LAWRENCE — Joe Dineen admits he's expecting nerves ahead of Kansas football’s season opener, the first leg of the linebacker’s final college season.
Butterflies, though, aren’t anything out of the ordinary for the Jayhawks’ preseason All-Big 12 selection.
“Oh, I always get nervous,” Dineen said. “I get nervous for scrimmages and stuff like that still.”
As some Jayhawk fans will confirm, nervousness ahead of this opener isn’t a feeling exclusive to those inside the program.
KU opens with a 6 p.m. Saturday showdown against Nicholls State, an FCS-level program yet a foe that enters David Booth-Kansas Memorial Stadium with considerable buzz and, given both programs’ trajectory in recent years, as a sexy upset pick in some college football circles.
The Colonels certainly have fourth-year coach David Beaty’s attention.
“They are loaded,” Beaty said. “This is not going to be an easy ballgame for us. It wouldn't be an easy ballgame for anyone.”
Highlights on Nicholls State’s résumé start with the team’s No. 18 ranking in the FCS preseason media poll, but they don’t end there.
The Colonels boast eight returning starters on both offense and defense from a team that last year finished 8-4, the first winning season in Thibodaux, La., since 2007. Kendall Bussey, a former Texas A&M running back, paces seven new transfers from FBS programs, five coming from Power Five schools. And perhaps most noteworthy, the program rides confidence from competitive 10- and two-point defeats at Texas A&M and Georgia, respectively, in each of the previous two seasons.
Nicholls State appears on an uptick, a far cry from the program that was mired in an 18-game losing streak when fourth-year coach Tim Rebowe took charge in 2015.
“They have got guys,” said Beaty, whose two wins against FCS-level opponents comprise the majority of the victories in his 3-33 start at KU. “They have got a really good football team, and we are going to have to play really, really well in order to come out on top. It's not one of those deals where you stand up here and poor-mouth. We are going to have to play our rear ends off.”
“Nicholls State is a good team,” he said. “They’ve got talent all over the field. They’ve got a good returning quarterback (in junior Chase Fourcade). They’ve got some guys for sure. But we’ve got to go out and do our job and dominate a game.
“It’ll be a huge challenge for us, for sure, but I think we’ll be OK if we just do our jobs.”
The Colonels fumbled away a goal-line carry in the final minute of a season-ending 38-31 home defeat to South Dakota in the first round of the FCS playoffs last year, a game Beaty said he watched “about five times” in the offseason.
“It was an unbelievable game,” Beaty said, “and these guys have really done a great job of resurrecting the program.”
When KU scheduled Nicholls State four years ago, the Colonels were “certainly not where they are today,” Beaty said. While most oddsmakers don’t set lines for contests involving FCS programs, online sportsbook 5dimes lists the Jayhawks as just an eight-point favorite in the contest.
With so much on the line this season — Beaty’s future and the legacies of the 25 seniors, just to name two — Saturday’s contest may very well be the most high-stakes, can’t-lose affair on the schedule.
At least one Jayhawk appears to have a clear understanding of that reality.
“I think we need to go out and set the tone for the rest of the season,” Dineen said, “and there’s no better way to do that than to go out and dominate your first game.”