It's bowl season, the most wonderful time of the year, except for four Big 12 teams who will be staying home this holiday season.
For Iowa State, Kansas, TCU and West Virginia, that's OK, though. It just means they all have more time to look ahead at what needs to be done in 2014. The road back to bowl eligibility will be tough for each team. Numerous problems won't be solved overnight.
Still, here are two things each of these four teams can do to increase their chances of going bowling in 2014:
Iowa State (3-9)
Develop a Consistent Starting Quarterback
Sam Richardson and Grant Rohach split time in 2013, though Rohach took over in the second half of the season. Since neither played with great consistency, the offseason will be important in their development as they continue to battle for the starting job.
Iowa State's offense in general was rough to watch, so head coach Paul Rhoads fired offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and running backs coach Kenith Pope. One name to watch for the coordinator's post will be Cyclones offensive line coach Chris Klenakis, who is a Chris Ault disciple from his time at Nevada.
Get Better in the Trenches
The crux of Iowa State's struggles came from weak offensive and defensive lines. Rhoads said earlier this season on the Big 12 coaches teleconference that in nine games the Cyclones had used eight starting offensive line configurations. It's nearly impossible to get any sort of production out of the offense when the line is a revolving door.
On the other side of the ball, Iowa State was terrible in run defense, ranking 112th in the nation, per NCAA stats. If the Cyclones can't stop the run, they're going to have a hard time getting off the field.
Improve the Passing Game
Kansas appears to have a dynamic offensive weapon in quarterback Montell Cozart, who had his redshirt burned as he took over toward the end of the season. Cozart is better known as a running threat, but he does have a nice arm. With just a 36.5 percent completion percengate, accuracy is obviously an issue.
In general, Kansas' passing game has to get better. The Jayhawks need better play out of their quarterbacks, and the wide receivers have to step up. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay caught a touchdown pass in the first game of the year, then was never heard from again. Rodriguez Coleman made some nice plays in the middle of the year, but he still only had eight receptions.
Kansas may still be a run-first offense in 2014, but it cannot afford to be as putrid in the passing game—not if it has to play catch-up. And this team will have to play catch-up a lot.
Find an Every-Down Back to Replace James Sims
Kansas won't have the luxury of handing off to running back James Sims anymore. The senior finished with 1,110 yards and seven touchdowns. Finding a replacement for that kind of production will be important.
Tony Pierson would be the logical choice, but he's so important to the passing game. Running the ball is what the Jayhawks do best offensively, so Darrian Miller would be a good choice. Another option could be Traevohn Wrench, a four-star back who is part of the Jayhawks' 2014 class.
Get More Consistency Along the Offensive Line
TCU's offense struggled for a variety of reasons, but it all boiled down to what was happening—or, not happening—up front. Like every team on this list, TCU had to shuffle players around on the offensive line, so the Horned Frogs had a hard time moving the ball. It doesn't matter which quarterback started, Trevone Boykin or Casey Pachall, if he couldn't get any protection.
There's going to be a lot of turnover along the O-line heading into 2014, but there are some young players, anchored by center Joey Hunt, who have an opportunity to grow together as a solid unit. Hunt started 11 of 12 games at center, so TCU can build off that.
It may look rough at first, but if the starting O-line can stay healthy, it could start showing some promising signs toward the end of the year.
Build Off a Late-Season Surge by the Wide Receivers
TCU's wide receivers largely underperformed in 2013, but Josh Doctson and Brandon Carter, who had a truly tough year with a case of the dropsies, began turning it on late in the season.
The good news is that group is still young and full of potential. Doctson and LaDarius Brown have excellent size, and Boykin performed nicely switching over from quarterback late in the year. Believe it or not, this group could actually go from one of the worst in the Big 12 to one of the best.
West Virginia (4-8)
Build Defensive Depth
This is probably tough to do in a year, but West Virginia has to get some help building up depth on defense. The Mountaineers had an awful time either 1) closing out games (see Iowa State) or 2) not letting the game get away in the fourth quarter (see, like, six games.)
West Virginia had some good players on that side of the ball, like linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and defensive backs Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook. Even young players like cornerback Daryl Worley had good moments. The problem is no one could stay healthy because they were on the field so much.
If the Mountaineers can get some support behind the starters, some of those close games may swing their way next year.
Finish, Finish, Finish
West Virginia's offense took a major step back in 2013, but in no area was it more apparent than its inability to finish drives with points. Moving the ball between the 30-yard lines wasn't always an issue; punching it in the end zone was.
The Mountaineers also had a hard time overcoming penalties and mistakes. A lot of that can be attributed to youth and/or inexperience, which WVU had plenty of this season. Theoretically, those young wide receivers will connect more consistently with the quarterback, likely Clint Trickett, in time.
West Virginia will be replacing much of its starting offensive line next season, so it could be tough sledding for a while. Still, head coach Dana Holgorsen is an offensive guru. He has to prove his mettle by getting the offense back on track in 2014.
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