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1. Slow and steady
Below, you'll find 64 players from the Iowa State Cyclones' roster listed. Only one was a four-star recruit (via Rivals.com): a true-freshman offensive lineman. Per Rivals, head coach Paul Rhoads' five recruiting classes in Ames have ranked 73rd (behind Akron), 60th (behind Memphis), 51st (behind SMU), 87th (behind FIU and Hawaii), and 58th (behind Houston).
For all intents and purposes, Iowa State recruits like a Conference USA team, or at least what used to be Conference USA and is basically now the American Athletic Conference. There aren't many big-time recruits in the Cyclones' backyard, and Paul Rhoads is more of a talent sculptor than a talent finder.
But Rhoads just keeps figuring out ways to make Iowa State a little better each year. He inherited from Gene Chizik a program that went 2-10 with an F/+ ranking of 97th in 2008. In 2009, ISU improved to 7-6 and 80th, and after a year of regression in 2010 (5-7, 85th), he improved again (6-7, 72nd) and again (6-7, 55th). The on-paper product has improved more than the record, but with each passing year he adds a little more to the foundation. ISU's 2012 season was damaged by injuries and a rare losing record in close games -- the Cyclones went 1-2 in games decided by one possession after going 9-5 in such games from 2009-11 -- but despite the loss of a defensive leader and continued shuffling at quarterback, the offense improved dramatically (from 92nd in Off. F/+ to 65th) while the defense held steady.
Iowa State enters 2013 with a paucity of options on the defensive line and a questionable receiving corps; but this is nothing new. With a full roster of his guys and potentially an answer at quarterback for once, he should be able to put his team in position to make its fourth bowl in five years.
Rhoads has made a name for himself mostly through big wins -- the Cyclones won at Nebraska in 2009, won at Texas in 2010, beat Oklahoma State (and kept them out of the national title game) and Iowa and won at Texas Tech in 2011, and beat Iowa and won at TCU in 2012 -- but he encounters a couple of questions as he enters his fifth season in Ames:
A. Can he keep up the slow build? Going slow-but-steady is the only way you can build a program without star recruits. There is no sudden talent surge; you simply have to continue to find ways to build depth, find the program-specific talent you need, and cultivate a strong culture. But it's a lot easier to lose ground than to gain it.
B. What's this team's ceiling? It's great to claim memorable wins and reach minor bowl games -- Insight, Pinstripe, Liberty -- but even if the slow build continues, how far can ISU rise in a conference that features incredible depth? I'm not sure if the Big 12 has a truly elite team this year, but it has at least eight pretty good ones. Can ISU make it nine on a consistent basis? Can the Cyclones ever make a run at a conference title?
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 4-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 55|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Tulsa||38-23||W||35.9 - 20.7||W|
|8-Sep||at Iowa||9-6||W||19.7 - 21.3||L|
|15-Sep||Western Illinois||37-3||W||24.1 - 11.5||W|
|29-Sep||Texas Tech||13-24||L||12.5 - 19.9||L|
|6-Oct||at TCU||37-23||W||35.1 - 28.0||W|
|13-Oct||Kansas State||21-27||L||13.6 - 20.0||L|
|20-Oct||at Oklahoma State||10-31||L||23.0 - 28.9||L|
|27-Oct||Baylor||35-21||W||23.0 - 25.5||L|
|3-Nov||Oklahoma||20-35||L||22.0 - 32.4||L|
|10-Nov||at Texas||7-33||L||22.4 - 37.8||L|
|17-Nov||at Kansas||51-23||W||32.1 - 34.8||L|
|23-Nov||West Virginia||24-31||L||20.3 - 28.2||L|
|31-Dec||vs. Tulsa||17-31||L||23.4 - 23.2||W|
|Points Per Game||24.5||88||23.9||38|
|Adj. Points Per Game||23.6||102||25.6||41|
2. A less-effective Kansas State
Iowa State basically attempted a Kansas State impression in 2012, pecking away with its short game on offense and attempting to bend and rarely break on defense. The problem, of course, was that ISU didn't have a Collin Klein or an Arthur Brown. The Cyclones did prevent big plays pretty well and hacked at the ball in reliably strong fashion, but the offense wasn't nearly efficient enough. The ground game produced some big plays, but the passing game was mostly ineffective (again).
And as the season progressed, the injuries piled up and the product suffered.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): ISU 25.5, Opponent 20.3 (plus-5.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 8 games): Opponent 28.9, ISU 22.5 (minus-6.4)
When star linebacker Jake Knott was injured after eight games, the defense took a significant step backwards.
Adj. Points Per Game with Jake Knott (8 games): 22.0
Adj. Points Per Game without Knott (5 games): 31.3
With a new quarterback, the Cyclones' offense rallied a bit late, but only so much.
|Q1 Rk||60||1st Down Rk||116|
|Q2 Rk||93||2nd Down Rk||40|
|Q3 Rk||80||3rd Down Rk||85|
3. Being good in the red zone matters more when you get to the red zone more
The Kansas State/Iowa State model requires you to take full advantage of the opportunities given to you. Iowa State did that with a nearly automatic red zone offense. Against a solid set of red zone defenses, the Cyclones averaged 6.7 points per trip inside the 5-yard line (27th in the country) and 5.5 points per trip inside the 20 (54th).
The problem, of course, was that they didn't create nearly enough of these opportunities. They made only 74 trips inside the opponent 40 (102nd in the country), 51 inside the 20 (87th), and 40 inside the 5 (86th). Finishing drives is great; creating opportunities to finish is better.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Sam B. Richardson||6'2, 205||So.||*** (5.5)||46||79||541||58.2%||8||1||3||3.7%||6.4|
|Grant Rohach||6'1, 210||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Joel Lanning||6'2, 220||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
4. Find a QB who will stick
In 2009, Austen Arnaud threw 303 passes for Iowa State, and Jerome Tiller threw 73. In 2010, Arnaud threw 290, and Tiller threw 82. In 2011, Steele Jantz threw 259, and Jared Barnett threw 220. In 2012, Jantz threw 269, Barnett threw 108, and Sam B. Richardson threw 79.
Teams are sometimes forced to deal with issues at quarterback; injuries happen, and sometimes you just pick the wrong guy at first. That's life. But for Iowa State, shuffling at quarterback is a way of life. There hasn't been stability at the position since Bret Meyer left, and considering how much of the modern college offense (any offense) is dependent on quarterback play, that's an issue.
So now it's Richardson's turn to take a shot. Aside from cleanup duty against Western Illinois, he didn't see the field until pressed into starting duty against Kansas. Granted, it was Kansas, but Richardson responded to the opportunity by completing 23 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns; he also rushed for 43 yards and a score. It was an incredible seizing of the moment, one that gave ISU hope into the offseason, even as he finished the year by completing just 23 of 52 passes against West Virginia and Tulsa. (He did, however, rush for 119 yards against WVU.)
Richardson's sample size is not nearly big enough to determine that he's absolutely the answer, but one had to like his combination of decision-making and wheels. One also has to like how the backfield has taken shape alongside him. Despite inefficiency that could be ascribed to the only average blocking they received, Iowa State running backs showed serious potential in 2012. Shontrelle Johnson was the leader until a late-season knee injury, but after a lovely season debut against Tulsa (18 carries, 120 yards), Johnson averaged just 4.0 yards per carry the rest of the year.
James White's abilities in the open field, however, stood out (though he needs to see more of the open field). Combined with big senior Jeff Woody, spring game star DeVondrick Nealy, and junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly, Richardson could find his job is made a lot easier by a strong running game and lots of second- and third-and-manageables.
|Shontrelle Johnson||RB||5'9, 186||Sr.||*** (5.5)||115||504||4.4||3.2||2||-8.1|
|James White||RB||5'8, 192||Sr.||*** (5.5)||99||505||5.1||6.3||2||+3.6|
|Jeff Woody||RB||6'1, 242||Sr.||NR||40||193||4.8||6.4||2||+3.5|
|Sam B. Richardson||QB||6'2, 205||So.||*** (5.5)||38||246||6.5||4.5||1||+5.0|
|DeVondrick Nealy||RB||5'10, 183||So.||*** (5.7)||16||81||5.1||4.7||0||-2.0|
|Rob Standard||RB||5'10, 208||So.||*** (5.6)||8||27||3.4||3.1||1||-1.4|
|Jarvis West||WR||5'7, 174||Jr.||*** (5.6)||7||26||3.7||11.7||1||-0.5|
|Aaron Wimberly||RB||5'9, 173||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Jarvis West||WR||5'7, 174||Jr.||*** (5.6)||45||31||290||68.9%||6.4||10.5%||42.2%||6.5||29.8|
|Quenton Bundrage||WR||6'2, 189||So.||*** (5.6)||40||20||232||50.0%||5.8||9.3%||65.0%||5.9||23.9|
|Ernst Brun, Jr.||TE||6'3, 251||Sr.||*** (5.5)||36||26||330||72.2%||9.2||8.4%||66.7%||9.5||33.9|
|Albert Gary||WR||5'10, 203||Sr.||** (5.2)||35||18||170||51.4%||4.9||8.1%||45.7%||4.6||17.5|
|James White||RB||5'8, 192||Sr.||*** (5.5)||27||20||137||74.1%||5.1||6.3%||33.3%||6.8||14.1|
|Shontrelle Johnson||RB||5'9, 186||Sr.||*** (5.5)||20||14||115||70.0%||5.8||4.7%||60.0%||5.8||11.8|
|DeVondrick Nealy||RB||5'10, 183||So.||*** (5.7)||7||3||52||42.9%||7.4||1.6%||42.9%||6.6||5.3|
|Pierce Richardson||TE||6'5, 253||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
|Ben Boesen||TE||6'6, 230||So.||NR|
|P.J. Harris||WR||6'1, 160||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Dondre Daley||WR||6'1, 191||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|E.J. Bibbs||TE||6'3, 250||Jr.||*** (5.6)|
5. Mix and match receivers
Perhaps the biggest problem for Iowa State's offense in 2012 was that offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham likes to throw the ball, too. Iowa State threw slightly more frequently than the national average on both standard downs and passing downs; the Cyclones did so despite the fact that they really couldn't do it very well. Of the 10 players targeted at least once per game, only two averaged better than a paltry 6.4 yards per target. One of those two (Josh Lenz) is now gone. Lenz was injured in the middle of the season, and the offense suffered in his absence; now his absence is permanent.
Tight end Ernst Brun, Jr., came on in the second half of the season. He caught six of six passes for 76 yards versus Baylor, then caught four of six for 102 and a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl. But no returning receiver was even remotely inspiring last fall. Jarvis West, Quenton Bundrage, and Albert Gary combined for a 53 percent catch rate and 5.8 yards per target. Awful. As deep as the Cyclones are at running back, they are thin at receiver.
That ISU managed a Top 50 Off. F/+ ranking despite poor passing and inefficient running both proves to you how good the Cyclones were in the red zone and reminds you how far the Cyclones still have to go in the offense-heavy Big 12. The running game should improve in 2013, but even if Sam B. Richardson is indeed the answer at quarterback, he'll still need guys to catch his passes, and it is very much not clear that he does.
|Brayden Burris||RT||30 career starts|
|Tom Farniok||C||6'4, 287||Jr.||** (5.4)||26 career starts|
|Ethan Tuftee||RG||6'4, 314||Sr.||** (5.4)||23 career starts|
|Carter Bykowski||LT||18 career starts|
|Kyle Lichtenberg||RT||6'6, 296||Sr.||*** (5.5)||16 career starts|
|Jacob Gannon||LT||6'7, 300||Jr.||** (5.3)||4 career starts|
|Brock Dagel||LT||6'8, 297||So.||** (5.4)|
|Bob Graham||LG||6'5, 296||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Oni Omoile||RG||6'3, 282||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Jamison Lalk||RT||6'6, 295||So.||** (5.2)|
|Ben Loth||C||6'6, 316||Jr.||*** (5.5)|
|Daniel Burton||RG||6'5, 302||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Jake Campos||OL||6'7, 260||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
6. One day…
...I will figure out a way to adjust recruiting rankings to assume that offensive linemen at schools like Iowa State and Wisconsin are going to play a full star rating higher than what they were assigned by Rivals.com or any other recruiting service. (Meanwhile, linemen at Texas will perform a full star rating lower.) Wisconsin always seems to produce four-star quality out of three-star linemen, and in 2012, Iowa State at least produced a three-star level out of a bunch of two-stars. Must be the conditioning.
The Cyclones protected three separate passers pretty well and were at least mediocre in run blocking. With four players returning with starting experience (69 career starts), at least a little bit of improvement should be expected on the run side. And ISU's track record of decent offensive lines suggests that three-star underclassmen like Bob Graham and Oni Omoile should perform well if called upon to do so. This isn't an amazing line, but considering the recruiting rankings, it's pretty good.
|Q1 Rk||38||1st Down Rk||66|
|Q2 Rk||45||2nd Down Rk||8|
|Q3 Rk||33||3rd Down Rk||43|
7. Bend … bend … bend
Iowa State was a top-30 team in terms of big-play prevention, and like the offense, the Cyclones' defense played at a high level in the red zone. But as we saw above, the bend-don't-break defense broke when linebacker Jake Knott was lost to injury. Without Knott, ISU was unable to utilize strong linebacker play to offset pretty poor performances from a defensive line that, unlike the offensive line, looked like a unit filled with two-star players.
With a healthy lineup, ISU was able to leave its cornerbacks without help and account for spread offenses without moving into a dime formation. As health faded, so did ISU.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Willie Scott||DE||6'2, 224||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||29.0||5.7%||2||1||1||1||0||1|
|David Irving||DE||6'7, 272||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||17.0||3.4%||3||1||1||2||0||0|
|Walter Woods III||NG||6'0, 318||Sr.||** (5.4)||13||7.0||1.4%||3||1||0||0||0||0|
|Brandon Jensen||NG||6'5, 301||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||6.0||1.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Cory Morrissey||DE||6'4, 249||Jr.||*** (5.5)||9||5.0||1.0%||2||0||0||0||1||0|
|Nick Kron||DE||6'2, 240||So.||** (5.1)||12||4.0||0.8%||2||1||0||0||0||0|
|Mitchell Meyers||DE||6'4, 253||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Pierre Aka||DT||6'4, 273||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Collin Bevins||DT||6'5, 277||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|Rodney Coe||DE||6'3, 285||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
8. A terrifying (and not in a good way) defensive line
That ISU ranked in the top 40 in both Rushing S&P+ and Passing S&P+ despite a pushover line that generated little pass rush on its own tells you quite a bit of the potential of the linebacking corps and secondary. But in 2013, both Knott and A.J. Klein are gone, as are two more of ISU's top six LBs. Jeremiah George returns; he accounted for a decent four tackles for loss and three passes defensed in 2012 and proved a worthy tackler in space. However, the rest of ISU's returning linebackers combined for 23.5 tackles and no disruption whatsoever. Granted, there's a new Knott in the linebacking corps (Luke, a redshirt freshman), but ISU is going to be leaning on some incredibly untested players in what is perhaps the most important unit of the defense.
The Cyclones are going to need more help from the line than they got in 2013, and there's no reason to think they will get it. The ISU defensive line combined for 37 tackles for loss and decent stiffness in short-yardage situations, but 25 of those TFLs are gone, as are the top three defensive tackles. Returning ends Willie Scott, David Irving, Cory Morrissey, and Nick Kron combined for nine TFLs and three sacks, but somebody's going to have to step up in a major way. For that matter, so will upperclassman tackles Walter Woods III and Brandon Jensen.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jeremiah George||MLB||5'11, 219||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||68.5||13.5%||4||0||0||3||0||0|
|Jevohn Miller||WLB||6'1, 240||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||16.5||3.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jared Brackens||SLB||6'1, 210||Jr.||*** (5.5)||10||7.0||1.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darius White||MLB||6'0, 233||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Luke Knott||WLB||6'0, 216||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Alton Meeks||SLB||6'2, 241||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Justin Webster||LB||6'1, 217||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jacques Washington||FS||6'1, 220||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||71.5||14.1%||2||0||3||3||1||0|
|Jansen Watson||CB||5'9, 174||Sr.||** (5.3)||10||37.0||7.3%||0.5||0||0||7||0||0|
|Deon Broomfield||SS||6'0, 206||Sr.||** (5.2)||13||35.0||6.9%||1||0||2||10||2||1|
|Cliff Stokes||FS||6'1, 175||Sr.||*** (5.5)||10||22.5||4.4%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Gage Shaeffer||DB||5'11, 199||Jr.||NR||13||19.0||3.8%||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Sam E. Richardson||CB||5'7, 182||So.||** (5.3)||13||4.0||0.8%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Kenneth Lynn||CB||5'10, 165||So.||*** (5.5)||9||2.0||0.4%||0||0||0||1||0||1|
|Charlie Rogers||CB||6'1, 202||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Damein Lawry||CB||5'10, 169||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|T.J. Mutcherson||SS||5'11, 191||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|D.A. Williams||DB||5'10, 170||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
9. Go after the ball
The good news for ISU is that the defensive backs are already used to playing under duress. The pass rush can't get too much worse than it was last year, and as referenced above, ISU already leaned hard on corners like Jansen Watson to make plays, and on safeties like Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield to clean up potential messes. Safety Durrell Givens and play-making corner Jeremy Reeves are gone, but there is depth in the secondary that doesn't exist anywhere else on this roster besides running back.
And these guys get after the ball, too. ISU has been near the top of the country in forced fumbles for most of the Rhoads era, and they are able to play aggressively. Washington and Broomfield combined for 18 passes defensed, and Watson threw in seven. And Sam E. Richardson even broke up a couple of passes in minimal action. (And yes, ISU has two Sam Richardsons; and last year the Cyclones also had a Walker Woods and a Walter Woods.) This is an exciting unit, but it will need at least a little bit of help from the front seven.
|Kirby Van Der Kamp||6'4, 211||Sr.||77||41.0||2||30||29||76.6%|
|Edwin Arceo||5'9, 196||Sr.||63||62.9||23||36.5%|
|Kirby Van Der Kamp||6'4, 211||Sr.||1||46||0||0.0%|
|Edwin Arceo||5'9, 196||Sr.||37-40||4-6||66.7%||8-12||66.7%|
|Jarvis West||KR||5'7, 174||Jr.||16||21.1||0|
|Albert Gary||KR||5'10, 203||Sr.||10||24.5||0|
|Special Teams F/+||40|
|Field Goal Pct||75|
|Kick Returns Avg||100|
|Punt Returns Avg||20|
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|12-Oct||at Texas Tech||42|
|2-Nov||at Kansas State||40|
|30-Nov||at West Virginia||41|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||85|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||61|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||0 / +5.3|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||9 (5, 4)|
10. Either a great schedule or a terrible schedule
As a fan, your first glance at your team's schedule typically comes with some sort of "Okay, so let's say we go undefeated at home..." prerequisite. We always think our home-field advantage is greater than it actually is, but I'll just say this: If ISU goes undefeated at home this year, then the Cyclones are going about 10-2.
ISU's 2013 schedule is both exciting and terrifying. Three of the Cyclones' four toughest opponents (in terms of projected rankings) visit Ames, and with Rhoads' history, it is safe to say that ISU will beat at least one of them. But five of the next six opponents are on the road. If ISU is a top-30 or -40 team, then the Cyclones could go about 4-2 or 5-1 at home and perhaps as well as 3-3 or so on the road. That's a good season. But if ISU is only a top-50 or -60 team, then the big home games could be out of reach, and the road slate could be too tough to reach six wins.
Iowa State has improved overall in three of Rhoads' four seasons. The Cyclones did so last year despite key injuries and continued quarterback inconsistency. And with a good running game, strong secondary, and a potential answer at quarterback (again, I don't want to draw conclusions after three games -- Jared Barnett looked good after three games, as did Steele Jantz), there is hope for improvement here, too. But the defensive front seven scares me to death, and the offense has a pretty strong glass ceiling until it produces some actual threats at receiver.
With Rhoads' recent history, it's probably safe to assume a season very close to 6-6 once again, but there's no question that ISU has some work to do to stay even in this incredibly deep Big 12.