Kansas running back Pooka Williams leads Jayhawks against Texas

Robert Larkin

Two years ago, Charlie Strong’s fate was sealed when the Longhorns dropped a late season matchup against lowly Kansas. On Friday, Texas returns to the same spot with the hopes of avenging one of the program’s worst losses in its history and clinch an appearance in this year’s Big 12 Championship. But with the Jayhawks not playing in a bowl game, this will be Kansas’ final chance to leave the season on a positive note. 

Here are four Jayhawks who will look to spoil Texas’ season:  

#1 Pooka Williams Jr. — Running back

Not much has gone right for the Jayhawks during another tumultuous season for the program. But one of the biggest developments in an otherwise dreadful year has been the emergence of freshman running back Williams Jr. The freshman from New Orleans has become a workhorse in the Jayhawk back field and one of the best running backs in the Big 12. 

In the 10 games he’s played in, Williams Jr. has rushed for 1,022 yards and six touchdowns. His rushing yard total ranks second in the Big 12 behind Kansas State’s Alex Barnes. And while Williams Jr. was one of college football’s best kept secrets for much of the season, that may be over. Last weekend against No. 6 Oklahoma, he rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns in a 55-40 loss that took place in front of a national television audience. 

#7 Peyton Bender — Quarterback 

In his second season at starting quarterback,  Bender has improved dramatically. A year after throwing for 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, the former junior college standout has thrown for 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also already surpassed his total in passing yards from last season with 1,735 yards through the air this year. 

Bender has become more efficient with the football, but he’s still a step behind compared to the other Big 12 quarterbacks the Longhorns have faced. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native has thrown for more than 200 yards in the only three games he’s played in. And his passing yards per game stands at seventh among quarterbacks in the Big 12. If the Jayhawks hope to topple the Longhorns in Lawrence this weekend, Bender will likely need to put together a stronger performance than he’s been accustomed to this season. 

#96 Daniel Wise — Defensive tackle 

The Kansas defense has experienced its fair share of struggles this year — the unit ranks eighth among all Big 12 teams in yards allowed. But there is indeed defensive talent on this roster, and one of the most accomplished players on it is Wise. His junior season last year was one of the best among all Big 12 defensive lineman, recording 53 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks. And his performance garnered praise, including an appearance on the coaches’ first team All-Big 12 list. 

The Hebron High School product’s senior year hasn’t matched that production, but he still has been a strong performer. Wise has 29 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks through 11 games. Against the Longhorns, the senior will need to find a way to continue his disruptive performance if Kansas wants to pull the upset. 

#29 Joe Dineen Jr. — Linebacker 

Dineen Jr. has not only been the leader of the Jayhawk defense, but also one of the most productive linebackers in all of college football. The Lawrence, Kansas, native has compiled an unbelievable 133 total tackles this season, which currently leads the Big 12. And that figure also places Dineen in the top 10 for total tackles among all FBS defenders. The senior has also registered three sacks, two fumble recoveries, an interception and 10 tackles for loss. 

Over the past four games, Dineen has been especially impressive. He’s led all defenders in total tackles in three of those four games and collected 50 tackles in that span. His most recent performance against Oklahoma included 14 tackles, which ties his second highest total all season. With his last college game taking place against the Longhorns on Friday, Dineen will look to turn one final outstanding performance.