After a year of injury frustration, Kansas QB Jalon Daniels eyes Big 12 title, CFP appearance in 2024

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LAS VEGAS — There’s no need to ask Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels how he is doing. It’s a question he’s answered every day for months. 

“I try not to ask Jalon Daniels more than once a week how is he doing because I know everybody asks him that,” Kansas coach Lance Leipold said. “Of course, we keep wearing out a young man with those questions.”

For a player who arrived in Lawrence, Kansas with few offers and little fanfare, adjusting to an entire city obsessing over his nagging back pain was a frustrating experience. 

It’s easy to see why fans are so concerned, though. When healthy, Daniels has been a game-changing player at Kansas. During a breakout 2022 season, he scored 25 touchdowns and threw just four interceptions while the Jayhawks reached a bowl game for the first time in nearly 15 years. For his efforts, Daniels was slotted as the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year in 2023. 

Then the back issues started. For months, Daniels kept quiet about his injury as he tried to heal. Back injuries are notoriously fickle. There was no timeline, clarity or understanding, even in-house. One week turned into two. Then three. Eventually, rumors circulated that Daniels was faking, Oor sitting out to redshirt so he could transfer to a bigger school. 

“I was probably closer to it than anyone else,” running back Devin Neal told CBS Sports. “It hurt because I wanted to go out and simply say, ‘what you guys are saying is really disrespectful to him, especially because you just loved him.’ I hate when ‘fans’ question people’s integrity on the field when they really just want to play ball.” 

Last year at Big 12 Media Days, Daniels sported a flashy chain with a pendant that played his numerous highlights. He was the viral center of attention. This year, Daniels had a similar link chain, but otherwise came dressed all in black. He was all business. 

“He’s excited,” Leipold said. “He wouldn’t be here today if we didn’t think he was going to be ready to go for this season, I can tell you that.” 

So how is Daniels doing? 

“I’m doing great, man,” Daniels told CBS Sports. “I can’t complain. I’m blessed to be in the position that I am today. I’m blessed to be able to see today. It’s .01% of people who get to play college football and go to the media day for their conference. I’m blessed to be able to be in the situation that I’m in today to be able to represent Kansas football and the brand.” 

When Leipold asked Daniels if he wanted to represent Kansas at Big 12 Media Days, the star quarterback jumped at the opportunity. He wanted to answer all the questions and turn the page so that he could move on with his football life and look forward. 

“It’s obviously going to be hard because he was gonna be asked a lot of questions about something that was so detrimental to his mental health,” running back Devin Neal told CBS Sports. “No one likes going through injuries, and everyone wants to play football like we came in to do.”

At long last, Daniels is fully participating in workouts and practices to prepare for the 2024 season. If he comes back healthy, the Jayhawks rank among the true Big 12 title contenders on par with favorites Utah and Kansas State. 

“I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to the media since during the season,” Daniels told CBS Sports. “I know there’s a lot of questions that people wanted answered, and quite frankly, I have the answers for those questions.”

The Kansas roster has rallied around Daniels. Numerous players turned down NFL or transfer opportunities to return in 2024. Preseason All-Big 12 defensive backs Cobee Bryant and Mello Dotson bolster an experienced secondary. Neal was asked by a strength coach: what would it feel like if Kansas made history and he was not part of it? That was enough for him to stick around. 

“We know that we didn’t come this far just to come this far,” Daniels said. “We know the objectives and the goals that we set when we signed those papers to come to the University of Kansas. And quite frankly, we have eyes to play in the Big 12 championship and get to play in the playoff. We know what’s at stake.”

With any luck, this time next year, no one will be asking Daniels how he’s doing. They’ll be asking him how he did it. 

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