Dating back to the early spring, when conversations about how the 2023 Kansas football team would fare first started, I was a little bit skeptical.
Whether in print, on radio shows or during casual conversations with friends and KU supporters, I always tried to caution people against setting their expectations too high for the 2023 Jayhawks.
Sure, KU made a bowl game in 2022. And, yeah, the offense was one of the most exciting to suit up at Memorial Stadium in the past several decades. But those two things alone did not, in my mind at least, automatically mean that this team was ready to make the jump from six wins to seven or eight.
I thought then that four or five wins was just as likely as getting to six again, but the more time I spent around this group in the months that followed, the more I started to change my tune.
Today, as we embark upon the first game week of the 2023 season — KU plays host to Missouri State at 7 p.m. Friday at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium — I think it’s absolutely OK for your expectations to be pretty lofty. And the reason is simple — because the Jayhawks’ expectations are far greater than any of yours, save for the handful of wild-and-crazy guys and gals who like to predict KU to win the national title on an annual basis.
Don’t get me wrong, the approach this group plans to take is rooted in humility — one day at a time, one play at a time, just keep getting better. And the Jayhawks have. They’re deeper, more experienced and enter the upcoming season with more swagger than we’ve seen in a long time. That doesn’t win you any games on its own, but if you pair it with good talent and great coaching, you can really get somewhere. And these Jayhawks have both.
So, before we get any closer to kickoff of the 2023 season, I’m going to toss my season prediction out there for you to digest with the rest of them. It’s a few games better than it was in the spring and that’s because this group has made a believer out of me. They’re ready for the season and they’re ready to take that next step.
The next three months will show us whether they actually do or not.
Give me 8-4 for the 2023 Jayhawks.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how I think they get there.
Week 1 – vs. Missouri State – Expect 40,000-plus fans to pack The Booth and expect the Jayhawks to put on a show and send them home happy, eager to come back for more. 1-0.
Week 2 – vs. Illinois — This is a massive game for the outlook of the 2023 season for both teams and it may be a coin flip game in the eyes of Las Vegas when it arrives. I’ll take the home team though, which will still be riding the momentum of a Week 1 win, the 2022 season and the chance to prove itself against a Big Ten foe. 2-0.
Week 3 – at Nevada — I get that this game makes KU fans a little uneasy. Don’t let it. This is a Kansas victory no matter how you slice it, with both the Jayhawks’ momentum and Nevada’s spot in its own rebuilding project playing in the Jayhawks’ favor. 3-0.
Week 4 – vs. BYU – It’s hard to know exactly how the four new schools fit into the Big 12 footprint. BYU certainly has great history and tradition and the Cougars have averaged nearly 9 wins a season over the past five years, so this is in no way an automatic win for the Jayhawks. But if KU can get to 3-0, we’ll be talking about sellouts again — if we’re not before that — and the buzz surrounding this game will be reminiscent of that which existed for the Iowa State game last season. Heck, even the game might look similar to that one. When you put this Kansas team in that environment, I don’t think they’re very easy to beat. Beyond that, this one will be BYU’s welcome-to-the-Big 12 game and it will come on the heels of a road game at Arkansas. 4-0.
Week 5 – at Texas – I get it, there are all kinds of people out there who think KU and Jalon Daniels kind of own Texas and that the Jayhawks’ return to Austin for the first time since the Daniels-to-Casey game — and the last time ever — will be a whole lot of fun. I’m not one of them. 4-1.
Week 6 – vs. UCF – I have similar feelings about this game as I do the BYU game. The place will be packed, UCF’s playing in the Big 12 for the first time ever and they’ll be taking on KU on the heels of Big 12 games against K-State and Baylor and just before a trip to Oklahoma. 5-1.
Week 7 – at Oklahoma State – Mike Gundy dipped into the transfer portal to ensure a bounce-back from last season’s rough go, and I think he’ll have the Cowboys clicking by mid-October when the Jayhawks come to town. 5-2.
Week 8 – Bye – 5-2.
Week 9 – vs. Oklahoma – I know KU fans (and all Big 12 fans for that matter) want to send OU and Texas out on a loss as often as possible this season. And while I don’t think the Jayhawks can get it done against the Longhorns, I like their chances in this one. Besides, saying goodbye — or is it good riddance? — to a program you have history with dating back to the Big Six Conference in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, is far more personal than a school you’ve been tied to since the late 1990s. KU shocks the Sooners and the world to become bowl eligible. 6-2.
Week 10 – at Iowa State – It’s really hard to tell what will come of the Cyclones’ season, with all of the gambling issues hitting the program and key players this offseason. What a wild turn of events during the past few seasons. Just a couple of years ago, it was ISU that looked like it was on a serious climb to the top of the Big 12 with a coach that was in high demand across the country. Today, it’s not at all hard to pick Kansas to walk into Ames and win. 7-2.
Week 11 – vs. Texas Tech – The Red Raiders have been pegged by some to be a serious sleeper in the Big 12. And it’s hard to pick the Jayhawks to go undefeated at home this season, even though doing so is certainly within the realm of possibilities. Joey McGuire’s got something going in Lubbock, though, and I think this will be a high-scoring, wildly entertaining football game in which the team with the ball last wins. 7-3.
Week 12 – vs. Kansas State – It’s tempting to pick Kansas in this one for a couple of reasons — it’s in Lawrence and the Jayhawks might have the more talented roster, top to bottom. But regardless of how wild this atmosphere promises to be, the Wildcats figure to be so tough once again and until we see KU actually pull off the victory, it’s going to be hard to pick it. 7-4.
Week 13 – at Cincinnati – KU goes 3-for-3 against newcomers with a tough road win at Cincinnati to improve its bowl prospects and end the regular season on a high note. 8-4.
If things play out this way, there’s no denying that this will go down as another major step in the KU rebuild. Not only will Kansas add two — maybe three — wins to its record from the 2022 season, but the Jayhawks also will show some serious growth and maturity while doing so.
Last year, a 5-0 start gave way to a 1-7 stretch to close the season. But this year, with more experience and another year in the Lance Leipold system, I think a 4-0 start turns into a 4-4 run to close the regular season, with another bowl game on the horizon.
What wild times we’re living in.
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