Spring Wrap Big 12 Football

Lee Miles is back in the Big 12 as the new head coach at Kansas. He was the head coach at Oklahoma State before he went to LSU and led the Tigers to the 2007 national title. Miles has been out of coaching since 2016, when he was fired by LSU after a 2-2 start that left him with a 114-34 record. When he got to Oklahoma State, the Cowboys had just one winning season in 12 years before Miles, that program then in similar shape to the Jayhawks now without a winning season or bowl game since 2008.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a 12-part series previewing the 2019 West Virginia University football opponents.

Kansas has been one of the most consistent football programs in the Big 12 over the years in the sense that you can consistently count on finding the Jayhawks at the bottom the conference standings.

David Beaty’s fourth season as KU’s coach was his best, with the Jayhawks going 3-9 but still finishing last in the Big 12 with a 1-8 record in the league. Kansas and Beaty parted ways after a 6-42 overall record and just two conference wins during those four years.

KU made a notable hire to replace Beaty by bringing in Les Miles as its next head coach last November. Miles, the 2002 Big 12 Coach of the Year while at Oklahoma State, led Louisiana State to one national title (2007) during a run on the Tigers’ sideline from 2005 through 2016.

There is a reason the Jayhawks own just two conference wins over the last four seasons, so it should come as no surprise that Miles has a massive rebuilding job on his hands at KU.

Last season when Kansas visited West Virginia in Morgantown, the Jayhawks put up a good fight against the high-powered Mountaineers but still came up short. WVU quarterback Will Grier, now a rookie in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers, threw for four touchdowns but also tossed three interceptions as the Mountaineers held off Kansas 38-22 at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The Mountaineers own a 7-1 all-time record against the Jayhawks and have won five consecutive games in the series going back to a 2013 KU win under former coach Charlie Weis in Lawrence.

WVU visits Kansas on Sept. 21 this season to open Big 12 league play. Let’s take a look at what to expect from the Jayhawks’ roster:

OFFENSE

Quarterback: Senior Carter Stanley and junior Miles Kendrick are both back for KU in 2019, but transfer Thomas MacVittie and true freshman Torry Locklin seem like the two players to keep an eye on here. MacVittie starred at a big-time prep program in Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High before starting his collegiate career at Pitt. From there it was off to a junior college before returning to the Power 5 at Kansas. Locklin comes to KU after a standout high school career at Texas’ Rockdale High, where he was the state 3A Player of the Year after leading his team to a state championship.

Running back: This is a make-or-break spot for KU. Last season, true freshman Pooka Williams emerged as one of the top running backs in the Big 12, and with potentially three more seasons ahead of him it appeared Williams was in for a solid career with the Jayhawks. Then, in December, Williams was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery. Williams signed a diversion agreement with the local district attorney’s office, but has remained suspended indefinitely. If he plays for KU, he’s a difference maker on the field. Senior Khalil Herbert and Dom Williams should both get carries, especially if Williams misses any games due to his suspension this season.

Receivers: This was a thin spot for Kansas upon Miles’ arrival, so he made a point of going out and getting some players. Ezra Naylor — listed at 6-foot-4 — and Andrew Parchment — listed at 6-foot-2 — both arrived at Kansas via junior colleges this offseason. Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot was impressive during spring practice for the Jayhawks and should see plenty of the field in 2019 as well.

Offensive line: One of the few spots with decent depth on the Kansas roster, the offensive line should be a strong point for the Jayhawks in 2019. Senior tackle Hakeem Adeniji leads a group of eight upperclassmen that should see plenty of playing time for Kansas.

DEFENSE

Defensive line: Perhaps the weakest of the KU position groups going into 2019, the Jayhawks’ defensive line was crushed by attrition this offseason. Daniel Wise, an All-Big 12 pick last season, was among those lost to graduation. Miles was, however, high on incoming freshman DaJon Terry, who could see time at nose tackle for KU this season.

Linebackers: All-Big 12 linebacker Joe Dineen is off to the NFL after a strong career with Kansas. Expect the Jayhawks to try to find ways to get freshman Steven Parker and Gavin Potter on the field.

Defensive backs: Safeties Mike Lee and Bryce Tornaden give KU a dependable duo at the back of its defense, while sophomore cornerback Corione Harris — one of the most highly ranked recruits in KU football history — played in 11 games last season as a true freshman.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kyle Thompson played well in his first year as the Kansas punter, but the Jayhawks will have to find a replacement for longtime placekicker Gabriel Rui. The real question mark on special teams for KU depends on Williams’ status. The freshman running back was the first-team All-big 12 kickoff returner, and his status will dictate just how good Kansas can be on special teams.

Contact Tom Bragg at tom.bragg@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports. Read Tom’s WVU sports blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wvu/