LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Still a newcomer to college football's highest level, Coastal Carolina was looking forward to a visit from its first opponent from a major conference when Kansas was due to visit Brooks Stadium in late September.
The shakeup caused by the coronavirus pandemic changed those plans.
Now, the Chanticleers will instead visit the Jayhawks on Saturday night in the season opener for both teams. It's the lone non-conference game for Kansas, which will have a week off before visiting Baylor to open its nine-game Big 12 slate — on the date that Coastal Carolina was originally supposed to face the Jayhawks at home.
“For a long time we were supposed to play Sept. 5, and then that was canceled, and you just don't know," Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Chadwell said. “Now you have a date set and you have something to work toward, and when you have an end in sight and you're not endlessly swimming, it's a positive. It's reality that we're playing.”
The Chanticleers shouldn't be shaken by hitting the road, either.
For one thing, there will be no fans in Memorial Stadium for the 9 p.m. Central kickoff as the state of Kansas continues to deal with high infection rates. For another, the Chanticleers upset the Jayhawks on the road just last season.
“I'm sure there's some changes that should be made and that we've looked at and made quality decisions,” Kansas coach Les Miles said, “but yeah, the Coastal Carolina game from a year ago is old news.”
That was just the second game for Miles with the Jayhawks, but it was easily the toughest of his debut season. It was the first inkling that changes would need to be made with the offense — he ultimately swapped coordinators midway through the year — and underscored just how far the longtime LSU coach had to go in his rebuilding effort.
It didn't help that process that COVID-19 dramatically altered recruiting, summer workouts and training camp.
“It's been an interesting summer,” Miles said. “This group of Jayhawks have fought social justice, fatigue, the calendar — just the changes in the calendar. And the protocols. We've been jabbed up our noses. We put saliva in a dish. We have endured and we have enjoyed and now we're going to get to play, so can't wait. It's going to be fun.”
MORE ON LAST YEAR
C.J. Marable ran for two touchdowns and Coastal Carolina picked off two passes, held the Jayhawks three times on fourth down and kept them scoreless the final 56:32 in springing the 12-7 upset last season. It was the Chanticleers' first win in eight tries against Power Five opponents.
Thomas MacVittie and Miles Kendrick are expected to split time at quarterback for the Jayhawks. MacVittie started his career at Pittsburgh and spent a year at junior college before arriving last season, while Kendrick appeared in four games during the 2018 season before an injury sidelined him the rest of the year.
“Nothing but respect between me and Miles. We've been through our own struggles and we understand what each other has gone through,” MacVittie said. “Whatever Coach Miles wants, that's what it's going to be, and I think it's an advantage for the Jayhawks. You can't really get a scouting report on our quarterback.”
Whomever starts at quarterback for Kansas will have plenty of talent around him. Running back Pooka Williams is back after running for 1,061 yards last season, while All-Big 12 wide receiver Andrew Parchment returns after catching 65 passes for 831 yards and seven touchdowns in a season that raised eyebrows of NFL scouts.
“He's got a lot of speed. He can take the top off the defense, that's his best ability,” Kendrick said. “You're going to see DBs respect his speed because hes a guy that can blow by you and make that big play.”
ROOKIES TO WATCH
The Jayhawks have 13 freshmen listed on their two-deep roster for the opener. While that means they are inexperienced, it also means the talent level that Miles and his staff have brought into Lawrence continues to increase.
Two of the freshmen are at cornerback. True freshman Karon Prunty is listed as the starter at one position while starter Kyle Mayberry’s younger brother, Deuce Mayberry, is a backup at the other.
While the Jayhawks have plenty of youth, Coastal Carolina returns 10 players that made at least six starts on offense, including Marable and quarterbacks Fred Payton and Bryce Carpenter.
Offensive lineman Trey Carter started every game last season and has 36 starts in his career.
“Last year we had five losses by a total of 24 points. A kick here or there, something going our way, could turn that,” Chadwell said. “We feel like we're closing the gap, at least talent-wise. We still have a year or so to go, but we're closing.”
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