3. Kansas: Stable New QB Keys Balanced Offense
The Jayhawks are surprisingly 2-0 before they’re tested against Louisiana Tech, when they survive the sort of shootout they haven’t been equipped to win in years. It’s the eye-opening performance everyone expected to see from BYU transfer Jake Heaps at quarterback, but also Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay at receiver. Kansas is no longer a team only able to run the ball and coach Charlie Weis can go a little deeper in his playbook.
It catches the league off guard as the Big 12 expected a heavy dose of James Sims running the ball. The Jayhawks overwhelm Texas Tech a week later at home before taking the momentum on the road to win at TCU with a balanced attack. From there, it gets tricky, and there are some disheartening performances, but many of the 17 junior college transfers have an infectious spirit and maturity that spreads throughout the locker room. The evenness of the Big 12 bails out the Jayhawks, who get a lot of help and then close the season with wins against West Virginia and at Iowa State before their emotions trump Kansas State’s in the finale.
Heaps is the league’s top newcomer and most efficient quarterback while McCay makes the most of the rapport he developed sitting out with Heaps last season. No one, though, is more dynamic than Tony Pierson, who combines for 1,400 yards and a dozen scores rushing and receiving and is a first-team all-conference pick because of his flexibility.
The defense gets smoked a few times, but does its part on some Saturdays. Linebacker Ben Heeney nearly leads the conference in tackles, but cornerback Cassius Sendish, a junior college transfer, is the star on that side of the ball and gives the Jayhawks a counter in the pass-happy conference.