If one wants to take the most optimistic view of Kansas' upcoming season, it starts with this: The Jayhawks, according to Bill Connelly's research at SB Nation, return a combined 91 percent of their offensive and defensive production from last season -- the second-highest mark nationally behind only Michigan State. Though that usually portends good things, there's a lot of ground for KU to make up.
Previewing Kansas Football's Offense for 2018
For the fourth consecutive year under Kansas coach David Beaty, the Jayhawks will enter fall camp unsettled at quarterback. Former junior college transfer Peyton Bender returns after an inconsistent first season with KU, and he was replaced late by the more mobile Carter Stanley, who didn't perform any better. The 5'10" Miles Kendrick will enter the mix after leading College of San Mateo to the California state championship game last season.
With better health, KU's running backs have the potential to be the team's best position group. Khalil Herbert is the team's top returner, posting a 291-yard rushing game against West Virginia before a hamstring injury slowed him the rest of the way. Sophomore Dom Williams was in a similar position in 2017, grinding through nagging ailments that limited his production. True freshman Pooka Williams also should compete for carries immediately after picking KU over late offers from LSU and Nebraska.
At receiver, Steven Sims is the team's top returning playmaker after earning the Jayhawks' highest offensive grade from Pro Football Focus in 2017. The Houston speedster's 59 catches were nearly double that of any other teammate (30), while his 839 receiving yards and six touchdowns were easily team bests.
The Jayhawks face huge concerns on the offensive line. That starts with replacing center Mesa Ribordy, who retired from football in the offseason, and part-time starters Zach Hannon and Jayson Rhodes. Left tackle Hakeem Adeniji is the standout, though he's returning from two offseason shoulder surgeries.
Previewing Kansas Football's Defense for 2018
One of KU's biggest offseason wins came when talented defensive lineman Daniel Wise announced he was returning for a senior season. The coaches' All-Big 12 first-team selection should anchor a defensive front that will have plenty of newcomers.
The Jayhawks have experience at linebacker. That begins with senior Joe Dineen Jr., who earned some All-America recognition after he led the nation in solo tackles per game (7.6) in 2017.
KU's coaching staff loaded up on secondary players in recruiting while hoping to improve the team's speed and athleticism. The Jayhawks' top signee -- true freshman cornerback Corione Harris -- is the most intriguing, and he should have a chance to play right away after ranking as a top-300 recruit nationally.
Previewing Kansas Football's Specialists for 2018
KU received a boost at the end of 2017 when it learned that placekicker Gabriel Rui would be granted an extra year of eligibility; he made 17-of-20 field goals last season to give the Jayhawks stability at a position that had previously been subpar.
KU finished just 1-11 in 2017, with its only win coming in the season opener against FCS opponent Southeast Missouri State. Beaty's record stands at 3-33 in three seasons, with his only FBS win coming against Texas in 2016. The stakes will be high in 2018. If KU struggles to start the season, the moves could come in a hurry.
NATIONAL RANKING: 116 BIG 12 PREDICTION: 10