That’s what happens after the program has won just five games in 31 outings since midway through the 2009 season. And after watching KU collapse last season and lose its last 10 games, the Jayhawk Nation has great hope that first-year coach Weis will usher in a new era of winning KU football.
After all the talk, all the hype, the season is finally starting. Weis is quite eager to see how his team will perform when the two teams kickoff at 6 p.m.
“I’m really excited for our team to see how they’re going to play,” Weis said. “We’ve been talking about this stuff forever, and it’s time to play and get an opportunity to see where we are.”
Weis said he has 10 specific goals each for offense (one goal is no turnovers), defense, and special teams.
“The number one goal for all three is winning, because what difference does it make if you achieve all the other goals and you lose,” Weis said.
South Dakota State, which has had eight winning seasons the last 10 years, comes to Lawrence after posting a 5-6 record in 2011, including a 4-4 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Jackrabbits, who return 16 starters (nine on offense, six on defense, and one special teams player), will be looking for their first win over an FBS opponent since moving to the Division I and Football Championship Subdivision ranks in 2004.
The Jacks will have a much tougher test with heralded sophomore quarterback Austin Sumner doubtful with a thumb injury. He set a MVFC record for passing yards (2,382) by a first-year player last season and was named conference Freshman of the Year. If Sumner can’t go, head coach John Stiegelmeier will turn to redshirt freshman Eric Kline.
“I think that they'll (SDSU coaching staff) feel very confident about (Kline)," Weis said.
KU will have to contain big-gun receiver Aaron Rollin, a Lee’s Summit, Mo., native who is just 20 catches shy from cracking the SDSU career top 10 list and also 347 receiving yards away from the school’s career top 10.
Defensively, South Dakota State could be vulnerable; the Jacks allowed an average of more than 200 rushing yards per game last season. However, the defensive line has more depth this season after last season’s injury woes. Senior nose tackle Andy Mink leads the front four after pacing the team with six sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss last season, while ranking second in total tackles with 75.
“Everyone will talk about how undersized Andy Mink (6-2, 270) is, but he's a true pain in the butt for whomever is going to go against him,” Weis said. “He's a good, solid football player.”
While SDSU is an FCS school, don’t count on the Jayhawks overlooking this opponent, as was the case when KU lost its first game under Turner Gill to FCS program North Dakota State, 6-3, on Sept. 4, 2010 at Memorial Stadium.
“They’re well award of how that one turned out,” Weis said. “That’s not too far in their distant past.”
“I don’t think we’re worrying about being overconfident,” Weis added. “We just lost 100 (10) in a row. We’re just trying to win this one. I think the least you’ll have to worry about this team is being overconfident.”
The players may not be overconfident, but they’re certainly confident in their preparation and their ability. Senior transfer quarterback Dayne Crist, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled about his KU debut and starting at quarterback for the first time since the season opener last year at Notre Dame.
“I haven’t been this excited in a very long time. I’m just so thankful, so grateful for the opportunity. I just can’t wait to go out there and compete with my teammates,” Crist said. “It’s what you work all week for, all year for.”
And if KU competes well on Saturday, Crist and the Jayhawks will be even more thankful. Weis talked about his perfect scenario in Saturday night’s contest ... and every home game.
“Your ideal is you go play a very solid game in all three facets, you win the game,” Weis said. “There will always be plenty of constructive criticism to lay out with the players after the game, but enough where the players were excited, the fans were excited, the students were excited. Everyone hung around for the whole game. You shake their hands at the end of the game, you go sing the alma mater, you come into the locker room, we got this little dance thing we do after we win a game.
“You turn them loose and come back in the next day and start to do it all over again. That’s what I’d like to see. ... That’s really what it’s all about. I’d like to see the fan base, the students, the alumni and the football team start to have a positive connection, and part of that is us playing well.”
Look for Crist to have a great night passing and Tony Pierson to have some big runs. KU wins, 35-10.