KU, KSU conference openers didn't instill confidence

By Steve Sell
September 26, 2018

Kansas and Kansas State are being picked to finish 1-2 in the Big 12 basketball race by some respected publications.

Not surprising. Kansas is Kansas after all, and it is coming off a Final Four season. With three quality redshirt transfers and a talented freshman class, anything less than a Final Four is a disappointment in the eyes of Jayhawk fans.

Kansas State returns most of its stars from a team that was one victory away from joining KU in the Final Four. Dean Wade and Barry Brown headline a Wildcat team that will give KU a run for its money.

Such is not the case, though, in Big 12 football. The Jayhawks and Wildcats have some work to do if last week's conference-opening performances are an indication. Honestly, they looked like the bottom two teams.

Expectations rose for the Jayhawks after they ended their 46-game road losing streak to Central Michigan and then pummeled Big 10 doormat Rutgers. They went into Baylor with some semblance of hope.

But then David Beaty, he of the perplexing coaching decisions including strange uses of timeouts, went with Peyton Bender as his starting quarterback after Miles Kendrick smoothly operated the controls the entire second half against Rutgers. I'm sure the decision caused many to scratch their heads (including KU players).

KU spun its wheels with the immobile Bender at quarterback. By the time Beaty realized the error of his ways, the Jayhawks were well out of it. And when Kendrick was inserted, he was injured shortly after and is now listed day-to-day. The short passing game returned and the offense flamed out.

The KU offensive line, which muscled folks around the previous 2 weeks, collapsed against a strong-and-fast Bears defense. Take away a 72-yard run by Pooka Williams and it was reminiscent of the TCU game last year where KU barely was positive yards in offense.

In other words, two steps forward, one step back.

The KU defense was porous against the pass, but better against the run. The Jayhawks actually won the second half 7-3, but moral victories mean little. At least Beaty had the bravery  after the game to say the Bears were the better-coached and more-prepared team.

At this point, I don't see anybody the Jayhawks can beat in conference play.

As for Kansas State, I'm totally flummoxed.

Nobody trumpeted the Wildcats during the preseason more than me. I looked at how this team finished last year and what it had coming back and I thought a Top 3 finish was inevitable.

But Bill Moses Snyder, for one of the rare times I can ever remember, was critical of his team after the West Virginia loss, noting its failure to make a half-yard at one point in turning the ball over on downs.

I'm not about to give up on Kansas State given its pedigree and Snyder's wizardry, but when you look at how the other Big 12 teams have performed and how the Wildcats have started the season (they scraped by South Dakota, and were manhandled by Mississippi State and West Virginia), third place could be a reach. I do know, however, that Snyder has an uncanny knack of being able to rally the troops.

I didn't expect the defense to be world-beaters. I figured it would be a unit that would give up 21 to 28 points to the good teams.

But the offense, I thought and still believe, should be punishing. The heralded offensive line returned intact, Alex Barnes headlines a fleet of sleek running backs, and quarterbacks Skylar Thompson and Alex Delton finished strong last year.

But neither has distinguished himself so far. Saturday's offensive performance is among the poorest I can remember since the start of Snyder 2.0. If the passing game doesn't get untracked, then teams will load up against the run.

Saturday's home game with Texas is immense. The Longhorns have shown improvement while the Wildcats have taken a step back. A loss to the 'Horns and it's no lock KSU will win on the road next week at Baylor before starting a three-game gauntlet against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and TCU.

I said before the season a sixth-place standing, as was predicted in the polls, was laughable. If the Wildcats don't get it going, I'm the one who will be laughed at.