Big 12: Nathan D\'Cunha
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas' magical 12-1 season was one of the feel-good stories of recent college football history. The Jayhawks were picked to finish toward the bottom of the North Division, but emerged as a legitimate national championship contender before losing to Missouri in their regular-season finale. And they didn't let that defeat ruin their season, bouncing back for an impressive victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl that represented their first BCS bowl victory.
Coach Mark Mangino will be hard-pressed for an encore, particularly as he faces a more difficult schedule that will include all three expected South Division contenders -- after facing none last season. And for good measure, the Jayhawks will travel to South Florida on Sept. 12 in one of the nation's top nonconference games this season.
The Jayhawks will be looking to make history, making bowl trips in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. To get there, here are five pressing questions they need to settle.
1. Will the new offensive tackles perform up to standards?
First-team All-American Anthony Collins and three-year starter Cesar Rodriguez both are gone from last season's team. Their replacements will be a pair of redshirt freshmen. Mangino has been intrigued by the development of left tackle Jeff Spikes, who he calls one of the most accomplished offensive lineman he has coached at that stage of his career. And converted guard Jeremiah Hatch has emerged to beat out Matt Darton and Nathan D'Cunha on the right side in a surprise positional victory. Their play will largely determine how successful Kansas' passing game will be.
2. Do the Jayhawks have enough depth at running back?
Leading rusher Brandon McAnderson is gone, but the Jayhawks are expected to fill in for him with a combination of leading returning rusher Jake Sharp or bullish junior-college transfer Jocques Crawford. Angus Quigley also has shown flashes in practice, but the loss of potential backups like Donte Bean, Carmon Boyd-Anderson and Sean Ransburg earlier in camp makes Kansas' depth questionable -- no matter what Mangino says.
3. Who will be Kansas' kicker?
Mangino still hasn't decided on his kicker heading into Saturday's game against Florida International. Sophomore transfer Grady Fowler and Alonso Rojas, who previously had been listed only as a punter, are still battling heading into the opener.
4. How will the Jayhawks handle their schedule?
A much more stringent schedule awaits the Jayhawks than in 2007. Kansas hosts Texas and Texas Tech and visits Oklahoma. The Jayhawks also have a trip to Nebraska -- a place where they haven't won since 1968. So it's understandable why many observers are expecting the Jayhawks to take a step back this season.
5. Who will emerge at tight end?
Derek Fine was one of the nation's most underrated tight ends last season, providing steady blocking and 46 receptions to set a single-season record for Kansas tight ends. Sophomore Bradley Dedeaux earned a tight victory for the opening-game start over redshirt freshman A.J. Steward. Both should see extensive playing time as the season progresses.