2016 record: 2-10, 1-8 (last in Big 12)
Projected 2017 record: 3-9, 1-8 Big 12
Key starters lost: S Fish Smithson, RB Ke’aun Kinner, CB Brandon Stewart, QB Montell Cozart, CB Marnez Ogletree
Key starters returning: DE Dorance Armstrong, DL Daniel Wise, S Mike Lee, LB Joe Dineen, WR Steven Sims
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Leading the charge
KU’s strength is in its defensive front. Dorance Armstrong is the Big 12’s preseason defensive player of the year — the first in school history — following a 10-sack campaign. Defensive lineman Daniel Wise was nearly as good a season ago, earning Pro Football Focus all-Big 12 honors with 10 tackles-for-loss and three sacks. The Jayhawks also return a healthy Joe Dineen at linebacker, as the team captain missed all but three games last season because of a hamstring injury. Offensively, KU has its best depth at wideout in recent memory, led by Steven Sims, whose 859 receiving yards were the most by a Jayhawk in the last seven seasons.
As has often been the case recently, KU’s questions begin at quarterback. Junior college transfer Peyton Bender and incumbent Carter Stanley competed for the job through mid-August, with Bender considered the heavy favorite. The former Washington State quarterback has a quick release and big arm, though he’s not as good on the move as Stanley. The Jayhawks will have a third offensive playcaller in coach David Beaty’s three seasons, as former TCU co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham looks to jumpstart an offense that has finished last in Big 12 scoring offense for seven straight years. Defensively, the Jayhawks’ concerns are in the secondary, where they must replace the reliable Fish Smithson, Brandon Stewart and Marnez Ogletree.
The expectations should remain reasonable for Beaty in Year 3, as an improvement on 2016’s two wins should be enough to keep most KU fans optimistic about the future. The first two games will be especially important; the Jayhawks should be favored against both Southeast Missouri and Central Michigan, and an upset loss would only put additional pressure on the program to steal a Big 12 victory down the line. Something else to watch: KU has lost 41 consecutive road games, which is the second-longest NCAA streak behind Western State (44 from 1926-36). The Jayhawks’ most winnable road games are their first two against Ohio and Iowa State, and eliminating that black mark could go a long way toward helping the program in its pursuit of a rebuild.
2017 schedule and predictions
Date, Opponent, Time (TV), W/L
Sept. 2, Southeast Missouri, 6 p.m. (Spectrum Sports KC), W
Sept. 9, Central Michigan, 3 p.m. (FSKC), W
Sept. 16, at Ohio, 1 p.m. (ESPN3), L
Sept. 23, West Virginia, TBA, L
Oct. 7, Texas Tech, TBA, W
Oct. 14, at Iowa State, TBA, L
Oct. 21, at TCU, TBA, L
Oct. 28, Kansas State, TBA, L
Nov. 4, Baylor, TBA, L
Nov. 11, at Texas, 5 p.m. (Spectrum Sports KC, Longhorn Network), L
Nov. 18, Oklahoma, TBA, L
Nov. 25, at Oklahoma State, TBA, L