Can Montell Cozart and John Reagan spark a woeful offense? Cozart, a sophomore quarterback from Bishop Miege, won the starting job in the spring. Reagan, a first-year offensive coordinator, is back at Kansas after serving as an offensive assistant under Mark Mangino last decade. After spending the last three seasons as Rice’s offensive coordinator, Reagan will bring a familiar no-huddle spread offense back to Lawrence. (You might remember a similar scheme during Mangino’s last years.) Reagan and KU coach Charlie Weis will be banking on Cozart, who completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes last season.
Who will replace James Sims’ yards in the backfield? Sims piled up two straight 1,000-yard seasons before finishing his career last year. But the Jayhawks do have options in the running game. Senior Brandon Bourbon took first-team reps in the spring, and senior Taylor Cox returns after being granted a medical redshirt last year. Junior-college transfer De’Andre Mann could also be in the mix. Former Gardner Edgerton star Traevohn Wrench didn’t qualify academically and is headed to junior college, but speedy true freshman Corey Avery could have the opportunity to play.
How good can the defense be? Middle linebacker Ben Heeney, a preseason All-Big 12 selection, returns for his senior season. The Jayhawks also have a veteran secondary featuring former Rockhurst star Dexter McDonald. The defense took a step forward last season. Can it take another in 2014?
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Who will fill John Hubert’s shoes at running back? Hubert amassed 2,993 rushing yards during his three years as K-State’s starting running back, leaving little playing time for backups. That means the Wildcats will have a brand new look in the backfield this season. Outside of 11 carries by senior DeMarcus Robinson, no running back on the roster has touched the ball in a live game. Charles Jones and Jarvis Leverett were the top options during spring practices, but Judah Jones, a hybrid receiver/running back, outplayed them in the spring game. The door is open for Blue Springs freshman Dalvin Warmack to start immediately, but this position battle may last beyond preseason practices.
Who will round out the offensive line? With B.J. Finney, Cody Whitehair and Boston Stiverson returning, the middle of the offensive line is in good hands. But who will win the starting tackle positions previously held by Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks? Luke Hayes, A.J. Allen, Aaron Bennett and Matt Kleinsorge will be in the mix. Of course, coaches could slide Whitehair over to tackle as they did in the spring and look to Drew Liddle or Will Ash to fill in for him in the middle.
How much can the late-arriving junior-college transfers contribute? Defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales and linebackers Isaiah Riddle and D’Vonta Derricott were touted as significant additions when they signed in the spring, but all three missed summer workouts to complete required junior-college coursework. Assuming they report for the start of preseason practices with the rest of their teammates on Sunday, they will face an uphill climb to playing time. All three players have the talent to start on K-State’s defense, but can they learn a new system in less than a month?
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Will Mauk take the next step? Undoubtedly, quarterback Maty Mauk performed admirably during Mauktober, leading Missouri to a 3-1 record when James Franklin was sidelined because of a shoulder injury. Still, Mauk only completed 51.1 percent of his passes last season, so improving his accuracy and ability to command the game from the pocket will be pivotal if the Tigers are going to average close to 40 points per game again.
Who can replace production at receiver? MU lost its top three wide receivers — Marcus Lucas, L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham — so replacing roughly 170 catches, 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns is paramount for the offense. That means seniors Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darrius White, who had 55 catches for 690 yards and three touchdowns combined last season, must step up. It probably also means the Tigers need more production from tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
Can Tigers continue creating turnovers? Missouri has forced at least one turnover in 44 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the nation. With players such as cornerback E.J. Gaines (five interceptions) and defensive end Kony Ealy (three forced fumbles) gone, the Tigers must find defensive playmakers — chiefly, safety Braylon Webb and defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray — to keep up the turnover trend.
| Tod Palmer, email@example.com