You know how this works by now. I walk you through the EqPts scores of last year's games to see if they won or lost any games they shouldn't. Then I attack you with thousands of S&P- and Line Yards-related stats. Then we look at '+' numbers. Well...I'm going to abbreviate part of that with Kansas because...well...we all know that they didn't play the toughest of schedules in 2007, and the '+' numbers should be of particular interest. '+' numbers, after all, are the measures that compare what they did to what other opponents' opponents did. That way, even if they played a super-weak schedule, they're evaluated by how they played those crappy teams as compared to everybody else who played said crappy teams. That's the meat of any Kansas analysis here. But first...just so you don't get too terribly disoriented...I'll still hit you with some EqPts and a mini-stat onslaught.
And as always, for The Beef and others, I'll boldface the important stuff.
Kansas 42.6, Central Michigan 8.9 (real score: 52-7)
Kansas 40.6, SE Louisiana 14.1 (62-0)
Kansas 35.7, Toledo 7.9 (45-13)
Kansas 38.5, Florida International 0.6 (55.3)
Kansas 28.5, Kansas State 17.2 (30-24)
Kansas 29.0, Baylor 2.9 (58-10)
Kansas 14.8, Colorado 18.9 (19-14)
Kansas 18.0, Texas A&M 13.9 (19-11)
Kansas 65.7, Nebraska 31.1 (76-39)
Kansas 37.6, Oklahoma State 28.2 (43-28)
Kansas 41.8, Iowa State 7.8 (45-7)
Kansas 33.6, Missouri 34.8 (28-36)
Kansas 17.6, Virginia Tech 12.3 (24-21)
That game in Boulder was a dogfight, and the offense did next to nothing against the Buffs.
We'll give you the bare bones stat onslaught here...bearing in mind that the upcoming '+' numbers are far more telling.
OFFENSE (Success Rate / PPP / S&P)
Rushing: 51.0% / 0.45 / 0.960
Passing: 45.9% / 0.45 / 0.909
TOTAL: 48.4% / 0.45 / 0.934
Rushing (close games): 48.2% / 0.38 / 0.862
Passing (close games): 46.0% / 0.44 / 0.902
TOTAL: 47.0% / 0.41 / 0.884
Passing Downs: 30.9% / 0.20 / 0.507
Non-Passing Downs: 54.8% / 0.54 / 1.088
They never really took major chances on passing downs. They succeeded by a) staying OUT of passing downs and b) having no problem falling back on their defense and playing it safe.
DEFENSE (Success Rate / PPP / S&P)
Rushing: 37.3% / 0.23 / 0.599
Passing: 33.0% / 0.21 / 0.536
TOTAL: 34.8% / 0.21 / 0.562
Rushing (close games): 36.8% / 0.18 / 0.548
Passing (close games): 35.9% / 0.27 / 0.626
TOTAL (close games): 36.3% / 0.23 / 0.595
Passing Downs: 24.5% / 0.10 / 0.350
Non-Passing Downs: 40.9% / 0.28 / 0.688
Alright, on with the meat of the show.
Instead of numbers you may or may not care about, I'll just give you KU's national rank in each category. That most directly tells you what you need to know.
EqPts+: #9 in the country
Rushing S&P+: #8
Passing S&P+: #14
S&P+ (close games): #10
Rushing S&P+ (close games): #18
Passing S&P+ (close games): #25
Non-Passing Downs S&P+: #13
Passing Downs S&P+: #59
Redzone S&P+: #70
Q1 S&P+: #90
Q2 S&P+: #8
Q3 S&P+: #12
Q4 S&P+: #22
1st Downs S&P+: #24
2nd Downs S&P+: #22
3rd Downs S&P+: #35
Line Yards+: #9
Line Yards+ (close games): #6
- First things first, this was obviously a good offense. Yeah, they torched some bad defenses, but they really torched them.
- KU's offense was a bit of a slow starter overall, less than mediocre in Q1 (though as you'll see, they still jumped out to big leads because of their defense). But by Q2, they hit their stride.
- Line play was quite strong as well. KU was average-at-best on passing downs, but as I said above...they didn't face many.
EqPts+: #4 in the country
Rushing S&P+: #8
Passing S&P+: #3
S&P+ (close games): #5
Rushing S&P+ (close games): #5
Passing S&P+ (close games): #10
Non-Passing Downs S&P+: #20
Passing Downs S&P+: #10
Redzone S&P+: #51
Q1 S&P+: #23
Q2 S&P+: #15
Q3 S&P+: #20
Q4 S&P+: #75
1st Downs S&P+: #5
2nd Downs S&P+: #9
3rd Downs S&P+: #24
Line Yards+: #9
Line Yards+ (close games): #4
- In all, this was a stout defense with few weaknesses.
- Their redzone performance wasn't too amazing, but...well, that doesn't matter much when you don't allow teams into the redzone.
WinCorr Bullets (i.e. Game-Changing Stats)
So let us now move on to Win Correlations. If you've been reading my conference previews, you know the drill here. I look at a team's WinCorr's to determine which stats were most directly tied to wins and losses. What you get is a storyline of 3-4 bullet points. Here are KU's bullets:
- Offensive Success Rates (particularly: Rushing, Non-Passing Downs)
- Pass Defense
- Offensive Line Yards
- Defensive Success Rates
KU was good at rushing offense and pass defense most of the year, but breakdowns (against Mizzou, mostly) cost them. Which leads us to...
2008 Burning Questions
Strangely, the Game-Changing Stats coincide directly with KU's three biggest personnel losses--RB Brandon McAnderson, CB Aqib Talib and LT Anthony Collins.
Will Kansas Maintain a Consistent Running Game Without Brandon McAnderson?
Really, there are two parts to this question: how will the RBs do, and how will the O-Line do? I'll handle the former here.
Brandon McAnderson sure didn't seem all that fast or talented, but the dude racked up some serious yards for KU. He proved himself an extremely smart runner who took advantage of whatever holes the O-line created and required two tacklers to bring him down. For the season, McAnderson went for 1125 yards and 16 TDs in less than 15 carries a game. He added another 213 receiving yards on 21 receptions as well. While WRs like Dexton Fields and Dezmon Briscoe were key to KU's success, McAnderson was driving the bus. He was KU's Zack Abron. He didn't seem as talented or athletic as his backups, but Mizzou sure missed Abron when he was gone.
McAnderson's complement in the backfield was Jake Sharp. This wasn't quite a "thunder & lightning" situation, but there was indeed a contrast in styles--Sharp is faster and more dangerous in the open field. He put up 984 rushing/receiving yards of his own in about 13 touches a game. Looking back at who got key carries, it was obvious that McAnderson was the #1 option, but Sharp was quite competent in the #2 (and sometimes #1a) role.
So McAnderson's gone, and the 5'10/190 Sharp returns for his junior season. Will Sharp make for a seamless transition? Let's look at the S&P rushing splits.
- Brandon McAnderson: 53.2% success rate / 0.43 PPP / 0.962 S&P
- Jake Sharp: 55.4% success rate / 0.34 PPP / 0.891
Will the Offensive Line Suffice Without Anthony Collins?
Here's the other reason I think there will be a dropoff. Anthony Collins and Cesar Rodriguez are gone, and the O-line struggled tremendously in the spring. How important were they (Collins in particular)? In 2006 and 2007, the two years that Collins was a starter, KU averaged 4.8 yards per carry (and with two different starting RBs--Jon Cornish in '06 and McAnderson in '07). The previous two years? In 2004 they averaged 2.7, and in 2005, 3.8. Obviously that's not due completely to Collins, or even the Collins/Rodriguez combination, but they were the stalwarts of the last two O-lines--Ryan Cantrell is the only returnee with more than one season of contribution--and they're both gone.
Combined with the fact that KU will be seeing some tougher defenses this year, this should be alarming for KU fans. Assuming Todd Reesing has time to pass, the passing game should be solid with WRs Dexton Fields and Dezmon Briscoe (and Kerry Meier, for that matter); but they leaned on the running game a lot in wins over Colorado and Texas A&M in particular, and they won't be able to do that as much in '08. That puts added pressure on Reesing to make plays, and since KU was no better than mediocre in Passing Downs in '07, that's a problem to say the least.
How will KU's Pass Defense Be Without Aqib Talib?
The good news for KU, however, is on the defensive side of the ball. Six starters out of the front seven return, and although that one loss--DT James McClinton--is a rather heavy one (literally and figuratively), the cupboard is far from bare. John Larson and Russell Brorsen make for a sturdy pair of DEs, and the LB corps of James Holt, Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera, is going to be quite good. Possibly the best LB corps in the conference. You'll have to be able to throw the ball to beat KU in '08, and even that won't be just tremendously easy.
The big question*, of course, is how KU will respond to the loss of Aqib Talib. For such a high draft pick, Talib sure did seem to get burned a lot (see: Jordy Nelson, Jared Perry). But that's what happens when you're a risk-taker--you get burned a lot, and you end up with 15 career INTs. With such a solid front seven, KU won't need a guy taking too many chances at the CB position, and I'm thinking the duo of Chris Harris and Kendrick Harper should do pretty well. Harris will probably move into the #1 CB slot. From a 'play-making' standpoint, he obviously didn't match Talib's INTs and PBUs (Pass Break-Ups), but he did make some plays. His 41.2% success rate was quite impressive for a CB (meaning he's likely a good tackler and run-supporter), and his tackles resulted in only 0.23 PPP, really impressive for a CB (as a reference point, Talib's tackles went for 0.40 PPP, Harper's for 0.54 PPP). He's a decent coverage guy and really solid tackler, and he's only a sophomore. Plus, he won't get burned as much as Talib did (though he probably won't be as much of an INT threat).
Harper, on the other hand, is only going to put up average to above-average numbers, I think. But if Harris is doing a solid Talib impersonation at #1 CB, then Harper doesn't have to be anything extraordinary for KU to have a good defense.
Overall, the 2008 KU defense should really be on par with or better than the 2005 or 2007 units. Any offensive regression should be matched by defensive improvement.
* Of course, the other big question is how KU will do without last year's defensive coordinator Bill Young, who left for South Florida. Here's my theory: if Mizzou were to lose Matt Eberflus, I'd be disappointed but not all that worried. Until I'm proven wrong, I should take the same approach with KU and Young. It could be an issue, I guess, but I'm going to assume it won't be until proven otherwise.
As always...how are the special teams?
Kansas ranked #63 overall in my special teams rankings last year. Marcus Herford was an oustanding kick returner, guaranteeing KU starting field position of at least the 30 or 35. He returns for 2008. I swear he's been at KU since at least 2001.
The rest of the unit, however, was average at best. They were #109 in net punting and #103 in punt returns, and as Mizzou fans can attest, Scott Webb wasn't the most reliable of kickers. He was better than he showed against Mizzou, but he was still only above average at best. Both Webb and punter Kyle Tucker are gone, and while neither is a tremendous loss, they still have to find capable replacements, and nobody on the roster has kicked/punted at the D1 level. In fact, the punting options are shaky enough that rumor has it there's a chance that Kerry Meier, of all people, could win the punter job. Meanwhile, one potential option at PR is Raimond Pendleton, who looked good in '07 but earned Mark Mangino's ire (to say the least) and lost the job.
In all, the unit still has Herford, and the PR's won't be any worse in '08, but oy...the kicker/punter situation could be very costly for KU at one point or another.
To me, the 2008 KU season will be determined by how they handle two things: 1) offensive line deficiencies and 2) a harder schedule...and to a slightly lesser extent, 3) special teams deficiencies. Their '+' numbers show that they would have probably done just fine with a harder schedule in 2007--they did play quite a few weak teams, but they still did better against those weak teams than most did. Taking strength of schedule into account, they still finished in my Top 10 in both offense and defense. I'd be surprised if the offense finished that high again--with OL problems and the losses of go-to guys Brandon McAnderson and Marcus Henry--the latter of whom I didn't touch on here, but who himself carried KU's offense at times, particularly against Oklahoma State--I could see KU's offense falling back into the #30-35 range. The defense however, should only go up. They have to replace James McClinton and Aqib Talib, but the personnel and experience levels are strong here, and unless the loss of DC Bill Young means more than I think it will mean, KU should end up with a Top 5 defense in my '+' rankings in 2008.
The main problem is, of course, the schedule. They travel to South Florida to face their former DC on 9/20. USF's offense isn't amazing, but it should still put up a few points. This will be the first major test in 2008 of KU's offense, and how it responds to Young and George Selvie and an overall tough unit will determine the game. The conference schedule, meanwhile, includes trips to Norman (ouch) and Lincoln (NU will be looking for revenge), and it wouldn't be completely surprising for KU to go 0-2 in those two. The good news is that Texas Tech and Texas both have to come to Lawrence, and while they should win one of the two, winning both will be a chore.
This is a very good team, and there's no gimme loss on the schedule (okay, I guess the trip to Norman is a bit of a gimme). But while KU eeked by the likes of Colorado and ATM on the way to starting 11-0, they'll now have to beat at least two ranked teams (USF, OU) on the road, along with two more (TT, UT) at home to match that start in '08. And that's probably not going to happen.