely to go the opposite way experts expect.

Only four Big 12 games this week, but here's this week's team firmly on Upset Alert:

My pick: Iowa State at Kansas

The Cyclones travel to Lawrence as a touchdown favorite, but the Jayhawks are hungrier than ever, and aren't all that far off from being in a very different place this season.

The Jayhawks are just 1-9, but held big fourth-quarter leads against Rice and Northern Illinois to begin the season. The Jayhawks collapsed against NIU and a turnover led to a Rice game-winning field goal.

Last week, the Jayhawks erased a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead against Texas Tech and struck first with a touchdown in overtime, but gave up a TD and failed to score and push the game to a third overtime.

Change a couple plays here and there, and all of a sudden KU is playing with five wins in its pocket. Iowa State has those five wins, and this game could have been for bowl eligibility.

Still, Kansas is inching closer and closer to a win, and Iowa State was the lone team last year that KU came close to outplaying for 60 minutes. Iowa State held on for a 13-10 win, but the recipe for an upset is there. James Sims and Anthony Pierson combined for 339 yards on 46 carries last week against Tech, and though the passing game is still stalling, KU might not quite need it.

Iowa State allowed Texas' top two backs last week to average more than 6 yards a carry and the Cyclones suffered a 26-point loss to the Longhorns, their most lopsided result of the season.

If KU runs the ball like that, there's no doubt they'll have another opportunity to win. Linebacker Jake Knott is gone for the season with a shoulder injury, and reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, A.J. Klein, is still adjusting to his new position on the weak side. He's been quiet the past couple weeks, and his production has slowed.

Can KU take advantage? It's definitely possible. That 19-game Big 12 losing streak is in peril this week, and Iowa State's officially on upset alert.

Midseason report: Kansas

October, 16, 2012

Record: 1-5, 0-3 Big 12

Second verse, same as the first. In a lot of ways, Kansas is better than it was under Turner Gill. The defense looks more sound. The offense has something of an identity.

The record, though? There's no getting around that. Kansas is sitting at 1-5 and the hope of grabbing a second win to equal last year's win total seems like one in which the odds do not favor. Kansas' 1-5 record came courtesy of a pair of blown fourth-quarter leads to Rice and Northern Illinois. The Huskies are a good team with just one loss (by one point) to Iowa, but even Memphis (winners of six games in the past three seasons) beat Rice, a feat the Jayhawks couldn't duplicate, even at home. No Big 12 team had ever lost to the Owls, too.

Dayne Crist doesn't look any better than he did at Notre Dame, and after completing just 49 percent of his passes, might lose his job to Michael Cummings. That's natural, considering every other Big 12 starting quarterback is completing at least 60 percent of his passes.

Dave Campo has the defense looking much more sound, but even that growth looked a bit like a mirage in a 40-point loss to Kansas State. Last week's 20-14 loss to Oklahoma State offered a little hope, but the weather and a hurt quarterback had a lot to do with the Cowboys' struggles, and late mistakes undid the Jayhawks late.

The Charlie Weis Reclamation Project in Lawrence is off to a rough start, and the second half of the season will require a whole lot of improvement if anything's going to change.

Offensive MVP: Anthony Pierson, RB. Nobody on Kansas' team has really stood out this season, but Pierson is the biggest home-run hitter on the team and offers a threat in the passing and running game. He's down with an elbow injury for a bit, but it doesn't sound like a major injury. He's turned his 59 carries into 319 yards and two touchdowns, the highest yards per carry on the team. He's also second on the team with 15 catches and third on the team with 198 yards and a touchdown.

Defensive MVP: Bradley McDougald, S. This one's pretty easy. McDougald is the team's best player and could start for a number of other Big 12 teams. The former receiver is making plays all over the field and is tied with Ben Heeney for the team lead with 50 tackles. He's picked off two passes and has three tackles for loss with a sack. He's also forced a pair of fumbles and broken up a pass.

Big 12 spring game recap: Kansas

May, 2, 2012
Miss Kansas' spring game? We've got you covered.

What happened:
  • Quarterback Dayne Crist completed 11-of-19 passes for 156 yards, and Jake Heaps completed 7-of-10 passes for 106 yards and the game's only touchdown pass. He hit former QB Kale Pick for a 46-yard gain on a flea flicker early in the game.
  • Running back Anthony Pierson rushed for 141 yards on seven carries, including an 88-yard touchdown run, 20 yards longer than any Kansas play from scrimmage in 2011.
  • Daymond Patterson had five receptions for 64 yards and Pick had four catches for 82 yards.
  • Marquis Jackson rushed 10 times for 76 yards and three scores.
  • Michael Reynolds had five tackles and four tackles for loss, including three sacks. Nice day.
  • Corrigan Powell led all tacklers with eight stops.
  • Blue won, 45-0.
  • A crowd of 15,000 reportedly showed.
What we learned:
  • Have to feel good about a solid effort from Crist and Heaps, but good grief, what's going to happen if Crist gets hurt next year? Heaps is ineligible after transferring from BYU, but White QBs Blake Jablonski and Michael Cummings completed 3-of-10 passes for 19 yards. Yikes. I like Crist's chances to turn KU into a four-to-five win team, but if he goes down at some point, it's hard to see KU being much better than last year's team.
  • Wrote it when it happened, but James Sims' suspension hurt only himself earlier this spring. KU's backfield's going to be fine, but Sims is going to have a tough time getting his job back from Pierson, who turned heads from the moment he got on campus last year. Former receiver Marquis Jackson did plenty to be excited about, too. Sims carried the ball 14 times for 58 yards, but if Jackson and Pierson get it rolling through three games, Sims is going to have a lot of ground to make up.
  • Like West Virginia's defense, I'm not sure you can tell a lot about the Jayhawks just yet. They're going to be behind the curve in overall athleticism defensively, so it's going to be tough, but there's literally only one way to go after last year's disaster. KU has to be better, and it won't be hard after staking a strong claim as college football's worst defense in 2011.
  • I wouldn't take a ton from the Jayhawks' success running the ball. Coach Charlie Weis told me earlier this spring that defensive line was the Jayhawks' weakest position, and had to face one of its best and most experienced, the offensive line, every day. KU's going to be OK at running the ball, but not as dominant as they looked on Saturday. "We’re really thin at the defensive line," Weis said on Saturday. "Even though we’re rolling those guys through there, there’s only so much we can do. We need to get an influx of people. Some of those guys will be playing and some will be moving way down the depth chart."
They said it:

"Well, he could make every throw. He didn’t look too rusty to me. He completed 11-of-19, but we had three dropped balls and a couple that in a game would have been called pass interference. They go down as incompletions now, but I thought he slung it around pretty good. He knows the offense, he knows how to run the operation, he can get us out of trouble when it’s a bad call. I was generally pleased."

- Coach Charlie Weis on QB Dayne Crist

"I think we’ve taken a bunch of steps, but I think we have a bunch of steps to go. Too many times, coaches give you some kind of phrase to sugar coat it, but for us to be competitive on a weekly basis, we have a lot of work to do. Offensively, we’re ahead of our defense, but I truly believe that we’re going to be much improved on defense. Not only philosophically, do I believe in what they’re doing, but I do believe that with some of the guys coming in interjected with the people here, we’ll be much improved."

- Weis, on his team's growth during the spring

Bad timing for Sims' suspension

April, 10, 2012
James Sims led Kansas in rushing in each of the past two season. The Irving, Texas, native and power runner bulldozed his way to 1,469 yards and 18 touchdowns as the Jayhawks' starter.

Sims, though, won't be the starter for the first three games of 2012.
Kansas junior running back James Sims has been suspended for the first three games of 2012 for a violation of team rules. Sims was arrested on Sunday morning on charges of operating a vehicle under the influence and released on bail shortly after.

"Every player on our team knows and understands our rules and regulations," Kansas coach Charlie Weis said in a release. "They also know the consequences for violations."

If Sims didn't know already, he does now. But for the rising junior, he couldn't pick a worse time to make his mistake. Former coach Turner Gill looked like he believed in Sims. As a true freshman and again as a sophomore, he emerged as the featured back in a talented stable of backs.

Under Weis, though? It's a fresh start for everyone, and that backfield is still super talented, even though Weis dismissed freshman speedster Darrian Miller earlier this offseason. Miller would have been the best choice to fill Sims' void next fall.

Now? Look out for sophomores Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon. Gill didn't have many successes at Kansas, but he left a whole lot of talent at running back. That was the case in both seasons.

Sims may emerge as the featured back again, but it's going to be difficult. Come fall camp, would Weis really give a hefty share of valuable practice reps to a running back he won't have for the first three games of the season?

KU opens the season against South Dakota State, Rice and TCU. The first two are no doubt winnable games for Kansas.

As for those reps, Sims better hope he takes advantage of the ones he gets. If Bourbon or Pierson takes control of the position early in the season, Sims may not get his spot back.

Season recap: Kansas

December, 7, 2011

Record: 2-10 (0-9)

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Kansas could have gone 2-10 or even 3-9 and Turner Gill still would have had a good chance to keep his job. The problem: Those losses couldn't be anywhere near as lopsided as they were. Kansas fielded one of the worst defenses in college football history, giving up over 516 yards and almost 44 points a game. Both numbers were last in the FBS.

With an offense that was average at best, Kansas didn't have much of a chance. Frustrating losses piled up early in the season. Georgia Tech and OSU beat the Jayhawks by 42, and Oklahoma and Oklahoma State beat them by 30 and 48, respectively. Kansas nearly rebounded to beat Iowa State and Baylor after a 43-0 loss to Texas, but a week later, it followed up with a 61-7 loss to Texas A&M. That's just not good enough. Kansas was more talented and had much better skill position players this year, but the defense was simply too bad. Gill's firing after two seasons wasn't ideal, but it was a necessary move.

Offensive MVP: James Sims, running back. Sims wasn't amazing this year, but he was a reliable runner. His only two 100-yard rushing games of the year were in the wins over McNeese State and Northern Illinois, but he finished with 727 yards and nine touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Steven Johnson, linebacker. Johnson was outstanding all year. He brought effort every week even as the losses piled up, and quietly put together one of the best years of any linebacker in the Big 12. He led the Big 12 with 119 tackles and had six tackles for loss with two forced fumbles.

Turning point: The loss to Georgia Tech. This was the first sign that the defense may have serious, serious problems. Dramatic losses to Baylor and Iowa State were brief bright spots, but the Yellow Jackets were one of four teams to score 59 points against KU. They ran for an absurd 604 yards and scored 42 points in 25 minutes in the second half.

What’s next: The new coach will inherit some good pieces of talent and an experienced quarterback in Jordan Webb, though Kansas is lacking a bit in receiver talent. They're loaded at running back with Darrian Miller, Brandon Bourbon and Tony Pierson, so expect a grounded approach for whoever replaces Gill. Kansas is still a long way from being a Big 12 contender, but they could conceivably be in contention for a bowl if the right coach comes in next year.

Big 12 weekend scrimmage roundup

April, 11, 2011
Time to catch up with a few on-field happenings over the weekend...

Missouri quarterback competition heats up

For most of the spring, the only big mover in Missouri's competition has been Tyler Gabbert. He used the first few weeks of spring to move from the No. 3 quarterback to co-No.1 before taking over the No. 1 spot heading into Saturday's scrimmage.

James Franklin, however, looked like he made a move in Saturday's scrimmage. The competition is close enough that it's highly unlikely that Missouri will have an official starter at the end of spring, but Franklin and Gabbert appear to have made it a two-man race ahead of Ashton Glaser.

Here's how it shook out on Saturday:
  • Franklin: 19-30, 222 yards, TD, INT; 4 carries, 27 yards, TD
  • Gabbert: 14-26, 103 yards, INT

Franklin was the day's leading rusher.

Gabbert's interception was returned 32 yards for a score by new corner E.J. Gaines, and that's exactly the kind of play that can knock you down a peg in competitions like these. All mistakes are not created equal.

Gaines' pick, though, was indicative of a big day for the defense, which won the scrimmage by adding two more touchdowns on an interception and a fumble return and had four interceptions on the day. Defensive end Brad Madison had two of the team's six sacks.

Kony Ealy, who's earned plenty of buzz this spring as a likely contributor at defensive end alongside Madison and Jacquies Smith, had a sack, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal.

With just one more week for Missouri until Saturday's spring game, it's clear the quarterback position is even more muddled, so don't expect a true starter to emerge until late in fall camp.

Missouri fans have reason to worry about the center spot, though. New starter Travis Ruth, replacing All-Big 12 performer Tim Barnes, had a nice day, but the backups had a difficult time snapping the ball. One of the defensive touchdowns, a 40-yard return by Marcus Malbrough, came off a bad snap.

Young running back steals show for Kansas

Could James Sims have company at the head of the pack among Kansas' running backs? It would seem so.

The practice was closed to fans and the media, but the early enrolling freshman from Kansas City scored four touchdowns, including one run that sounded like a sight to see.

From the team's report on the website:
Miller scored four touchdowns, including a run where he seemed to be surrounded by the defense, but spun out of it and ran to daylight.

But alas, coach Turner Gill brings the video goods via his Twitter account!

That's a heck of a run. I always love seeing quarterbacks hustle to make blocks, too, even if they don't get there.

"[Darrian] definitely had some good runs today and he showed that he has good vision and direction, and showed a good burst of speed," Gill said.

The Jayhawks are pretty deep at running back, with Sims and Darrien Miller being joined by DeShaun Sands, Brandon Bourbon, Rell Lewis and fellow freshmen Dreamius Smith and Anthony Pierson.

I'd still expect Sims to get the bulk of the carries, but Miller is clearly making a case early in his career that he'll be a factor as well.

Kansas recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011

The class

Signees: 27 (one junior college, three enrolled early)

Top prospects: Kansas got one of the top players in Kansas City, running back Darrian Miller, who ranks as the nation's No. 18 running back. It also got the top player in Colorado, quarterback Brock Berglund. Anthony Pierson also signed with Turner Gill as a shifty back that ranks 28th nationally at his position. Marquis Jackson and JaCorey Shepherd join the class to add a couple high-level receivers, too.

Needs met: Turner Gill wanted speed? He's getting it. Kansas' top five recruits all can move and all five are skill-position players. Berglund should have a shot to compete for the starting job, and Miller and Pierson should help James Sims at running back. Best of all, both Miller and Berglund, the Jayhawks' top two signees, enrolled early and will be ready for spring practice. Kansas clearly needed help at receiver, too, and Jackson and Shepherd will have a chance to provide it. Skill position players are the life blood of offenses in the Big 12, and Gill may have a handful of good ones in this class.

Analysis: Gill has emphasized recruiting since he stepped on campus, and we've written about it here plenty. The emphasis is paying off. This is a great, great start for a class that ranks fifth in the Big 12. Kansas is coming off a 3-9 season and really struggled to have any big playmakers offensively. If these new guys can help provide that, you'll see some rapid improvement at Kansas. Even better, Kansas had 27 signees and all but one was ranked at his position. Gill's persona translates very well to the recruiting trail, and it was a big selling point that helped him get his first BCS job at Kansas. If he can recruit this well coming off a 3-9 season, it could get a lot better fast when he gets the Jayhawks into a bowl game.

ESPN recruiting grade: B-minus

KU raiding border states for recruiting surge

January, 20, 2011
Rarely during the 2010 season did Kansas look like a team capable of competing at a level necessary for success in the Big 12.

That could be changing very soon.

The most important thing for Kansas to build on its 1-7 record in Big 12 play -- its only win coming at home in a 28-point, fourth-quarter comeback over Big 12 North fifth-place finisher Colorado -- was recruiting.

In his first full class Turner Gill has mounted a late surge to quietly put together a recruiting class solidly in the top half of the Big 12. Best of all, he's done it by robbing other Big 12 teams of top talents in their backyards.

That was especially evident on Tuesday, when the Jayhawks received a commitment from Anthony Pierson, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound running back that's been hailed as the best prospect in the St. Louis area.

Pierson, the nation's No. 27 running back, originally committed to Missouri before decommitting from the Tigers in October.

This comes just weeks after the Jayhawks swiped quarterback Brock Berglund, Colorado's top commit, from the Buffaloes territory. Berglund, a native of Highlands Ranch, Colo., was the highest-rated prospect in the state of Colorado.

Pierson, a native of East St. Louis, Ill., is the No. 4 prospect in Illinois.

Kansas also has a commitment from Darrian Miller, its top overall recruit and the nation's No. 18 running back. Miller was the first commit for Kansas' 2011 class back in March before decommitting in May and recommitting to the Jayhawks in October.

Miller and Berglund enrolled early at Kansas along with offensive lineman Dylan Admire and should be ready for spring practice.

What does it all mean immediately? Only development will tell. That's key for Gill and his coaching staff, obviously, as it is for the rest of the conference.

Miller and Pierson give Kansas seven running backs on its roster, one with what looks like a clear lead dog at running back in sophomore-to-be James Sims, the team's leading rusher in 2010.

But if there's one place that depth is most valuable, it's at running back.

"I saw the depth chart and looked things over before I decided to pick Kansas," Pierson told this week.

Berglund must beat out Jordan Webb and Quinn Mecham, who both made starts this year, to win any playing time, but he's got plenty of time in his career.

The results for Turner Gill on the field can wait. He still has another couple years before the pressure will build if he can't reach a bowl game. Results on the recruiting trail couldn't wait. He needed big-time commits to build his program around and needed them now.

With a late surge, it looks like he's getting them.

Nebraska, Oklahoma get jump on recruiting

February, 9, 2010
Veteran talent analyst JC Shurburtt of ESPN Recruiting has listed the top 11 programs with the fastest start on their 2011 recruiting classes. Both Nebraska and Oklahoma made the unranked list.

Nebraska has already received commitments from three players, including two selections on the ESPNU 150 watch list. Both of Oklahoma's early commitments made the ESPNU 150 watch list.

The Cornhuskers already have received verbal commitments from two of the nation's top linemen, continuing a tradition that is a bedrock of the Nebraska program. Tyler Moore, a 6-foot-6, 270-pounder from Countryside High School in Clearwater, Fla., is joined by Ryne Reeves, a 6-foot-3, 287-pound center from Crete, Neb. Along with those two on the ESPNU 150 watch list with quarterback Jamal Turner of Sam Houston High School in Arlington, Texas.

And the Sooners have garnered two on the 150 list, including wide receiver Kameel Jackson who is Turner's major receiving target at Sam Houston High School. He is joined by quarterback Kendal Thompson of Southmoore High School in Moore, Okla.

Here's a quick look at what other schools in the conference have gotten an early start (Note: * indicates an ESPNU 150 watch list player):

  • Baylor: None.
  • Colorado: C Shaun Simon (Hutchinson Community College)
  • Iowa State: None.
  • Kansas: None.
  • Kansas State: OT Cody Whitehair (Abilene, Kan.), DT Olukayode Akinmoladun (Independence Community College), WR Marcus Kennard (Butler County Community College), QB Angelo Pease (Hutchinson Community College), DE Meshak Williams (Hutchinson, Kan.)
  • Missouri: *QB Corbin Berkstresser (Lee Summit, Mo.); WR Wesley Leftwich (Hickman, Mo.); ATH Anthony Pierson (Gateway, Mo.), DT Sheldon Richardson (College of the Sequoias).
  • Nebraska: *OT Tyler Moore (Clearwater, Fla.), *C Ryne Reeves (Crete, Neb.), QB Jamal Turner (Arlington, Texas).
  • Oklahoma: *WR Kameel Jackson (Arlington, Texas), *QB Kendal Thompson (Moore, Okla.)
  • Oklahoma State: *QB J.W. Walsh (Denton, Texas), T Travis Cross (Plano, Texas), S Isaac Maselera (Glenpool, Okla.)
  • Texas: None.
  • Texas A&M: *T Joseph Creek (Seguin, Texas).
  • Texas Tech: *WR Javares McRoy (Lakeland, Fla.)