Southeast Missouri State at Kansas
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium in Lawrence
TV: Jayhawk Television Network (Available on Spectrum Sports KC or ESPN3)
Radio: WHB (810 AM)
Line: Not available.
The Lowdown: Kansas coach David Beaty will look for his second straight season-opening win, as the Jayhawks took a 55-6 victory over Rhode Island in Game 1 last year. Southeast Missouri State, meanwhile, has never beaten a Power Five opponent, though it came close three years ago when it lost 34-28 to KU at Memorial Stadium.
KU key to success: Be better offensively. The Jayhawks have a new offensive coordinator in Doug Meacham who was ranked as the second-best assistant coach hiring of the offseason by Sports Illustrated. They have a more veteran offensive line and perhaps their best depth at receiver since Mark Mangino was coach. Those all seem like positives, but will those factors be enough to get the Jayhawks to a more respectable level offensively? One crazy stat to know: KU hasn’t averaged more than 23 points in a season since 2009.
SEMO key to success: Create big plays. An underdog’s best path to an upset often involves turnovers and special teams success, and Southeast Missouri has players to watch here. Outside linebacker Chad Meredith was a first-team all-conference player after posting 10 1/2 tackles-for-loss with four sacks, while fellow pass-rusher Kendall Donnerson also is back following a four-sack season. The Redhawks also have an all-conference returner in Cameron Sanders, who averaged 27 yards per kick return in 2016.
Key Matchup: QBs vs. cornerbacks/safeties. Both teams are returning just one starter in the secondary, so KU’s Peyton Bender and SEMO’s Jesse Hosket should each have opportunities to take advantage of inexperience for big plays.
Prediction: KU 38, Southeast Missouri State 24. It’s a difficult game to predict with many unknown variables for both teams. Bill Connelly’s advanced stats at SBNation have KU favored by nine, and though that seems pessimistic, the Jayhawks are still coming off a season where they averaged 17 points in games where they didn’t play Rhode Island. KU’s offense should be better, but don’t be surprised if Southeast Missouri keeps this closer than most expect.