Ranking KU football's 2020 matchups, from most to least winnable
If the oddsmakers in Las Vegas are correct, the second season of the Les Miles era at the University of Kansas won’t be that much more successful than his debut run with the Jayhawks in 2019.
Consider the key players KU has lost from last season’s 3-9 team and you quickly realize why Caesars Entertainment placed the Jayhawks’ over/under at 3.5 wins for the 2020 season.
Miles and his staff will have to replace such key contributors as quarterback Carter Stanley, left tackle Hakeem Adeniji, receiver Daylon Charlot, defensive backs Hasan Defense, Mike Lee, Jeremiah McCullough and Bryce Torneden, linebacker Azur Kamara and center Andru Tovi. And because the COVID-19 crisis wiped out spring practices, Miles and his assistants won’t have their typical assessment and development periods this offseason to get all those and other roster decisions figured out.
Let’s assume that the college football season starts on time and features its normal 12-game schedule. What’s KU’s path to a better record in Year 2 for Miles?
Here’s a ranking of KU’s games, from most to least winnable, to provide a clearer picture:
• New Hampshire (Sept. 5): Season openers tend to provide KU football with its best chances at victories and this year is no different. UNH is the Jayhawks’ lone FCS opponent on the calendar, and KU has actually won three of its last four openers thanks to that scheduling — KU beat Rhode Island in 2016, Southeast Missouri State in 2017 and Indiana State in 2019, but lost to Nicholls in overtime in 2018.
• At Coastal Carolina (Sept. 26): No, the Jayhawks still don’t win Big 12 road games, but they have proven the past couple of years they can actually travel and head home with a victory in nonconference play. They will look to make it three years in a row of winning on the road in September when they head to Conway, S.C., for their nonconference finale versus the Chanticleers. Throw in the revenge factor for the KU veterans who lost at home to Coastal Carolina last season and you’re looking at a very winnable road game.
• Boston College (Sept. 19): The Jayhawks delivered one of their signature performances in Boston last year, and while that 48-24 trouncing will be difficult to duplicate, any type of win against a Power Five opponent will suffice for Kansas. As usual, KU will need as many wins as possible out of conference, because the Big 12 has proven brutal for the program the past 11 seasons.
• TCU (Nov. 28): The Horned Frogs dismantled the Jayhawks in 2019, but it’s just hard to put any road game higher on this list considering KU hasn’t won a Big 12 game in an opponent’s venue since 2008. Kansas gets TCU on Senior Day in Lawrence this season. And for whatever reason, the Frogs’ trips to KU have been accompanied by drama in recent years.
• Iowa State (Oct. 3): Kansas actually led late in the fourth quarter at ISU last season in one of the the Jayhawks’ better Big 12 showings. But, according to Caesars, coach Matt Campbell’s Cyclones project as an eight-win team in 2020, so this looks like no easy matchup.
• Oklahoma State (Oct. 17): Is this game actually all that winnable? It’s hard to say so far out from the season. But with KU’s defense a major question mark and the Cowboys bringing back star running back Chuba Hubbard, it seems like the Jayhawks could be significant underdogs in this one.
• At West Virginia (Oct. 24): The way the schedule broke this year, KU actually has to face all of what Caesars projects as the seventh- through ninth-best teams in the Big 12 on the road. The longest trip KU makes in conference looks like the most winnable, though. WVU coach Neal Brown didn’t take on as massive of a rebuilding project as Miles did at KU, but the Mountaineers went 5-7 in 2019, including a 29-24 win in Lawrence. Vegas set WVU’s over/under at 5.5
• At Texas Tech (Nov. 14): The Red Raiders were the only Big 12 team to lose to KU in 2019, Matt Wells’ first year as Tech’s head coach. But the Jayhawks would have to win in Lubbock for the first time since 2001 to make it two in a row in the series. Tech’s over/under is 6.
• Texas (Nov. 7): Last year’s 50-48 shootout between KU and Texas in Austin was epic. It was also the Jayhawks’ first game with offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon and the UT defense was dealing with a number of injury issues, so going toe to toe with a program that is in such better position than KU would be quite a feat in 2020. UT is projected as the league’s second-best team, with 9 wins.
• At Baylor (Sept. 12): The Bears won’t be as impressive this year as they were in Matt Rhule’s third and final season. But it’s difficult to think of KU facing the Bears and dismiss the way BU eviscerated the Jayhawks in the 2019 finale, 61-6. Plus, this one — in Week 2 oddly enough — is on the road and KU never has won in Waco. The Bears’ over/under was set at 8.
• At Kansas State (Oct. 10): Bill Snyder finally retired in late 2018, but the Wildcats’ emphasis on beating KU didn’t depart with the legendary head coach. K-State’s new leader, Chris Klieman, and his staff showed they plan to keep that trend alive. The final score for the first Sunflower Showdown between Miles and Klieman read K-State 38, KU 10, but the game wasn’t even that close. The Jayhawks haven’t won in this rivalry series since 2008. K-State’s over/under is 6.
• At Oklahoma (Nov. 21): The Sooners, as usual, should be the class of the Big 12, even in what would qualify as a down year for OU if it hits Caesars projection of 10 wins. Kansas hasn’t defeated the Sooners since 1997 and it will probably be a long time before anyone enters a season expecting the Jayhawks will have much of a chance of knocking off the Sooners.