Among the new coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Lance Leipold should sense the most formidable challenge.
Not only did the new Kansas coach take over a program that has finished last in the Big 12 each season since 2015, but he also didn’t get to oversee spring practice with the Jayhawks, who are set to open the season Friday at home against South Dakota.
The dismissal of former coach Les Miles and athletic director Jeff Long transpired too late for Kansas to hire new AD Travis Goff, conduct a search and install a coach. Credit Kansas for doing its due diligence in selecting Leipold. And credit Leipold for downplaying the awkward timing and forging ahead after directing Buffalo the past six seasons.
Since arriving, Leipold has said all the right things while applying attention to detail the Jayhawks lacked a year ago when they finished 0-9, going winless in the Big 12 for the fifth time in 10 seasons.
“We have to be a program that’s going to take care of the finer points of the game and continue to build consistency and confidence,” said Leipold, a two-time MAC coach of the year and six-time Division III champion while coaching Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Leipold does not anticipate naming his starting quarterback until the opener unfolds, although difficulties to this monumental rebuilding task go far beyond that position. Kansas stands 34-120 since winning the Orange Bowl in 2007. Last season, opponents averaged 46 points and outscored the Jayhawks by 30 per game.
Miles Kendrick and Jalon Daniels shared snaps a year ago, although transfer Jason Bean should also contend at quarterback after starting seven games for North Texas last season.
One strength the Jayhawks could use is the run game, which features several returnees and freshman headliner Devin Neal. Buffalo averaged 287 yards rushing last year.
Should Leipold be concerned about making his debut against South Dakota? Why, yes. Kansas has lost three openers against FCS opponents since 2010.
South Dakota went 1-3 in its abbreviated spring season but returns five starters along the offensive front while also hoping to click in the run game. Among 65 freshman Coyotes, cornerback Myles Harden led the FCS with seven pass breakups in the spring.
“Our phrase is there’s no excuses. We need to win,” South Dakota coach Bob Nielson said. “That’s the approach that we have as a staff and that’s what our team believes.”
–Field Level Media