LAWRENCE, Kan. -- The record suggests Kansas did not improve in Charlie Weis' first season as coach.
A 1-11 finish, coupled with an 0-9 run through the conference, boosted the Jayhawks' losing streaks to 21 games in both the Big 12 and the Bowl Subdivision.
Dig a little deeper, however, and it is obvious the program is in better shape. Discipline was established as 29 roster players were run off because they were not accountable or trustworthy. Academics were also put in order as Weis demanded that players attend class.
Even on game day the Jayhawks looked sharper, lining up in the right places with the right schemes.
Nonetheless, coaches are measured by wins. And right now, Kansas is the Big 12 doormat, in spite of winning the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2007 season and then claiming another bowl win the following year. That was not that long ago, and Weis is determined to get the Jayhawks righted, right now.
To facilitate that goal he welcomed a stockpile of junior-college transfers into the program to build depth and promote competition. Seven already were atop the depth chart at various positions to begin fall camp. Other major-college transfers are expected to provide considerable help, beginning with the pass-and-catch combination of quarterback Jake Heaps (BYU) and wide receiver Justin McCay (Oklahoma). Each was ranked highly in national circles coming out of high school and was contacted by Weis when he was head coach at Notre Dame.
"In recruiting, I think it's imperative to understand that, when you bring in a high school kid, there's a good portion of them that need at least a year to go ahead and develop," Weis said. "Sometimes it's more than a year. ... I needed guys that could play now because, if not, I'm going to be ranked 10th in the league every year. So I needed to go with that high volume."
No way does Weis like being ranked 10th. Oh, he'll kid with the media and poke fun at himself on occasion. During Big 12 media days, he even related a recruiting tale in which he labeled last year's team a "piece of crap," and subsequently took grief from national writers.
He has specific rules that must be followed. And specific expectations he wants the Jayhawks to fulfill. He thinks it can be done, too.
"To be perfectly honest with you, I truly blame me," Weis said of the 1-11 finish last year. "Living through that season multiple times, I've thought about the good things and the bad things."
He also senses that his squad has the resolve needed to begin a turnaround.
If Heaps and McCay can revive a passing attack that was virtually nonexistent last year, Kansas should be much more effectively offensively. Its backfield is loaded. James Sims returns as a 1,000-yard rusher, while Tony Pierson will be used in various capacities to capitalize on his speed and versatility. Darrian Miller, Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox are also talented, though the Kansas line must be re-worked after losing three starters.
Additional depth should prevent the Jayhawks from sagging on defense late in games, though the secondary is brand new and will be under fire in the pass-happy Big 12.
Winning is never easy. Thus, there is no quick fix for Kansas. Nonetheless, Weis is attempting such a trick by attempting to secure players who can step in immediately.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The Jayhawks' skid against Bowl Subdivision teams stands at 21 after they failed to get past Rice and Northern Illinois. A rematch with the Owls is scheduled Sept. 14 in Houston after Kansas opens against an FCS foil, South Dakota. Rice returns most of its starters and should contend in the West Division of Conference USA, so the trip promises to be difficult for Kansas. A Sept. 21 clash against Louisiana Tech also awaits, though that's it for the light opening month. A 3-0 record through nonconference would give the Jayhawks confidence they desperately need and is indeed possible. Still, this is Kansas, so no win is a given.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: Everything needs to improve, beginning with depth. The Jayhawks were in position to win several times last season, but faltered at the end, sometimes because they simply ran out of gas. Then in the last two games, they were outscored 110-33 by Iowa State and West Virginia, two opponents Kansas figured to compete well against. Those defeats dropped Weis below .500 for his career as a head coach. The introduction of another major-college transfer at quarterback, Jake Heaps from BYU, must go better than the transition of Dayne Crist (Notre Dame) last year. Heaps shows lots of promise and should be helped by a legitimately potent ground game that features a bevy of solid backs.
AREAS OF CONCERN: Everything remains a concern, really, except for the ground game, and the Jayhawks cannot rely exclusively on that strength. They must be able to throw the ball effectively behind Heaps and another major-college transfer, wide receiver Justin McCay (Oklahoma). Losses along the offensive front raise concerns, particularly at left tackle and center. The defensive line must impose more pressure after the Jayhawks managed just seven sacks in Big 12 play last season. That created too much time for the secondary to maintain coverage. Defensive back Cassius Sendish was declared the most dependable junior-college transfer at the start of fall camp and will start the season as the nickel back because of his versatility.
--Team correspondents for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this story.