Autopsy of Big 12's non-bowl teams

For the next couple weeks, we’ll be devoting most of our coverage to the six Big 12 teams in bowl games.

But before, we wanted to examine the four teams that didn't qualify to go bowling.

What went wrong for TCU, West Virginia, Iowa State and Kansas this year? And what are the keys to better seasons in 2014?

Below is an autopsy of the Big 12's four non-bowl teams:

West Virginia (4-8 overall, 2-7 Big 12)

What went wrong: West Virginia looked ready to go bowling until back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State to end the season, a disappointing finishing stretch. The Mountaineers had their moments despite playing a bunch of inexperienced players on offense. But quite simply, the Mountaineers never had the requisite consistency from the quarterback position.

Key to improvement: Coach Dana Holgorsen needs to find a quarterback he believes can run his offense. But he also needs to replace running back Charles Sims and find playmakers who can create the explosive plays Holgorsen’s offenses are known to produce. West Virginia needs to address its problems on offense and go from there.

Player to watch: For the Mountaineers to bounce back, they have got to get better, more consistent quarterback play than they did this season. Ford Childress was awful in his first and only start away from home against Maryland before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury. But Holgorsen clearly saw something in Childress by turning the offense over to the freshman just three weeks into the season. Childress has a solid pedigree and was highly recruited. If he turns out to be West Virginia’s long-term answer at QB, things will be looking a lot sunnier in Morgantown.

TCU (4-8 overall, 2-7 Big 12)

What went wrong: Turnovers, injuries, lack of offensive efficiency… basically everything except the defense. The Horned Frogs had 30 turnovers and finished the season with minus-62 points off their turnover margin. Those mistakes, combined with quarterback Casey Pachall’s injury, were too much to overcome.

Key to improvement: New offensive coordinator Doug Meacham arrives to take over the offense and bring some explosiveness to that side of the ball. Finding a quarterback who will be efficient, yet take care of the ball, will be his first order of business.

Player to watch: Any team that loses a player the caliber of defensive end Devonte Fields to a season-ending injury would be expected to struggle, at least some. The Horned Frogs expect Fields to be 100 percent recovered from foot surgery next season. And if he resembles the player who dominated the league as a freshman, TCU ought to field another formidable defense.

Iowa State (3-9 overall, 2-7 Big 12)

What went wrong: What went right? Quarterback Sam Richardson and the defense took a step backward, the offense wasn’t creative and injuries decimated the offensive line. Coach Paul Rhoads was able to keep his team invested, allowing the Cyclones to finish strong with two wins. But it was still a disappointing season in Ames.

Key to improvement: Finding a quarterback of the future is a good start. Grant Rohach played well in the final stretch of the season, but will need to be even better as a sophomore for the offense to become more efficient. More importantly, the young Cyclones need to take experiences learned this season and apply it in 2014.

Player to watch: Rohach is a big key, but he will need help. There’s no denying that the Cyclones were more explosive offensively when junior college tailback Aaron Wimberly was healthy and on the field (just ask Texas). It’s critical for Iowa State’s next offensive coordinator to find a way to utilize Wimberly next season without using him up.

Kansas (3-9 overall, 1-8 Big 12)

What went wrong: The offense let the defense down, averaging 4.28 yards per play, last in the Big 12 and No. 120 among FBS teams. There’s a reason Charlie Weis fired himself as offensive coordinator. Give the veteran head coach credit for having the self-awareness and willingness to can himself after fielding the worst offense in the conference.

Key to improvement: Kansas’ defense seems to be on the right track, so the Jayhawks will have to find a way to replace the production of graduating All-Big 12 running back James Sims. The good news is that versatile running back Tony Pierson returns, and he will take over for Sims as the focal point of the offense. Finding other playmakers to surround Pierson will be paramount.

Player to watch: As it was with every team on this list, inconsistent quarterback play was part of Kansas’ undoing. But after his redshirt was pulled midseason, dual-threat true freshman Montell Cozart showed promise and flash. Can Cozart unseat Jake Heaps and become the full-time quarterback? Cozart’s passing will have to improve. But if it does, he brings a dimension with his legs that ultimately could elevate Kansas to another level down the line.