EDITOR’S NOTE: In the two weeks leading up to the 2017 college football season, Franchise columnist and co-host John E. Hoover previews the Big 12 Conference. Today: Kansas.
David Beaty swears that beating Texas last year wasn’t any more significant than beating any other Big 12 Conference opponent.
Of course, the 24-21 overtime takedown of the Longhorns was Beaty’s first victory in two years as head coach at Kansas, so how could he possibly know?
“That one was big because it was the first one,” Beaty said. “I do believe that it’s yet to be seen whether that can be a cornerstone in our program as we work to turn this thing around. It would be a shame for us to waste that opportunity. I hope that we can make it one of those cornerstones as we move forward.”
Forward is where Kansas seems to be heading, and the reality is that a lot of it has to do with that amazing November Saturday in Lawrence. It ended a string of nine consecutive losses, 19 straight conference defeats and 24 losses in a row to FBS opponents. Still, even though the Jayhawks finished the season just 2-10, the historic victory over Texas — KU’s first since 1938 — gave them a push into the offseason.
In January, Beaty swiped offensive coordinator Doug Meacham from TCU. The Horned Frogs ranked in the top five nationally in total offense in two of Meacham’s three seasons as Gary Patterson’s play-caller, but a long relationship with Beaty — and Beaty’s persistence — lured Meacham to Lawrence.
“When I first got to Kansas, I called him 10 times and offered him,” Beaty said. “I told him, ‘Look, look, you can have all the money. I’ll hire everybody else for a dollar. You can have it all. What’s it going to take to get you here?’ Because I just think that much of him.”
Beaty said Meacham has made life around the football complex fun for the players and the staff. But he’s also “one of the best offensive minds in college football. Bringing him to Lawrence was an incredible addition.
“I’ll tell you what, it’s been so comforting for a head coach to have a guy that, first of all, we share the same philosophies offensively. We’ve been in the same family of offenses, which is something that was very important to me. And then, secondly, to have a guy that you have as much respect for as anyone in the country for doing it the way he does it, and then watching him put his spin on this air raid offense has been so much fun.”
Hiring Meacham was a major offseason coup — he turned Trevone Boykin into a Heisman contending quarterback, and the Horned Frogs ranked third and fifth nationally total offense in 2014 and 2015, respectively, averaging 563 and 533 yards per game — but the real surprise at Kansas came in June.
That’s when athletic director Sheahon Zenger announced plans to overhaul KU’s football facilities with a “massive” $300 million infusion of hope “that will position Kansas football as a national leader among conference and power five programs for generations to come,” Zenger wrote in a letter to KU donors.
The project will come in phases over the next 3-5 years and will start with a much-needed indoor practice facility.
With that kind of investment, Kansas is much more likely to land a prime spot when the next round of conference realignment comes along than it would be with a continuingly lifeless football program.
“It’s a great time to be in the Big 12,” Beaty said. “It’s a great time to be at the University of Kansas.”
That might not necessarily mean more wins in 2017. The Jayhawks are still picked to finish last in the league. But that doesn’t mean KU won’t be better.
Start with defensive end Dorance Armstrong, a player so good that media who cover the league picked him as the preseason defensive player of the year.
“The best thing I think about Dorance is that that award doesn’t mean much to him,” Beaty said. “He knows that’s just written and that the real award is given at the end of the year. He cares a lot more about his teammates and about winning. … That’s what makes him great.
“And we have a locker room full of those guys.”
Two of them, Beaty thinks, are at quarterback.
Three guys split time last year. But Montell Cozart (1,075 yards, seven touchdowns, nine interceptions) transferred to Boise State and Ryan Willis (811 yards, three TDs, eight INTs) transferred to Virginia Tech. That leaves sophomore Carter Stanley (959 yards, six TDs, six INTs) and junior Peyton Bender (498 yards, three TDs, four INTs as a redshirt freshman in 2015 at Washington State, 2,733 yards, 21 TDs, four INTs last year at Itawamba Community College).
“Man, two really talented guys right now we’ve got vying for that quarterback spot,” Beaty said.
“Carter finished the season for us last year. Watching his maturation was the thing that I really liked. Watching him really start taking the game seriously as he went into his sophomore campaign. Watching him grow — it’s always fun to watch a quarterback do that. But the thing I really like about him is the way that he reacts in games. Guys are drawn to him. He’s got some athleticism to him. He can extend plays, and he’s a tough dude.
“Peyton Bender … played in our system with coach (Mike) Leach up at Washington State, so his familiarity was instant when he walked in the door, which gave us a great opportunity to truly evaluate him because he already understood the concepts. The kid’s very talented. He’s got as nice of an arm as I’ve been around, unbelievably quick release, very smart guy.”
Stanley might be the sentimental favorite — he’s the one that engineered that victory over Texas, after all — but as roommates and close friends, they both know the best man will win the job. That’s the only way a program like Kansas can begin that long climb out of the basement.
“The thing that I personally am really proud of right now is what I would call an upward trend at our place,” Beaty said. “I think that’s because of the consistency of the message that we have spoken from the day that we got there, that this is not about us. It never will be. It will be about the stakeholders, all of our fans that deserve so much better. We have remained consistent with that, and the way that we’re going to get it done is very simple.
“We’re going to earn it by working every single day. It’s a process, not an event. Part of the biggest challenge is understanding they call it development because it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to develop. It’s taken us a while to get there, and we obviously now are very excited because all of our young-uns are three years into it and they’ve got some experience.
“I do think that one of the things that a head coach, I believe, has to do is you do have to carry that flag for your program. I think it’s part of the job. It is. And creating that culture is really, really important, and then it’s up to individuals to decide whether that is something that they believe in or not.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.
- 2017 KANSAS SCHEDULE
- Sept. 2: Southeast Missouri State
- Sept. 9: Central Michigan
- Sept. 16: at Ohio
- Sept. 23: West Virginia
- Oct. 7: Texas Tech
- Oct. 14: at Iowa State
- Oct. 21: at TCU
- Oct. 28: Kansas State
- Nov. 4: Baylor
- Nov. 11: at Texas
- Nov. 18: Oklahoma
- Nov. 25: at Oklahoma State