No matter how much improvement one might be able to point to or how much optimism a person might be able to squeeze out of this, a 1-11 season is pretty draining no matter the circumstances.
Now this certainly was a season that every Kansas fan walked into knowing that the team is in the midst of a pretty colossal rebuild, but there were offseason storylines that provided some hope. Unfortunately Kansas navigated the most difficult schedule in college football without a single win against an FBS opponent. It's going to be a process, more to come as we start to look ahead toward 2013, but for now here's a few quick thoughts from the 2012 season.
- The quarterback position was easily the biggest thing holding this team back. Whatever Charlie Weis was seeing from Dayne Crist in practice, wasn't transferring to the field. When Michael Cummings had an opportunity, he just wasn't quite playing at a level to get Kansas over the hump. Kansas needs someone to step into this role and guide the offense and allow Charlie Weis to be more balanced in his approach. Kansas did an excellent job running the football this year, but it would be great to watch Sims and Pierson run the football without the entire opposing defense keying on the running game.
- Offensive line is somewhat a concern. The Jayhawks are losing a great deal of experience and they're left with Randall Dent and Aslam Sterling as the two players returning that were starting toward the end of the year. The good news is that both of those players made strides throughout the season and could develop nicely with another year under Grunhard. Now you need to find three more. Can Riley Spencer stay healthy? Damon Martin played at times over Zlatnik, but then disappeared. Is he a factor at guard? Who steps in at center. Kansas has targeted at least a pair of JUCO options, but either way this is going to be a group that will be pretty green in terms of FBS experience.
- Playmakes in the passing game are a must. Jimmay Mundine looks like someone who could do some damage at tight end if we get a quarterback in the game that can get him the ball. After that we've seen the occasional burst from Andrew Turzilli, but he needs to be much more aggressive in going after the football. Who else is there? Josh Ford is one of the most athletic players on the field when he plays on special teams but he apparently struggles to catch the football. Does Tre Parmalee become a factor where Patterson and Beshears left off? Does Justin McCay produce? Again, this is another spot where Kansas has targeted junior college talent, it's also a spot where a talented freshman could play almost immediately.
- Running game, all set here. Feels good to say that, although on some level the offensive line has to factor into this discussion and that could mean that Sims, Cox and Pierson are working a little harder for yards next year.
- The defensive line showed strong improvement at times this year, but when the Kansas defense was bad, it was a stark reminder how bad this group is. Kansas has targeted and/or landed commitments from some pretty high impact players up front for the second year in a row. IF they can manage to hold onto everyone, this could be a strength next year.
- The linebacker position is an example of what good coaching can do. This years group had guys playing out of position and undermanned at times but they battled as hard as any other unit on the Kansas football team. The Jayhawks still need more athleticism here in order to improve in pass coverage but in general there is a lot to like about what is on the roster.
- Secondary is a huge concern for next year and the Jayhawk staff is clearly targeting several junior college prospects to try to fill the void left by the departure of Greg Brown, Bradley McDougald and Lubbock Smith. This wasn't a great spot this year for Kansas and it could be a heartburn next as well.
- Kicker...enough said. Get one!
- So it the program moving in the right direction? I'd say yes, I'd also unfortunately say that the schedule and the dramatic difference between our team and the other nine in the Big 12 means that we could be looking at a similar season again next year. What that means is we could be looking at a ceiling of four wins tops next year with 1 to 2 wins being possibly the more realistic expectation once again. When that happens, will fans be able to remain patient if it is still moving in the right direction? Continuity is pretty much the essential coaching ingredient in college football. Yes you have to find the right guy and you can't blindly retain a horrible staff, but if the signs are there and things are pointing in the right direction, hopefully cooler heads prevail and Charlie Weis is given the time to work through this. Turner Gill was the exception to the rule, although if this years crop of head coach firings is any indication, the tolerance for losing or even mediocrity is getting pretty thin.