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KU football program ready handle increased expectations as the 2023 season nears

May 16, 2023May 16, 2023

With preseason camp starting for KU Football today, excitement and expectations surrounding the program have been as high as they have been in a long time. With last year’s season proving the most successful in years along with the Jayhawks’ first bowl berth since their 2008 Orange Bowl victory, the expectation to be even better has been a constant theme coming into 2023.

Even with the success of last season, preseason honors for individual players and the team raised the attention on the program even further. KU was picked to finish ninth in the new 14-team Big 12, the highest preseason ranking for the program since 2011. Along with that, Jalon Daniels was picked as the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, the first Jayhawk to ever earn the honor, and the first Jayhawk since Dorrance Armstrong in 2016 to earn a preseason Player of the Year nod. Daniels also earned a spot on the preseason All-Big 12 Team along with teammates Devin Neal, Mike Novitsky and Cobee Bryant. The four players on the preseason first team were tied for the second most in the conference with K-State and behind Texas’ five first-team selections. It was also the first time since 2007 KU had more than two players selected to the preseason All-Big 12 Team.

Head coach Lance Leipold said the new level of expectations is a positive sign for the program going forward and needs to be embraced, but not get in the way to where it ends up affecting the program negatively.

"This program hasn't had many expectations of late, so embracing those but keeping them in balance,” Leipold said. “But I think any program at any state, you have to focus on where you're at at the moment and make sure you don't get too far ahead of yourself, and no offense to anyone, we can't spend a lot of time reading all the positive things you're going to say because all of a sudden we're not staying focused on what we need to at the moment to get better. I think this group gets it, but at the same time, for a program like Kansas, we need to embrace some of those things of, A, expectations and the positivity that's surrounding our program."

A way some players have handled the increased expectancy of the program has been keeping a similar underdog mentality that has been present in the past. Neal said it’s exactly what has happened and it’s been important to keep a mindset like that within the program even with the increased standards.

"We keep things in the building, we know there are still some people who don't believe in us,” Neal said. “But it doesn't matter to us. We kind of live in that underdog realm. We're just looking forward to competing every game."

Leipold has said that the next step for the KU program is to become a consistent bowl team. Obviously, the entire program will need to keep improving for that to happen, especially on defense. The Jayhawks struggled on the defensive side of the ball last year as they allowed the most yards per game at just over 469 and the most touchdowns at 58. The Jayhawks also allowed the most rushing yards per game at 209.2, the only team in the Big 12 to allow over 200 rushing yards per game. And they allowed the third most passing yards per game at 260.2

Rich Miller has been around consistent bowl teams before, just look at his first two seasons at Buffalo that saw the program go 14-6 over two seasons. Although the KU defense hasn't been as consistent as he or others inside the program would have liked. He knows the unit can take a step forward and help the team reach consistent success.

“I think it's pretty cool,” Miller said. “I think no one is looking at this pressure at all. We know what we can do. And if you watch some of the older games last year, at the beginning of the season, all we talked about just playing together as a defense. We know when we do that, even look at the Arkansas game in the second half. We know when we actually come together and make our minds up as a defense, no one can stop us. It's really no pressure or anything, we just go out there and play our game.”