KU vs. McNeese State - Preview

Turner Gill (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Turner Gill's debut game as head coach at Kansas didn't exactly go the way he had planned last year against North Dakota State on Sept. 4. The Jayhawks struggled mightily in the season opener and fell to the Bison, 6-3.

Now, a year later, Turner Gill and his Jayhawks are ready to open the season on a much better note against another FCS foe, McNeese State, at 6 p.m. (CT) Saturday at Memorial Stadium.

"They know what has happened in the past," Gill said. "We talk about what you can learn from last year and how you are going to change that. More importantly, we're talking about how we already have changed it. Going back to the spring and start of fall camp and pointing out certain things to our players. Here's why and how we've put ourselves in a position to win a ball game."

Gill is excited to see the new and improved Jayhawks on Saturday. He believes fans will see a faster and more explosive team with lots of playmakers on both offense and defense. KU fans will also see some new faces with at least six true freshmen likely playing against McNeese State.

Gill and the Jayhawks certainly aren't taken McNeese State lightly. The Cowboys, who have been ranked in the top 20 in FCS preseason polls, went 6-5 last season and placed second in the conference at 5-2. McNeese State, which is located in Lake Charles, La., has won six of the 11 Southland Conference titles since 2000 and have 13 titles overall — more than the combined total of other schools in the conference since 1972. 

Coach Matt Viator has coached his teams to three Southland Conference titles (2006, 2007 and 2009) and to two runner-up finishes, while leading the Cowboys to five straight winning seasons since he took over the head coaching job in 2006.

Viator is the most successful active coach in the Southland Conference and one of the winningest in the NCAA's FCS Division with a 39-15 record and 27-7 league mark.

"They have definitely been known nationally as a very good program over many years," Gill said. "Coach Viator has done a great job in his five years there."

Gill is impressed with their speed in the secondary and defensive end Desmund Lighten. And he likes their running backs as well, which include the Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year and team MVP last season, Andre Anderson, who rushed for 855 yards and was the league's top rusher in conference games.

"They have two or three guys that do some good things as far as running the football and can make plays there," Gill said. "They're a good football team and we're going to have to play well and I anticipate us to play well."

The Jayhawks are hyped for their season debut and look to wipe out the bad memories of last season's loss to North Dakota State.

"We've worked harder than we ever really have to make sure that doesn't happen again," sophomore quarterback Jordan Webb said.

Kansas is also looking to make some bone-crushing hits after hitting each other in spring and fall camp, while also making a statement in the season opener.

"Coming off a disappointing season last year (3-9), we're just ready to go out there and get the pads on and popping on the field against somebody else instead of spring practice and two-a-days versus ourselves," senior receiver Daymond Patterson said.

"We're just ready to show that we're a different team this year."

If KU indeed fulfills Gill's mission of playing fast, physical, and with great execution, Kansas fans wearing blue on Saturday should go home happy and optimistic about the season.

Unlike a year ago against North Dakota State when KU opened the season on a somber note.

"I think the first game is going to set the tempo for the rest of the year," senior tight end Tim Biere said. "If we come out and play, we can carry the momentum. Last year, we came out and played terrible. I played terrible, and it was hard to get over that one. We won the next week (over No. 15 Georgia Tech), but kind of in the back of our mind that first game was there for a couple more weeks.

"So getting off to a good start is important."

KU wins this one, 31-10.

Notes:

  • Kansas is opening its 122nd season of college football. KU has an an all-time record of 570-559-58 (.505 winning percentage) and is 67-47-7 (.583) in season openers. The Jayhawks have won six of their last seven season openers dating back to 2004.
  • Redshirt freshman tight end Jimmay Mundine and sophomore receiver Erick McGriff have been suspended for the first two games for violating team policies, while sophomore defensive end Tyrone Sellers has been suspended for Saturday's game. Other players who will miss Saturday's game with injuries are senior defensive tackle Patrick Dorsey, sophomore receiver Chris Omigie, and redshirt freshman linebacker Jake Farley.
  • NBA Hall of Famer and current Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars was a former standout at McNeese State in the early-to-mid 1980s. He averaged 22.5 points during his four-year career, including 25.8 ppg as a senior (sixth in the nation). He finished his memorable college career as the 11th leading scorer in NBA history.

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