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Weis and new-look Kansas set to finally take field

Associated Press Published: September 1, 2012
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — All the bluster is over for Charlie Weis.

He won the opening press conference, quickly endearing himself to a skeptical fan base at Kansas. He turned over most of the coaching staff and reworked a team that won two games a year ago, making all the right moves and saying all the right things every step of the way.

Now, it's time to see whether the new-look Jayhawks led by the former Notre Dame coach have made progress in the short time that Weis has been at the helm.

Kansas opens its season Saturday night against South Dakota State.

"I'm really excited for our team, to see how they are going to play, more than anything else," Weis said. "We have been talking about this stuff forever. Now it's time to play and get an opportunity to see where we are."

Just about anywhere would be better than where Kansas finished last season.

The Jayhawks started off with a pair of wins against McNeese State and Northern Illinois, a team that would eventually win 11 games. But Kansas followed that with 10 straight losses, allowing at least 60 points three times and getting shut out by Texas along the way.

Coach Turner Gill's fate may have been sealed midway through the season, but a 24-10 loss to rival Missouri in what could be the final meeting for years encapsulated the state of the program.

Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger promised he would make a bold hire, and the former football coach certainly did that. Weis was coming off a mediocre season as offensive coordinator at Florida, and his only stint as a head coach with the Fighting Irish ended in disappointment. He also boasts Super Bowl rings and is widely regarded as an offensive genius.

So while Weis was certainly off the radar, most people who make the Saturday pilgrimages to Mount Oread were content to sit back and let things play out.

Weis wasted little time changing every aspect of the program.

He booted a slew of players for various reasons, putting in place rules designed to impart on the team some semblance of accountability. He told new strength coach Scott Holsopple to put those left behind through the most grueling offseason workout they had ever experienced.

Weis started recruiting, laying the groundwork for future seasons while also focusing on the immediate future. He took advantage of a still-new rule that allows athletes who have graduated to transfer elsewhere and be eligible to play immediately, and managed to lure several guys who had played for him ever so briefly at Notre Dame to Lawrence.

The biggest coup was Dayne Crist, a once-highly touted quarterback prospect.

Crist redshirted at Notre Dame, and then made four appearances as a freshman before a knee injury cut short his season. He started nine games as a sophomore before another knee injury.

Weis was eventually fired, and new coach Brian Kelly's system hardly fit what Crist does well — drop back and stand in the pocket. So after playing in four games as a junior, it became evident that Crist was out of chances in South Bend, and he started to look for a new chance elsewhere.

The strong-armed quarterback has been given the reigns of Weis' rebuilding job, and the way his college experience is remembered may largely be decided by the next 12 games.

"If you aren't ready to go on Saturday, there's something wrong with you, because it's so much fun," Crist said. "It's what you work all week for, all year for."

Crist has taken on more than his share of accountability this season. For one thing, he's familiar with the offense that Weis runs from their time at Notre Dame, so he's been helping to tutor the rest of the team — no easy task given the NFL-like complexity of the system.

He's also become the de facto face of the team. After all, the 2-10 record that Kansas managed last season didn't exactly result in a plethora of stars to showcase.

"The one area I'm most pleased with, just being a member of the offense, is seeing the level of confidence that has grown," Crist said. "Guys are playing so much more confident and when you do that you play faster, you make plays and you go out and do what you love, and guys can really show their athleticism and their talent."

The Jayhawks should be able to show off against the Jackrabbits, and perhaps even next week against Rice. But things get tougher in a hurry, with Big 12 newcomer TCU waiting in Week 3.

"Your ideal is that you go play a solid game in all three facets. You win the game and you play solid in all three facets," Weis said. "I would like to see the students, the alumni, the fan base and the football team start to have a positive connection. Part of that is us playing well."