LAWRENCE — Charlie Weis spent most of last offseason talking about Dayne Crist, the former Notre Dame quarterback who transferred to Kansas and was supposed to lead a massive turnaround.
Weis spent most of the season talking about why it wasn’t happening. The Jayhawks stumbled to a 1-11 finish, and things went so poorly for Crist that he was ultimately benched.
Now, Weis is tempering expectations for another high-profile quarterback transfer.
Jake Heaps is No. 1 on the depth chart entering fall camp after spending last season running the scout team. He was forced to redshirt after leaving BYU, where he set several freshman passing record, but still got a chance to learn Weis’ offense in preparation for this year.
Heaps will be pushed by Michael Cummings, the sophomore who replaced Crist last season.
The QB job isn’t the only new face, though. Weis brought in a bonanza of junior college transfers, and six of them appeared as starters on the initial depth chart — not counting Trevor Pardula and Michael Mesh, who are in a race to handle kicking duties.
“Last year at this time I had a tough time giving you two-deep, and probably had a tough time giving you one-deep in some cases,” Weis said. “I can give you a three-deep this year.”
That’s a good benchmark for the rebuilding of Kansas. Here are five more things to keep an eye on as the Jayhawks try to take another step from the Big 12 cellar when they open the season against FCS school South Dakota on Sept. 7:
1. HEAPS TO MCCAY: Heaps wasn’t the only notable transfer to sit out last season — wide receiver Justin McCay, who began his career at Oklahoma, spent the entire year catching passes from his quarterback on the Jayhawks’ scout team. The NCAA refused to grant McCay a waiver to play last season, forcing him to redshirt. “Justin has an opportunity to be a top-five wide receiver,” Weis said.
2. DEPOSIT A NICKEL: The Jayhawks are basically scrapping a base defense that they ran last season and intend to run a nickel package — and often a dime — the majority of the time. Weis hopes that will help Kansas better handle all the spread offenses in the Big 12.
“It’s a lot of coaching on the fly,” he said, adding that defensive coordinator Dave Campo will move to the sideline to help facilitate things. “It’s going to be everyone looking to the sideline, here’s the defense, let’s go.”
3. TOP RUSHER: Running back James Sims ran for 1,013 yards and nine touchdowns last season, despite missing the first three games when he was suspended for violating team rules. Now, he’s hoping to build on a strong finish to 2012. Sims should be the workhorse this season with Tony Pierson and Brandon Bourbon moving from running back to a hybrid wide receiver position. Sims has the size (6-foot, 200 pounds) and speed to become a legitimate NFL prospect with a good senior season.
When asked his goals for this season, he replied: “Just to be the all-time leading rusher at Kansas and to be one of the top five rushers in the nation.”
4. BIG 12 OH-FER: The Jayhawks will carry an 11-game skid into the season. They have not defeated another FBS school in their last 21 games dating to the Turner Gill era. Even more embarrassing, though, may be the losing streak they have in conference play. The Jayhawks haven’t won a game against a Big 12 school since defeating Colorado 52-45 in 2010, Gill’s first season in Lawrence. They haven’t beaten another school that’s still in the league since knocking off Iowa State in 2009, Mark Mangino’s final season.
5. CHARLIE SAID WHAT? Weis is certainly unafraid to say what’s on his mind. That was evident even before the longtime NFL assistant referred to his team last season as a “pile of crap” a few weeks ago during a meeting with reporters in Dallas. The comment rankled some fans, but most of Weis’s players — even those still on the team — have come to his defense. After all, their only win came against South Dakota State.
“Could he have picked different words to make it more PR correct? Of course he could have,” Heaps said. “He was right. At the end of the day, he’s right. So we’re going out there to prove a lot of people wrong, and we’re going out there to put a better product on the field.”
Predicted order of finish in the Big 12: 10th.
Sept. 7 — SOUTH DAKOTA, 6 p.m.
Sept. 14 — At Rice, 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 — LOUISIANA TECH
Oct. 5 — TEXAS TECH
Oct. 12 — Texas Christian
Oct. 19 — OKLAHOMA
Oct. 26 — BAYLOR
Nov. 2 — At Texas, 2:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 — At Oklahoma State
Nov. 16 — WEST VIRGINIA
Nov. 23 — At Iowa State
Nov. 30 — KANSAS STATE
HOME GAMES IN ALL CAPS