The Kansas Jayhawks have been one of the worst FBS college football teams for several years. In the past five seasons, Kansas’s combined record is 9-51. Many reasons could be attributed to the Jayhawks’ average of only 1.8 wins in that time. A central one: quarterback play.
Over the last half-decade, Kansas fans have seen six different starting quarterbacks. The opening-day starting quarterback has been benched in four of the past five seasons. The Jayhawks opened with Montell Cozart under center in 2015. However, he sustained an injury that opened the door for then-true freshman Ryan Willis to take over the Kansas offense. Unsurprisingly, Willis generally played like a true freshman.
In early 2016, Willis dealt with an injury that kept him out of spring practice. During Big 12 Media Days, head coach David Beaty made it clear that the Jayhawks will entertain a quarterback battle heading into the 2016 season.
KU coach David Beaty says he expects a QB competition to stretch into the fall. He'll announce a starter when there is "clear division."
— Kellis Robinett (@KellisRobinett) July 18, 2016
Willis and Cozart are both battling for the starting position, with redshirt freshman Carter Stanley creeping up behind them.
Here is a look at the three-player race.
The Kansas City (Missouri) native has opened as the Jayhawks’ starter for the past two seasons. However, as previously mentioned, he lost his job due to injury (2015) and ineffectiveness (2014).
Cozart possesses one thing his competitors don’t: dual-threat capability. In the four games he played last year, Cozart rushed for 113 yards and one touchdown. He even rushed for 98 yards in the season opener against South Dakota State.
The main thing the Kansas coaching staff loves about Cozart is his leadership. Everyone on the staff and roster respects Cozart’s opinion, which bodes well for him in the long run.
Another factor working in Cozart’s favor is that Beaty wants Kansas to have an air raid approach to its offense. Cozart has more familiarity with air raid concepts than the other quarterbacks on the roster. His main problem: ineffectiveness. He has to execute plays; merely understanding them in the playbook isn’t enough.
Last season, Cozart showed signs of becoming relatively effective. In the opener against South Dakota State, Cozart completed 65.8 percent of his passes. Against Rutgers and Iowa State, he completed 70-plus percent of his passes. If he can become more consistent, Cozart will be the man under center in Lawrence in 2016.
No one has seen what Stanley can do at Kansas since he redshirted in his first year in Lawrence. When surveying his high school highlights, Stanley made impressive plays. Yes, highlight videos only show good plays, but Stanley didn’t really make any bad ones in his lone starting year at Vero Beach High School. Stanley completed 66 percent of his passes for 3,070 yards and 40 touchdowns.
The redshirt freshman releases the ball quickly, throws accurately, has the arm strength to make all the passes that are asked of him, and is elusive in the pocket. Stanley had a terrific spring practice, and if he can continue his performance, he may become the Jayhawks’ starting quarterback this season.
The Overland Park, Kansas, native had a somewhat impressive freshman campaign in 2015. He wound up as the starter after Cozart went down with an injury.
Willis threw for a KU freshman-record 1,719 yards last year. He also threw for nine touchdowns on a team that struggled to find the end zone. He almost led Kansas to an upset victory over the No. 15 TCU Horned Frogs.
However, Willis still struggled at times last season. He threw 10 interceptions, posted a subpar 52.1-percent completion rate, and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in three out of the eight games he started last year.
The young signal caller also missed spring practice due a wrist injury, which could derail his chance to become the Jayhawks’ main gunslinger this year. He does possess a good upside Kansas should not ignore.
The best option for Kansas
All three candidates for the starting job can contribute to this Jayhawk offense, but as Beaty made clear at Big 12 Media Days, the time for winning at Kansas can’t wait.
Jayhawk nation deserves better then when they got last year, last few years, KU FB coach David Beaty says
— Blair Kerkhoff (@BlairKerkhoff) July 18, 2016
Which quarterback provides the Jayhawks the best capability to win now? Cozart has won an actual Big 12 game in his career. However, this battle is to close to call. No quarterback in this trio has separated himself enough. In the end, the logical option is to have Cozart start the year as the No. 1 quarterback for the Rock Chalk Jayhawks.