Continuing our series checking in with the beat writers who cover Oklahoma State’s conference opponents as we march closer to the start of college football season.
Kansas with Lawrence Journal-World beat writer Matt Tait
Here’s our exchange:
Gina Mizell: What was the initial reaction from fans to the hiring of Charlie Weis, and has that changed in the months since? What about this job attracted him to it?
Matt Tait: Some were upset about it and some were left scratching their heads. In the months since, most have been converted. I think people were afraid of what they were getting because they only knew of Weis’ reputation at Notre Dame. But he’s been great since he took over here and his emphasis on discipline, accountability and honesty has really won over a lot of the fans. Now, they’re thrilled to have a guy of his caliber running their program. As for why he took the job, I think it’s simple: KU gives him the opportunity to do things his way at a place that has a lot of positive elements in place (Allen Fieldhouse, the football building, etc.) and also gives him the chance to prove that his “struggles” at Notre Dame were a fluke. He’s said over and over that he loves that KU was 2-10 last year because there’s no place to go but up from there.
GM: How effective can new quarterback Dayne Crist be in this offense? Does he have enough talent around him?
MT: Crist can be good. Really good. And it all depends on if they can protect him and keep him out there for 12 games. He knows the offense inside and out, has the trust of his head coach and has enough talent around him to turn KU’s offense into a pretty solid group. For starters, there are a few play-makers on the offensive side of the ball, most notably sophomore running back Tony Pierson and senior wide receiver Daymond Patterson, who missed most of 2011 because of injury. Those two are a threat to score every time they touch the ball. Beyond that, though, there is quality depth on the Kansas offense. The running back position is at least three deep with front-line talent and there are nearly a dozen wide receivers vying for meaningful snaps. Add to that a variety of talent at tight end, including Notre Dame transfer Mike Ragone, and you’re looking at a group that could be pretty efficient and productive this season.
GM: Obviously, this team was poor in a lot of areas a season ago. Where are the Jayhawks most likely to improve this season? Why?
MT: The biggest area in which KU will look different is how they line up. Too often during the past two seasons, players did not know what plays they were running and were dancing around all over the place when the ball was snapped. Not only did that lead to some awful performances but it was also an obvious indicator to the fans that the Jayhawks did not know what they were doing. That’s on the coaches and this group of new coaches will not let that happen. Crist alone makes the offense much more dangerous and the defense, though still a work in progress, should take a couple of steps forward and look a lot more like the solid defenses KU fans grew to love under Mark Mangino.
GM: Potential breakout player for KU?
MT: Sophomore running back Tony Pierson has the chance to be explosive. He’s lightning quick, tough as nails and can score from anywhere on the field. What’s more, he’s versatile enough to be used in several different ways. He can line up in the slot or in the I-formation or get the ball on reverses and sweeps. His potential is unlimited, really, and Weis has said throughout the spring that Pierson is a guy that has to touch the ball. At first he said 10 times a game. Then that number grew to 12-15. And by the end of the spring it was up to 15-18. Pierson’s ready and he has said that he’ll take as many touches as coach wants to give him. He’s not a big back – 5-10, 168 – so wear and tear will be a concern, but he’s so fast and elusive that he might not take a ton of hits.
GM: KU went winless in conference play last season. Give me your prediction for this season and why.
MT: I’ve been asked this a lot and it’s so tough to pinpoint a prediction. I really could see KU winning anywhere from 2 to 5 games this season. But when pushed to pick one and stick with it, I’ve gone with 4-8. I think KU’s good enough to win all of its non-conference games and then should be able to find a victory in the Big 12 somewhere. From a pure talent standpoint, the Jayhawks are still behind every other team in the league. The talent is improved, but you just don’t close the kind of gap that existed between KU and everybody else these past couple of years overnight. It’s going to take some time. This season should be a step in the right direction, and KU should have a shot to win a couple of Big 12 games. But having a shot to win them is different than actually doing it. And until they actually do it, it’s hard to predict that they will. That said, I’ve gotta tell you that Weis just seems like the kind of coach who will find a way to win a game he shouldn’t every year. Call it a gut feeling, but I keep thinking that. We’ll see.