Today, we conclude our schedule analyses for the Big 12 with the Jayhawks of Lawrence.
Nonconference (with 2010 records):
Sept. 3: McNeese State (6-5)
Sept. 10: Northern Illinois (11-3)
Sept. 17: at Georgia Tech (6-7)
Home Big 12 games:
Oct. 1: Texas Tech (8-5)
Oct. 15: Oklahoma (12-2)
Oct. 22: Kansas State (7-6)
Nov. 12: Baylor (7-6)
Nov. 26: Missouri (10-3) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Away Big 12 games:
Oct. 8: Oklahoma State (11-2)
Oct. 29: Texas (5-7)
Nov. 5: Iowa State (5-7)
Nov. 19: Texas A&M (9-4)
Gut-check game: Texas Tech. Few will expect Kansas to win this game, but we may get a good feel for the Jayhawks after this game. Tech will be a young team playing its first real road game (no, New Mexico doesn't count.). If Kansas can at least stay competitive, which was a struggle in 2010 when the Jayhawks lost five games by more than 20 points, it's a good sign for progress. Get blown out? Kansas better improve fast or you can expect another long year in Lawrence.
Good luck with that: Oklahoma. The Jayhawks dodged the Sooners last year, but there will be no such luck for any team in the new Big 12's round-robin scheduling. Kansas won't have to venture into Norman, but even in Lawrence, the world might implode on itself if Kansas upsets the Big 12's top team and the likely preseason No. 1.
Snoozer: McNeese State. After last year's season-opening loss to North Dakota State, it's hard to take any win for granted, but the FCS Cowboys were smacked around 50-6 by Missouri in 2010. Kansas found its stride against weak teams last year in a blowout win over New Mexico State, and I'd expect the same here.
Non-con challenge: at Georgia Tech. The Jayhawks nipped the Yellowjackets in Lawrence last year for one of the team's two signature wins, but the return trip to Atlanta won't be easy. Justin Springer turned in a huge performance last year that earned him Big 12 Player of the Week honors, and to slow Paul Johnson's option attack, Kansas will need another big day from its linebackers.
Noncon challenge II: Northern Illinois. Don't sleep on the Wolves. Last year, they rode Chad Spann to a division title in the MAC and a decisive bowl win. He's gone, but former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren replaces new Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, taking over a program that always seems to be solid.
Analysis: The new round-robin set up only allows for a small amount of variance, as opposed to last year and the Jayhawks' 2007 Orange Bowl season, when neither Texas or Oklahoma was on the schedule. This year, it's pretty balanced, with a pair of tough games at home and on the road, and a pair of winnable games as well.
I expect Kansas to win 3-4 games and 1-2 in conference, but more than anything, the Jayhawks can consider remaining competitive a good step in the right direction. Last year's team was one of the worst in Big 12 history, but experience and a solid recruiting class should help Kansas move toward getting back in the postseason and maybe contending for a Big 12 title in the future.
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