Jayhawks’ Lance Leipold settled in, optimistic about Year 2

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Lance Leipold first walked into the head coach’s office at Kansas, arguably the worst program in Division I football, amid terrible circumstances and during a time of the year that only made everything worse.

The Jayhawks were coming off a winless 2020 season under Les Miles, who had then resigned in ignominy amid a flurry of sexual harassment allegations dating to his time at LSU. The scandal also led to the departure of athletic director Jeff Long, leaving the entire program in turmoil during a crucial recruiting period and all the way into spring practices.

Leipold never even conducted a practice with the Jayhawks until the start of fall camp last year.

So even though they proceeded to win just two games in his debut, extending their streak of losing seasons to unlucky No. 13, the point at which Leipold is starting off this fall is a whole lot better than where he stood a year ago.

“There’s so many things that are different for the better,” Leipold said. “We’ve said many times, player know the coaches, know what to expect. We still have a fair amount of new guys going through their first practice, and there’s uncertainty and wandering around – Where do I go next? – everyone is understanding and we’re in a much better spot.”

The long-time small-college coach pauses for a moment and thinks back to last season.

“Last year, two or three weeks into training camp we were still evaluating,” Leipold recalled. “We have an idea now. We still may be evaluating, but we’re developing at the same time. That’s a good feeling.”

The challenge now is turning development into success.

Six coaches have failed to produce a winning season since the Jayhawks went 8-5 under Mark Mangino in 2008, and none managed more than one conference win. That includes Charlie Weis, who arrived in Lawrence flashing Super Bowl rings, and Miles, who won a national championship with the Tigers.

The 58-year-old Leipold is about substance more than style, though, and that could be exactly what the Jayhawks need to climb the Big 12 standings. He cut his teeth at his alma mater, Wisconsin-Whitewater, going 109-6 and winning six national titles in eight seasons at the Division III school, then turned around a lowly Division I program at Buffalo.

Leipold accomplished all of that by being the antithesis of so many young, hotshot coaches across major college football whose success is largely tied to their ability to recruit five-star prospects. He is a football coach in the truest sense, rather than the CEO of a corporation, and hangs his battered cap on his ability to take good players and make them great.

He’d rather be on the practice field with his hand in the dirt than poring over spreadsheets in his office.

“There’s expectations, you know? There’s really no gray. There’s black and white,” said Kansas defensive end Sam Burt, who is on his third coach after starting his career with David Beaty. “You can see he knows what he’s doing. The whole coaching staff knows what it’s doing. And like I said, there’s no gray. It’s always like this or that, if that makes sense.”

It makes perfect sense if you know Leipold’s career arc.

He spent time at Doane, an NAIA school in Nebraska, and Nebraska-Omaha, whose football program no longer exists. And the two stints Leipold had at the Division I level were under two more consummate coaches: He was a graduate assistant to Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez in the early 1990s and worked with Frank Solich at Nebraska in the early 2000s.

“Where we’re going, how we’re doing it – that was Year 1,” Leipold said. “Now I think this group has a determination about them in how they want to approach things and change the direction of this program.”

There was unmistakable progress last season, highlighted by a dramatic overtime win at Texas, and a full recruiting cycle coupled with a productive spring program have only carried that momentum forward.

“It feels way different, just how we attack everything: the tempo, the pace, the excitement,” Jayhawks safety Kenny Logan said. “We believe in what we’ve done this offseason. We don’t want to go through (another rebuild).”

Rather, the Jayhawks want to finish off this one.

That task continues Sept. 2, when they open their season against Tennessee Tech. Then comes back-to-back road games against Big 12 foe West Virginia and future conference rival Houston before another non-league game against Duke.

Those four games should help to tell whether Leipold is on the right track.

“We’re not in the moral victory business and we understand that completely,” Leipold said. “But we’re always looking at, whether it be individual improvement in certain things, how we’ve gone about our daily business and really how we’ve connected dots with our players about becoming better holistically, whether it be weight room or academically and better leadership, better teammates, that these things are going to stack upon themselves and help us on game day.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”