KU vs. No. 16 TCU: Three more things to watch

LAWRENCE — Early kickoff on Saturday morning as Kansas opens conference play at 11 a.m. against Big 12 newcomer TCU. So we’re getting a jump on “Three more things” this week.

It’s been a rough few days for the KU players, who spent most of the week trying to stay positive after last week’s non-conference disaster against Rice. The setback took a little luster off first-year coach Charlie Weis’ debut run — and it left some on campus wondering how many more games KU can win. Still, the Jayhawks can regain a measure of momentum with a better performance on Saturday.

1 Kicker questions. It’s tough being a football kicker. It’s tougher, still, being a college kicker, when forgettable performances are followed by days on campus among a few thousand of your peers.

That’s what junior kicker Ron Doherty faced after a few early struggles during the first two weeks of the season. Doherty has made just two of five field goals so far, including two key misses against Rice from 40 and 53 yards. They weren’t gimmes, but Doherty believes his range extends beyond 50 yards most days.

“I just didn’t make the kick,” Doherty said.

It’s still a small sample size, and Weis said he hasn’t lost confidence in his kicker. Still, Weis is a guy that likes to gamble. And it will be interesting to see if KU takes more chances on fourth down when they’re on the edge of field-goal range.

2 Running back rotation. For the first three weeks of the regular season, we’ve barely heard the name of junior running back James Sims. It’s common Weis policy to not mention the name of players that aren’t eligible to play, and with Sims serving the last game of his three-game suspension on Saturday, he’s been the invisible tailback for the last couple weeks.

But Sims will be back next week against Northern Illinois. And that makes junior Taylor Cox an intruing player to watch on Saturday. Cox has been a pleasant surprise so far, rushing for 200 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry in his first two games. But can Cox continue the production against a Big 12-caliber defense? He gets his first chance to prove it against TCU.

3 Old friend sighting. If you didn’t know that former Miami coach Randy Shannon is now the linebackers coach at TCU, you’re not alone. KU defensive coordinator Dave Campo, who coached Shannon at Miami in the 1980s and later with the Cowboys, was surprised when Shannon’s name came up in a media scrum earlier this week.

“Randy Shannon?” Campo said.

Shannon helped Campo (then a secondary coach under Jimmy Johnson) and the Hurricanes win a national title in 1987, and Campo quickly recalled a story from early in that year.

“My very first game* against the University of Florida… and Florida was a good football team,” Campo said. “And we didn’t know what we had at Miami at the time. And one of the first passes they threw out in the flat, he intercepted and ran back for a touchdown.”

*Note: This game ended with Miami winning by the very rare score of 31-4.