Will two transfers, and maybe just one, be the spark for a possible turnaround of Kansas’ football fortunes?
It didn’t work out that way last year, when new coach Charlie Weis eventually was forced to bench quarterback Dayne Crist, formerly of Notre Dame. The Jayhawks won only a single game in 2012, their season opener against South Dakota State. The futility extended Kansas’ misery since the Jayhawks haven’t won a game against a Division I-A opponent since September 2011. The Jayhawks also haven’t picked up a Big 12 victory since 2010.
Kansas was competitive late last season, nearly upsetting Texas before falling to Texas Tech in overtime, but it still added up to a woeful 1-11 premiere for Weis.
But the Jayhawks’ fortunes may change with Jake Heaps, who wanted a change in scenery last year when he transferred to KU from Brigham Young. Heaps was so anxious to leave BYU after he lost the starting job to Riley Nelson that he didn’t even take a trip with his teammates to the Cougars’ bowl game in 2011.
Heaps was once considered the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country by three national recruiting services. He selected Kansas because of Weis, who has an NFL pedigree. After sitting out the 2012 season because of NCAA rules governing transfers, Heap has been sharp this spring.
“You guys saw what we see,” Weis told reporters after the Kansas spring game earlier this month. “Strong arm, accurate, knows how to read coverages. You ought to be encouraged when you’re watching him play because I certainly am every time he goes out.”
It gives hope that Kansas can use the pass as part of its offensive game plan. The Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in the country last year passing the ball, ranking 113th nationally. Three KU quarterbacks combined to throw for seven touchdown passes, with 13 interceptions.
As an example of how the passing game struggled, not a single Kansas wide receiver caught a touchdown pass all season. The seven receiving TDs were divided between running backs and tight ends.
Justin McCay, another transfer, could solve the receiving problem and offer Heaps a nice option. Kansas’ running game is in good shape with James Sims, the leading returning rusher in the Big 12.
McCay, a Kansas native, originally signed with Oklahoma out of high school. He was a highly coveted receiver, with several recruiting services listing him as a national top-100 prospect. McCay struggled with injuries in Norman and played in only three games for the Sooners. He considered Kansas State before transferring to Kansas last spring.
After working with the scout team last fall, Heaps and McCay dazzled in the spring game.
Heaps threw for four touchdowns and 257 yards. After his first pass was dropped, he completed 10 straight.
“Just being efficient,” Heaps said after the scrimmage. “Don’t turn the ball over and be out there for my teammates. It was a lot of fun to be out there and enjoy the moment.”
Throughout the game, he showed great on-field communication with McCay, who caught eight passes, one for a score.
“Justin has a little advantage because he’s been hanging out with Jake for quite some time now, and you can’t underestimate chemistry,” Weis said. “I think one of the reasons Jake had a big day is Justin had a big day and vice versa.”
And if the transfers have a big year, maybe Kansas can begin winning again.
SPRING TOUR: KANSAS
2012: 1-11 (0-9 in the Big 12, last); no bowl game
They’re gone: S Bradley McDougald, OL Tanner Hawkinson
But they’re back: RB James Sims, LB Ben Heeney
Returning leaders: Passing — Michael Cummings (43-94-456, 3/4 ); Rushing — James Sims (218-1,013-9); Receiving — Tony Pierson (21-291-2)
Spring cleaning: Kansas’ two biggest issues? Finding spots for an influx of juco transfers, and working in new QB Jake Heaps (formally of BYU) as a starter
THE PAST FIVE YEARS
How Kansas has fared since 2008:
* AP preseason/final ranking
OUR SPRING TOUR
This is the seventh of our annual 10-day spring sweep around the Big 12 by six reporters on the American-Statesman’s college team:
April 14: Texas Tech
April 15: Kansas State
April 16: Oklahoma
April 17: Baylor
April 18: West Virginia
April 19: Oklahoma State
Tuesday: Iowa State
BIG 12’S SPRING GAMES
March 30: Texas
April 6: Baylor
April 13: Kansas, Oklahoma
April 20: Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia
April 27: Kansas State