We’ll learn a lot more about the Kansas football program and its outlook for the 2023 season when preseason camp is in full swing and the Jayhawks really begin preparing for the encore performance to last year’s Liberty Bowl appearance.
For now, though, let’s set the stage for how things look heading into camp.
What’s important? What’s known? Key question marks and players in need of a breakthrough performance for the Jayhawks to take that next step all will be covered in our Offseason Overview series.
First up: The quarterback position.
We all know that junior Jalon Daniels is the Kansas quarterback and has been for the past two seasons. While that distinction may not have sparkled quite as much in the past, it certainly does today.
Multiple publications have listed Daniels as the top returning QB in the Big 12 Conference and they didn’t do it as some sort of attention-grab or to raise eyebrows. They did it because it’s true.
Not only do Daniels’ numbers put him firmly in that conversation, but his experience, swagger and confidence make him stand out, as well. Remember, Daniels was legitimately in the Heisman Trophy conversation through five weeks before injuring his shoulder last season.
The injury cost him a few games, but Daniels returned for the homestretch, playing well in KU’s final few regular season games before setting the record book on fire at the Liberty Bowl.
Daniels has big plans for his encore season. And given the work that he’s put in and just how lofty his goals have always been, don’t be surprised for a second if he achieves everything he wants to in 2023.
It’s what’s behind Daniels that makes this one of the healthiest positions in the program right now, with veteran back-up Jason Bean back for another season, as well.
Bean performed admirably in relief of Daniels while he was injured last season, and his experience, speed and growing confidence make him an absolute luxury for a suddenly ultra-explosive Kansas offense.
Simply put: Bean might very well start for half of the teams in the Big 12 right now. He just so happens to be behind one of the top entrenched starters in the country.
As we saw a season ago, this is a different football team with and without Daniels. His presence alone — in the huddle, in the locker room, on the sideline and on the practice field — is invaluable and, unlike many players I’ve seen at KU, Daniels brings a certain air of confidence and swagger to the rest of the roster.
Because of that, one of the biggest goals for Daniels and the Jayhawks in 2023 will be keeping him healthy.
Strength coach Matt Gildersleeve’s entire offseason plan regarding Daniels — and the final step in his rehab of that shoulder injury —was about building strength and keeping him out of harm’s way. “Bulletproof” was the word Gildersleeve used to sum up what’s next for Daniels, and if the KU offense is able to keep him clean the chances of him producing at the rate he showed he could early on last season increase dramatically.
KU coach Lance Leipold said in the spring that Daniels was all the way back in terms of making the throws and plays that he was making during the first five weeks of the 2022 season. But simply getting back to that point is far from the goal for Daniels. Like many of his teammates, he wants to achieve even bigger things this fall, and he knows his role and responsibility in seeing that happen.
It will always be team first for Daniels. That’s just the way he’s wired and winning matters to him more than any of the individual stuff. Beyond that, he knows that few players can win games alone, and understands that he needs the help of 40 or 50 other guys on this roster to achieve the kind of winning he — and they — wants to achieve.
Many of those players are either motivated or impacted directly by Daniels, though. So, it’s not a stretch to say as Daniels goes, so go the Jayhawks.
He knows that and, more importantly, can handle it.
After modest production during his freshman and sophomore seasons, Daniels enjoyed a big time breakout in 2022. He threw for 2,000 yards, tossed 18 touchdowns — against just four interceptions — and also added seven more TDs on the ground via 425 rushing yards.
All of that came in nine games and if he can play in all 13 games this season — assuming KU makes good on its goal of playing in another bowl — those 2022 numbers will look pretty pedestrian.
Not only has Daniels improved as a player, but the offense also has improved around him. That’s mostly by experience as his receiving targets and the KU running backs have all gained valuable growth, understanding of the offense and experience in the past couple of seasons. And all of those players, Daniels included, have made it easier for offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki to find ways to best utilize them.
Whether that means adding more to the playbook, installing plays/schemes designed to fit specific players/personnel/packages or the confidence of all of them working together in what is still just their third year in the system should have the goals high across the board for KU’s skill position players on offense.
With that in mind, topping 25 passing touchdowns (30-plus total) and 3,000 yards is very much within reach and may be the floor for Daniels heading into his fourth year under center.
Again, he’s got to stay healthy to reach those numbers, but if he does, he can get there. If you project it out, 3,000 yards and 25 passing touchdowns is only 231 yards and two TDs per game. If this offense is humming, Daniels could approach those numbers in a single half on occasion.
It goes without saying that a quarterback needs help from his offensive line to have success. And the fact that KU returns four starters from last year’s O-Line is significant.
Beyond that, the Jayhawks brought in some big pieces up front — literally — to compete for spots on the line, with Logan Brown, Spencer Lovell and Kobe Baynes all in the mix to compete with returners Bryce Cabledue, Dominick Puni, Mike Novitsky and Michael Ford Jr.
Beyond that group, Daniels’ job can be made a lot easier by getting production from the ground game and consistency from his wide receivers. It’s a group of guys he’s been throwing to for several years now, so the chemistry is there. Now, those players like Luke Grimm, LJ Arnold, Quentin Skinner and Mason Fairchild, among others, are looking to take their own games to a higher level.
If they do that, it will help Daniels’ numbers, and that will add to his confidence, swagger and chance at leading this team exactly where he wants to take it.
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Here's a look at the other entries in our KU football Offseason Overview series: