NIU @ Kansas Preview

LAWRENCE KS - NOVEMBER 20: Running back James Sims #29 of the Kansas Jayhawks carries the ball in for a touchdown during the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on November 20 2010 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Kansas is the big fat joke in the "Big 12" right now and everybody knows it. They weren't just a hard-luck 3-9, they were a dreadful, dreadful Kansas team that was an extreme departure from the fairly successful Mangino era from 2002-09. Turner Gill is in his second season, formally HC of the Buffalo Bulls from 2006-09.

The only time Gill went up against the Huskies was a 31-13 loss to the Huskies in Gill's first year coaching. He went on to lead Buffalo out of nowhere to an improbably MAC Championship victory over the 12-0 Ball State Cardinals in 2008. It's the basic MAC coaching cycle: Win a MACC at any cost and then move up to the BCS because you have been deemed a miracle-worker. You could say that he was, considering UB has never put together a winning season before (joined in the MAC in 1999) or since (Jeff Quinn was 2-10 LY).

Last year they lost to North Dakota State in the opener 3-6, then somehow beat a ranked Georgia Tech team 28-25. The Jayhawks would continue to go winless in-conference until a bizarre 52-45 comeback win over Colorado after trailing 45-17 in the 4th quarter. KU returns 14 starters and will be better, but how much better will they be?

Offense

Kansas is going to run more than they pass this season because of the lack of faith they have in their QB Jordan Webb and also the lack of playmakers on the outside. That's just the nature of the beast. Chuck Long was OC at Oklahoma from 2002-05, but he needs some players to work with out there on the field.

Kale Pick (worst QB name ever, now a WR) started the season at QB for the Jayhawks until he struggled and Jordan Webb came off the bench in the opening game LY. Webb got banged up in the middle of the conference season but came back in the last couple games.

KU returns 4 of their starters on the offensive line sans LG Trevor Marrongelli. LT Jeff Spikes was a consistent starter before a leg injury knocked him out of the season LY. The right side of the line have all been healthy and is led by senior C Jeremiah Hatch.

Players to watch

RB James Sims - Rushed for 742 yds and 9 TDs LY. Had 104 yds and a TD on 19 carries vs. McNeese St.

TE Tim Biere - Caught 19 passes for 228 yds and 4 TDs LY. On the John Mackey award watch list. Could be a matchup problem for the LBs.

WR/KR DJ Beshears - Will have to make some sort of an impact considering two other WRs (Daymond Patterson & Christian Matthews) won't be playing Saturday for various reasons. Breshears is a beast returning kicks, with a school record 922 on 36 attemps LY (25.6 ypr)

Defense

KU is rolling out a 3-4 this year which basically means that they really aren't going to be able to stop anything so let's try something new. DC Carl Torbush essentially coached defense for teams that became a lot better after he left (Miss St in 2009, Texas A&M 2003-05 and Alabama 2001-02.

In the front seven, the Jayhawks return RB-turned-DE Toben Opurum and WLB Steven Johnson. Projected starter DT Patrick Dorsey is going to miss a good chunk of the season with a broken foot he hurt in fall camp. Another starter from last year DT Richard Johnson got beat out by former-DE Kevin Young.

So basically 3 starters back in the front seven. To sum it up the poor run-defense of Kansas last year can't get any worse, but will it get any better? Extremely unlikely considering the amount of production they lost from the unit last year, even if the unit as a whole sucked.

They also return most of their secondary, but are they any good? Kansas fans don't think so after McNeese St burned them last week. The two safeties are converted WRs. Huh?

Players to watch

LB Steven Johnson - Had 95 tackles and 2.5 TFL LY. Last week he had 15 tackles, 2 TFL and a FF.

BUCK/DE Toben Opurum - Had 11 tackles and 3.5 TFL vs. McNeese St.

NIU's strategy:

The best matchup the Huskies have is against the KU defense. They didn't show anything last week to prove themselves as even marginally improved from the failed season last year. NIU I feel will be able to pretty much anything they want on offense and Kansas' will be hard-pressed to stop it.

On the defensive side of the ball, I don't think anybody knows what to expect against the Jayhawks. They played pretty well against Army, but their offense is an anomaly.

Kansas' offense is also a question. Sure they played great against an FCS squad, but it looks like they'll be down a couple skill players on offense. What will happen when Northern Illinois stops the run? The number of true freshman running out there to make an impact for the Jayhawks is pretty long: RBs Darrian Miller & Anthony Pierson and WR JaCorey Shepherd.

If all things go well offensively for KU, this thing is going to be a shootout. If the Huskies are able to somehow shut them down this year, then things could get pretty ugly very fast.

I'm taking the Huskies 52, Jayhawks 30

Predictions?

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