Year in review: The 17 lowest moments of 2017 for KU football
The past 12 months — September through November in particular — undeniably featured more failures than triumphs for the forlorn University of Kansas football program.
With a new year imminent, evoking reflection on all that transpired during 2017, constructing a best-of recap for KU football would qualify as disingenuous.
Instead, because not everyone can be as “super-positive” as Jayhawks head coach David Beaty, here are the 17 lowest moments the team endured throughout 2017, a year filled with matters most associated with the program would prefer to forget.
No FBS wins/11-game losing streak
The high point of Beaty’s third season leading the Jayhawks came and went on the first Saturday of September, when KU beat overmatched Southeast Missouri State, 38-16.
Following that victory against an FCS opponent, Kansas tailspun into an 11-game losing streak.
By the time the schedule wrapped up with KU losing eight of its nine Big 12 games by 22 or more points, Beaty’s record with the Jayhawks dropped to 3-33 overall and 1-32 against FBS competition.
Oklahoma handshake debacle
The rest of the college football universe would have gone on ignoring the Jayhawks’ on-field miseries had the team’s captains not decided to snub eventual Heisman Trophy-winner Baker Mayfield during a pre-game handshake in KU’s home finale.
Alternatively, Beaty and captains Daniel Wise, Dorance Armstrong Jr., Joe Dineen and Jeremiah Booker spent the following days apologizing to Mayfield, the Oklahoma program, KU fans, the Big 12 and college football, in general, after losing the game 41-3.
KU offense collapses at TCU
The Jayhawks’ branded Air Raid offense crashed and burned often this past season, but never looked more clumsy than in a prime time road loss at TCU, on Oct. 21.
Forget scoring 21 points in a game — a feat KU accomplished twice during Big 12 play — the offense mustered just 21 total yards, the fewest by an FBS team in at least 20 seasons, against the Horned Frogs.
KU’s longest play from scrimmage went 13 yards and the offense netted minus-25 yards rushing in a dumbfounding performance.
Record-breaking road skid
For the eighth consecutive season, KU failed to win a road game.
The Jayhawks took on the unenviable distinction of owning the longest road losing streak in major college football history with their 45th straight defeat in an opponent’s stadium, Nov. 11 at Texas.
The skid extended to 46 with KU’s season-ending, 58-17 loss at Oklahoma State. What’s more, the loss marked the program’s 49th consecutive defeat outside of Lawrence, when neutral site games are included. Plus, KU has dropped 41 conference road contests in a row.
‘Fire Zenger’ banner flies
In the hours before KU’s Oct. 28 rivalry game with Kansas State, a plane flew above Memorial Stadium with a banner in tow which read: “Fire Zenger.”
The airborne suggestion referenced KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger and the football program’s ongoing struggles, which have rendered increasing numbers of the fan base dissatisfied over the past couple of years.
After KU lost, 30-20, Beaty described the idea of displaying such a message in the air space above campus as “asinine.”
Jason, most of ‘Louisianimals’ back out
On one wild weekend this past February, KU football fans didn’t quite know what to make of the program soaring up recruiting rankings by landing verbal commitments from several touted prospects, six of which hailed from Louisiana and were recruited by Kansas assistant Tony Hull.
In announcing the Pelican State pledges from recruits Anthony “Pooka” Williams, Devonta Jason, Corione Harris, Ja’Marr Chase, Aaron Brule and Nelson Jenkins, Beaty included the nickname: Louisianimals.
While both Williams and Harris eventually became early signees with KU, the other four de-committed, including the most promising talent in the group, four-star receiver Jason, who signed with Mississippi State.
Inept at Iowa State
In retrospect, it was a harbinger of what awaited KU at TCU. In the moment, it seemed as though the Jayhawks’ offense bottomed out in a 45-0 defeat at Iowa State.
Kansas amassed just 106 total yards and five first downs in Ames, Iowa.
In unimaginable fashion, the Cyclones completed three series on offense before KU got a chance to run its second offensive play, thanks to a muffed punt return and an interception in the game’s opening minutes.
From the day KU signed quarterback Peyton Bender, the former Mike Leach pupil at Washington State was identified by Beaty as a challenger for KU’s most visible starting job.
Bender debuted as the No. 1 QB in the season opener and maintained that status through four games, before the staff benched the junior at halftime of a drubbing at the hands of Texas Tech.
Although Bender would start the next two weeks, his passing numbers proved less than tame in back-to-back shutouts at ISU and TCU.
Demoting Bender to backup duties and giving Carter Stanley the job for the following four weeks was the right move at the time, but served as a reminder of the team’s inability to find and/or identify an impactful QB.
Program a punching bag during broadcasts
Opponents overwhelmed KU so often in 2017, the broadcasters paid to describe and analyze the Jayhawks’ play on television sometimes were brutally honest or at a loss for words.
At one point during the road loss at Ohio, a broadcaster for ESPNU assessed “Kansas is not a good football team.”
More infamously, during halftime of the face-plant at TCU, FOX studio analyst and former Hesiman winner Matt Leinart face-palmed when asked to describe KU’s play, and couldn’t fight off the desire to laugh.
Charlot fails to make an impact
A much-hyped receiver who transferred to Kansas from national powerhouse Alabama in 2016, Daylon Charlot barely produced anything in his debut season.
Once a four-star prep receiver considered talented enough to play for Nick Saban, Charlot returned five kickoffs for 82 yards on KU’s special teams and made one reception for zero yards on offense.
Before the season even neared its conclusion, the staff decided to move the receiver to defense, where he became an end-of-the-bench safety.
Home loss to Central Michigan
For those KU football fans hoping 2017 would be a season of progress, the Week 2 home loss to Central Michigan signaled a path in the opposite direction.
The Chippewas, who went on to finish third in the MAC’s West division, took the lead for good in the second quarter and won, 45-27.
Any promise of Kansas winning more than three games for the first time since Mark Mangino was forced out disappeared prior to Week 3.
Days ahead of preseason camp, Beaty kicked LaQuvionte Gonzalez off the team for an unspecified violation of team rules. Though disciplining a talented player is commendable, the removal of Gonzalez served as another lowlight.
Beaty hand-picked the speedy receiver, whom he recruited to and coached previously at Texas A & M, hoping Gonzalez could aid a massive rebuild at Kansas.
The receiver the KU coach had previously called his “son” blew a chance to help Beaty look good, and instead disobeyed guidelines established by the man in charge.
Blown out after bye week
The goal coming off an in-season idle Saturday is to return to the field feeling fresh and looking improved. Extra time off for KU in late September did nothing of the sort.
Following the Jayhawks’ Big 12 opener, a 56-34 home loss to West Virginia, the staff and players had more recovery and preparation time than usual and responded by laying an egg at Memorial Stadium versus a Texas Tech team that would go on to finish eighth in the Big 12.
The Red Raiders clobbered KU, 65-19, in front of a season-worst announced home crowd of 21,050.
KU always needs help on its offensive line, and from the day Charles Baldwin, a former five-star junior college prospect, arrived in Lawrence, it was assumed the 6-foot-5, 305-pound tackle could provide just that.
Baldwin proved as effective for KU this past fall as he did in his short-lived spring stint with Alabama in 2016. By early September, the right tackle disappeared from the depth chart. Shortly after, his No. 58 uniform was nowhere to be seen on Saturday — not even during warm-ups or on the sidelines during home games, where even seldom-used backups typically participate and spectate.
Armstrong falls short of preseason honor
Back in July, at the apex of the offseason optimism surrounding Kansas, media members who cover the Big 12 voted defensive end Dorance Armstrong Jr. the league’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Following that unprecedented distinction for a Jayhawk, though, the junior from Houston couldn’t duplicate the statistical success of his breakout sophomore season.
While KU’s defensive schemes and altering of Armstrong’s responsibilities played a factor in the drop-offs, the 6-4 D-end’s production went from 20.0 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in 2016, to 9.0 TFLs and 1.5 sacks in 2017.
The only unanimous selection to the media’s preseason all-league defensive team, Armstrong finished the year as a second-team selection of the Associated Press.
Tune spurns Kansas — twice
Most who follow college football recruiting realize a prospect backing off a verbal commitment always is a possibility. But for a potential signee to do so twice — to the same program — is bizarre.
That’s how quarterback Clayton Tune’s recruitment played out with KU. The Texas prep first pledged to the Jayhawks in February, then de-committed in October, when he checked out Baylor and Kansas got embarrassed at TCU on the same Saturday.
Somehow, the day after KU’s season ended, Tune re-committed as members of the coaching staff visited his home. The reconsideration proved fleeting, though, as Tune began exploring other options in December and reneged yet again.
Sternberger leaves KU
When tight end Jace Sternberger cut his time with Kansas short this past spring, opting to transfer out of the program ahead of what would have been his redshirt sophomore season, it didn’t seem especially devastating at the time.
However, the 6-foot-4 target needed just one fall at Northeastern Oklahoma A & M to remind everyone of his potential.
While Sternberger could’ve become a natural replacement for Ben Johnson at KU in 2018, he instead became the first prospect to commit to new Texas A & M coach Jimbo Fisher. Sternberger signed with the Aggies in December.