Since Paul Rhoads become the head coach in Ames, Iowa State's seasons have assumed something of a pattern: six wins or so and a bid to a mid-tier bowl game, with a major upset or two along the way. Last year progressed along those lines, but if Rhoads and the Cyclones are going to reach a bowl game for the fourth time in five seasons, they're going to have to overcome the departure of a lot of starters as well as a challenging Big 12 slate.
2013 Iowa State schedule
Projections from Football Outsiders' 2013 college football almanac.
Iowa State could conceivably win all three non-conference games to begin the year, and frankly, it may need to given what lies ahead. The Cyclones have four league games against teams projected to rate among the nation's top 15, though three of them will be played at home, including a big Thursday-nighter against Texas.
What probably will be Iowa State's most difficult four-game stretch begins in late October with Oklahoma State. Following that home contest, the Cyclones travel to Kansas State, host TCU and then head to Norman to play the Sooners. Three of those teams, or heck, maybe even all four -- we probably shouldn't totally rule out more Bill Snyder magic -- might be major players for the conference title.
The Kansas game is one the Cyclones can pencil in as a win, but in a league with plenty of bowl-quality programs, they'll be underdogs most weeks . Though that's not exactly unfamiliar territory for Rhoads.