Unfortunately the schedule gets significantly tougher in 2008 with the rotation of Big XII South powers Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas Tech onto the schedule in place of Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Baylor. There's also a road game at South Florida prior to conference play. Ouch. Throw in the fact that five of the best players from the 2007 team are gone (CB Aqib Talib, OT Anthony Collins, RB Brandon McAnderson, WR Marcus Henry, DT James McClinton) and it appears unlikely the Jayhawks will be able to approach what they accomplished last year.
It's not all doom and gloom in Lawrence though because a host of solid players return and the Jayhawks will always have the advantage of being the smartest team on the field. Quarterback Todd Reesing is back to direct the offense after garnering some Heisman mention late last season. He makes up for his lack of size with toughness and smarts, but don't expect him to match his big numbers from last year (3,486 passing yards, 33 tds to only 7 interceptions).
Three talented receivers return to form what should be one of the Big XII's top receiving corps. Dezmon Briscoe flashed big play potential (7 tds) as a true freshman in '07; Dexton Fields is a solid possession receiver (63 receptions a year ago); and all-purpose threat Kerry Meier reprises his role as the wild card in the offense. Meier (pictured, alright alright alright) not only plays wideout for the Jayhawks (26 receptions, 274 yards, 2 tds), he is also the backup quarterback (25 of 29 for 275 yards, 3 tds).
Running back is the biggest question mark on offense where they lose bruiser Brandon McAnderson (1,125 yards, 16 tds). Jake Sharp is steady (821 yards, 7 tds), but he's hardly the threat McAnderson was and is much better suited as a #2 back. Enter JC transfer Jocques Crawford. The 6'1", 220-pounder played in only 9 games last season but was named the JC Offensive Player of the Year after racking up 1,935 rushing yards in those 9 contests. Character issues kept him from enrolling elsewhere so he's not a sure thing in the lineup. Kansas will need him to keep defenses from teeing off on Reesing though, and Mangino is showing confidence in him.
This underrated unit was a big part of the team's success in 2007. The Kansas D finished in the top 10 nationally in rush defense, pass efficiency defense, and scoring defense, and the entire linebacking corps is back to lead the way in 2008. Joe Mortensen (106 tackles, 15 tackles for loss) is an All-Conference linebacker, and as sure a tackler as there is. James Holt (99 tackles, 13 tackles for loss) and Mike Rivera (96 tackles) round out the trio of senior linebackers that make up the smartest, most fundamentally sound unit in the conference. Sophomore Justin Springer and the speedy Arist Wright provide quality depth and a bright future.
Unfortunately the rest of the defense suffered some key losses. In addition to losing Aqib Talib (5 interceptions, 13 passes broken up), the most talented player on the roster, and James McClinton (39 tackles, 11 tackles for loss), the most disruptive player up front, they also lose ace defensive coordinator Bill Young to Miami. The secondary should be fine due to the return of five other players with starting experience, but somebody will need to step up in the trenches so the linebackers don't have to make every play.
KEEP AN EYE ON
Defensive End Maxwell Onyegbule. The sophomore may be just the pass rush specialist Kansas needs up front.
Running Back Jocques Crawford. If the JC transfer can stay eligible, he'll be the starting tailback and a much needed weapon in the ground game.