Our run of preview Q&A's comes to a rousing crescendo of a finale today, as we welcome the author of Rock Chalk Talk over to RMN to give us a personal look at Kansas' 2008 season.
RMN: There's really no need to chronicle how huge 2007 was for the Kansas football program. What's the buzz like entering 2008 from fans, players, coaches, etc.?
RCT: You sure you don't want want to chronicle it? ; ) To answer your question, there is more buzz surrounding the football program now than there has been in a long time. 1996 is the last comparable year, off of 95's similar results (save the late-season collapse of '95), but in this new age of the internets, and all of the extra information that is out there for the general public, this is as anticipated a season as there has ever been. Probably THE most anticipated season in Kansas football history.
The players and coaches, with Mark Mangino's take-one-game-at-a-time routine, are much more mellow about the season than the fans. I'm sure they are incredibly excited to take the field and prove that last season's schedule-aided 12-1 finish wasn't a fluke, but no interviews showcase such an excitement.
With Kansas basketball expected to have a down year after the losses from last season's team, KU football will be the main focal point of the Lawrence campus (or at least should be) all the way through December.
RMN: How does the Kansas offense get better than it was last year?
RCT: Simple. More experience and, overall, better talent. Todd Reesing is coming back. Jake Sharp, Dezmon Briscoe, Dexton Fields, Kerry Meier and a host of other, lesser-known skill players are as well. And to replace the three departing weapons (Brandon McAnderson, Marcus Henry and Derek Fine) Mark Mangino has brought in more acclaimed, more talented, better football players to replace them. The offense will struggle at first, and may not ever be better if the two new offensive tackles (two of Jeremiah Hatch, Jeff Spikes, Matt Darton and Ian Wolfe) don't perform, but the skill positions are better this year than last. Basically, if our offensive tackles can perform at the same level that Anthony Collins and Cesar Rodriguez performed at last year, which is admittedly setting the bar awfully high, we should have a better offense. If not, we figure to struggle, especially at the beginning of the season.
More questions after the jump.
RMN: Most Kansas previews center around the losses of Collins and Talib. Who fills those voids, and what other new or "below the radar" players do teams need to be concerned about this year?
RCT: I just touched on this in the previous answer, but Collins figures to be replaced by either A) Jeremiah Hatch or B) Jeff Spikes. Spikes was the heavy favorite coming into fall practice, but has since lost his lead and has battled with Hatch neck-and-neck. Hatch was an interior offensive lineman reserve last season, making his switch to LT a little surprising. That said, whoever replaces him figures to be a shadow of Anthony Collins, at least at the beginning of the season.
As far as Aqib Talib, we are more stocked at corner. The two starters both started some games this season, with Chris Harris being the better of the two (Senior Kendrick Harper is the other). Other young corners figure to emerge as well, mainly Isiah Barfield, who Talib himself drew a comparison between the two.
Some "below the radar" players to watch out for next season are Darius Parish on defense and Jonathan Wilson on offense. Parish is a beast of a defensive tackle who is incredibly raw and was expected to redshirt this season. But he has looked so dominant in practice that he has barged his way onto the two-deep and will likely see plenty of playing time this season. If we do end up redshirting him, make sure and watch out for another DT; Jamaal Greene. Greene is a space-eating run-stuffing machine, but he can also sneak back and sack a QB occasionally. Wilson is a personal favorite of mine who figures to see some backup action at the WR position, and has the potential to explode just like Dez Briscoe did last year.
RMN: A lot has been and continues to be made about the 2007 schedule vs. the 2008 schedule. How do you expect the Jayhawks to respond to the challenges they'll face in 2008?
RCT: Oh boy. Honestly, the schedule shouldn't be overlooked. As sick as I am of hearing about last year's frickin' weak schedule, this season's is clearly more difficult. But it is so overblown that people are almost underrating us yet again; sure, we will likely lose at least three games this season (@ OU, vs. MU and one of vs. UT/vs. TTU/@ Neb/@ USF), but we are a more talented and 'better' team than we were last year. So, to answer your question, I think the schedule will play a role in this season, for sure, but not nearly as big of a difference as the MSM is making it out to be.
RMN: How do you think Kansas matches up with Mizzou in 2008? Is there a specific matchup that you think give the Jayhawks an advantage over the Tigers at Arrowhead?
RCT: Overall, going through the entire teams, Missouri is clearly the better team IMO. Kansas is certainly in the same league as Missouri, but not quite as talented in most positions as Missouri. As far as advantages go, the biggest advantage Kansas has over MIssouri is stopping the run. Kansas' linebackers are some of the best in the entire country, and Missouri's running backs are all largely unproven. I understand that Derrick Washington is more talented, from what I've heard, than Tony Temple, and MU's running game very well might be better than it was last season, but it is still mostly unknown. Plus, as good as our run D was last season, it figures only to get better with the addition of both Jamaal Greene and Darius Parish. If there is an advantage Kansas has over MU, it has to be stopping the Tigers' running game.
RMN: Finish the following statements:
-- Mizzou will win if:
-- Kansas will win if:
-- Missouri will win the game if: They don't commit any turnovers. Maybe I'm more negative than I should be this early in the season, but I really don't see Kansas winning the game. I fully expect it to be really close and a back-and-forth battle that won't allow for any early celebrations, but I just don't see us winning the game. Now, if Missouri starts going crazy and turning the ball over, then we could easily escape Arrowhead with a victory. As long as Missouri doesn't lose the game, I don't think we will win it. I'm going to get burned at the stake for that.
-- Kansas will win if: They stop Missouri on third downs. Last season in the Border War, we did a really good job of playing D against Chase and Company on first and second down, often even forcing third-and-longs. But just about every time, Missouri would convert and continue marching down the field. If Kansas does stand a chance at winning the game, they will have to get off the field on third down.
RMN: Give us an early prediction for the MU/KU game, as well as a best- and worst-case scenario for Kansas' record this season.
RCT: Missouri is probably going to win the game. Again, I believe that it will be a close game, but I am firmly penciling in the Border War as an 'L'.
Kansas' best case scenario is probably 10-2, with losses only @ OU and vs. Missouri, with a trip to the Cotton Bowl. I guess it isn't completely unreasonable to see us going back to Arrowhead and the Big 12 Championship Game, but that is probably reaching a little too far with how difficult this schedule is.
The worst case is a pitiful 7-5, which would still be good enough to make a bowl. Still, despite making a bowl for two consecutive years for the first time in school history, if we go 7-5 the entire fanbase would be awfully disappointed, and would make last season seem like a complete fluke. Honestly, I really don't see it happening, but it is possible considering our schedule.