LAWRENCE, Kan. – Peyton Bender knows his job as the starting quarterback at Kansas isn't guaranteed beyond this week, not when there are two talented guys nipping at his heels.
In some ways, his tenuous grasp is a lot like that of his coach.
Bender earned the starting nod by beating out Miles Kendrick and Carter Stanley in fall camp, but keeping it will depend on his performance on Saturday night against Nicholls State. Coach David Beaty has already said that Kendrick will play, though how much and in what role is a bit unclear.
"I still have to work hard every week," Bender said, "and the other guys will be pushing for it."
Bender won the starting job last year, too, after transferring from Washington State by way of a junior college. But after throwing for 364 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Rhode Island, he was shaky the rest of the way, and Stanley eventually pushed him out of the job.
Now there's Kendrick, a highly touted dual-threat quarterback, who is fighting for time.
"I know you guys all want to hear who the starter is, but it's only as good as the day is. That dude is going to have to win it the next day, too," Beaty said. "We'd like to find stability there, but you're going to have to earn it.
"I'm not just going to give it to you because somebody wants to know who the starter is," he continued. "I don't care about that. I care about what you prove on a day-to-day basis, how hard you work. Do you prepare? Can you move our team? Will you take care of the ball? Will you value possession? Will you go through your progressions and will you do it the way that you are coached to do it?"
Those questions may be more important to Beaty than anybody else.
He has just three wins in three season, and only one against a fellow Big 12 school. And while he faced a herculean task in rebuilding the Jayhawks' moribund program, few coaches are given much more than three or four years to build a winner.
Now, Beaty also has the specter of a new boss watching him. Jeff Long was hired this summer as the Jayhawks' athletic director, and the former Arkansas AD will surely be evaluating him closely along with Mike Vollmer, who was hired to directly oversee the football program.
"Having him there, and you can just tell he's a selfless guy," Beaty said of Vollmer, a longtime college administrator. "He just wants what's best for our program and our kids."
Winning would be a good place to start.
NO PUSHOVER: The Colonels went 8-4 in the Football Championship Subdivision last year, losing to South Dakota in the playoffs. But they proved their mettle in an early game against Texas A&M, forging a tied game midway through the second half before the Aggies pulled away for a 24-14 victory.
"We talk about let's try to get back to the playoffs and win a conference championship," Nicholls State coach Tim Rebowe said. "It's your program moving in the right direction and it takes everybody."
EXPERIENCE MATTERS: Beaty inherited a scholarship nightmare from former coach Charlie Weis, and it's taken him three years of hard work to build up numbers. He now has 25 seniors, a bevy of returning starters on both sides of the ball, and more than 235 career starts among those players.
"That's something I look forward to seeing, that leadership come out and amount of experience helping us," Beaty said. "It'll be interesting to see if it helps us."
RUNNING BACK RACE: The Jayhawks plan to rotate Khalil Herbert, Dom Williams and freshman Pooka Williams at running back, depending on match-ups and situations. Herbert and Dom Williams obviously have experience, but Pooka Williams — a four-star prospect — may have the most upside.
REBUILT O-LINE: Kansas struggled up front last season, but veteran left tackle Hakeem Adeniji is back after a pair of shoulder surgeries to anchor a new-look group. Junior college transfer Andru Tovi, Houston transfer Alex Fontana, California transfer Dwayne Wallace and Ohio State transfer Kevin Feder join him in forming what should be a much-improved group.
ABOUT THE COLONELS: Nicholls State returns 16 starters, not to mention an All-American kicker in Lorran Fonseca. Chase Fourcade threw for 2,316 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, top wide receiver Damion Jeanpierre is back, and LSU transfer Bry'Kiethon Mouton is ready to help at tight end.
"If you have a returning quarterback," Rebowe said, "you have a chance to have some success."