David Beaty signed up for a whale of a rebuild at Kansas, and his first season of repairing a broken program was about as difficult as it could be. Several key players were kicked off the team or retired before the team even reached fall camp. Five quarterbacks had to take snaps in games because of a rash of injuries. A team with fewer than 65 scholarship players had little experience or depth to rely upon.
In the end, the Jayhawks went down in infamy as the first 0-12 team in the history of the Big 12. The conference losses came by an average margin of 35 points. Against a few teams – South Dakota State, Rutgers, TCU, Texas Tech – they played close, tough games. The other eight losses were, well, brutal.
Still, Beaty continues to inspire hope for the program. There are no quick fixes here, and he’s in it for the long haul. Here’s a look back at the Jayhawks’ season.
Best loss: TCU. Kansas went down to Fort Worth and gave the then-No. 15 Horned Frogs all they could handle. TCU was missing Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson and barely survived without them against a Kansas team that came close to finishing the job. After cutting the TCU lead to 23-17 in the fourth quarter, Kansas’ defense forced three TCU punts and gave its offense three chances to drive and either tie it up or go for the win. A victory in that game could have done big things for Beaty’s sales pitch and rebuilding efforts.
Worst loss: West Virginia. A week after that encouraging, oh-so-close game against the Horned Frogs, Kansas came home and was blown out 49-0 by West Virginia. A fumble and a pick-six early turned into a 28-0 deficit by the end of the first quarter, and the Mountaineers could have scored a lot more than 49 if they’d wanted to that afternoon. After showing show much progress against TCU, this was a step in the wrong direction and a sign that Kansas' gas tank was nearly empty.
Player of the year: DE Ben Goodman. He was the alpha dog on this Kansas team both as a player and as a leader. The senior put together a strong final season – 51 tackles (9.5 for loss) and 5.5 sacks – and was an important presence in the Jayhawks’ locker room throughout a difficult season. Goodman was the only player on Kansas’ defense who started every game, too.
Breakout player: Freshman QB Ryan Willis might seem like the obvious choice here, as he had some nice moments in his eight Big 12 starts. But keep an eye on defensive tackle Daniel Wise. The redshirt freshman looked like a future impact player at times this season and recorded 26 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Play of the year: There were a few nice touchdown snags worth considering for this honor, but we’ll give it to Kansas linebacker Marcquis Roberts for his 83-yard interception for a touchdown against Iowa State. The South Carolina transfer showed off some wheels on that one. He made a nice read on a bad decision by Sam B. Richardson, and you rarely see a linebacker go 83 yards untouched the way Roberts did.
2016 outlook: Phase 2 of Beaty’s efforts to revive the Jayhawks should be challenging, no doubt, but they’ll start to see results. There’s an opportunity for a good start to 2016 with nonconference games against Rhode Island and Ohio. Winning either game would provide a confidence boost heading into an insanely front-loaded Big 12 conference schedule. Kansas will still be undermanned from a scholarship standpoint and breaking in more young players while trying to develop their identity and find ways to take teams all the way to the fourth quarter. Beaty preaches getting a little bit better every day, and we’ll start to see the fruits of their efforts in 2016.