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1. The downside of low upside
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.
Safe to say, the novelty has worn off a bit in Ames. The scalp-collecting has slowed, the recruiting hasn't picked up to any major degree, and four straight losing seasons have to be wearing a bit on Iowa State fans.
You know the story pretty well by now. Paul Rhoads' Cyclones took down a 10-win Nebraska team in Lincoln in 2009, won at Texas in 2010 (and very nearly beat Nebraska again), and handed a 12-win Oklahoma State team its only loss in 2011. Ames quickly became the place you didn't want to visit as a favorite.
But after three bowls in four years, the tide has turned in the wrong way. Iowa State has lost 13 of its last 17 games. The quarterback position has still never been resolved. And in 2013, we saw what happened if some bad injury luck goes against the Cyclones. When you recruit like a mid-level AAC team, and you lose a chunk of your first string, you begin to play like a low-level AAC team. Without a deeper level of athleticism upon which to call, ISU cratered, going 3-9 and losing to Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Oklahoma by an average score of 55-13.
That's the bad news. The good news, as it were, is that ISU at least isn't that far away from its 2009-12 level. The offense, though limited, returns nearly everybody and welcomes a new offensive coordinator and a rare pair of young four-star receivers. The defense ... well, it's still super thin, but it might be healthy this time. There's a bit more upside and decent experience on the more troubled side of the ball, and at the very least, ISU isn't too many breaks (if any) away from getting back to the .500 level.
But how long is that enough? The scalps on the wall are getting a little bit dusty, and the 6-7 seasons lose their charm after a while, even if they're closer to the norm than last year's 3-9 campaign.
Paul Rhoads is playing, and will continue to play, the long game in Ames. Quite a few of his better players are young, and he's not exactly on a win-or-else hot seat this year. But with Big 12 contenders Kansas State, Baylor, and Oklahoma all visiting Ames, it's not be a bad idea to score another big upset and remind locals why he became so popular in the first place.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 78|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||Northern Iowa||N/A||20-28||L||23.3 - 42.6||L|
|14-Sep||Iowa||29||21-27||L||30.8 - 26.1||W|
|26-Sep||at Tulsa||94||38-21||W||26.5 - 33.3||L|
|3-Oct||Texas||35||30-31||L||32.5 - 25.8||W|
|12-Oct||at Texas Tech||43||35-42||L||18.6 - 35.4||L||-6.3|
|19-Oct||at Baylor||7||7-71||L||15.4 - 31.5||L||-5.7|
|26-Oct||Oklahoma State||8||27-58||L||25.7 - 28.5||L||-7.2|
|2-Nov||at Kansas State||24||7-41||L||17.7 - 30.1||L||-8.3|
|9-Nov||TCU||44||17-21||L||17.3 - 25.6||L||-11.3|
|16-Nov||at Oklahoma||20||10-48||L||22.7 - 39.3||L||-11.3|
|23-Nov||Kansas||101||34-0||W||42.5 - 23.9||W||-4.3|
|30-Nov||at West Virginia||76||52-44||W||32.1 - 40.6||L||-5.4|
|Points Per Game||24.8||90||36.0||109|
|Adj. Points Per Game||25.4||92||31.9||100|
2. Two games is not a trend...
...but if you're looking for hope in Ames, you have to start with the last two games. After a year of injuries and feckless offensive performance -- ISU averaged better than 5.1 yards per play just once in its first nine games against FBS opponents and scored 68 points in five games between October 19 and November 16 -- the Cyclones put up 1,077 yards (6.9 per play) and scored 86 points in the final two. Yes, those two games were against Kansas and West Virginia, but you've got to start somewhere. And even accounting for opponent, the final two performances were impressive.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 32.0, ISU 28.3 (minus-3.7)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 6 games): Opponent 31.7, ISU 19.6 (minus-12.1)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 2 games): ISU 37.3, Opponent 32.3 (plus-5.0)
Between injuries and a generally unsettled lineup, there were almost no sure things in the Iowa State offensive lineup. One player (receiver Quenton Bundrage) started all 12 games. The leading rusher missed two. The original starting quarterback missed one game and was demoted for others. This is a good way of collecting experience for future seasons -- and it might lend more weight to the last two games -- but it's not good for winning games in the present tense.
It's also not good for learning things. Despite the late output, we enter 2014 asking basically the same questions of the ISU offense that we did in 2013.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.8%||97||Succ. Rt. +||99.9||64|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.6||86||Def. FP+||102.4||30|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.3||60||Redzone S&P+||122.2||11|
|Q1 Rk||86||1st Down Rk||52|
|Q2 Rk||56||2nd Down Rk||82|
|Q3 Rk||96||3rd Down Rk||93|
3. Being good in the red zone matters more when you get to the red zone more
Yes, that's the third topic of last year's preview.
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. [...] The problem, of course, was that they didn't create nearly enough of these opportunities.
I wrote that after ISU ranked 78th in overall Off. S&P+ and 19th in Redzone S&P+ in 2012. Last year, ISU ranked 73rd and 11th, respectively. Same story, different year.
A lack of explosiveness doesn't matter when you're not far from the end zone, and a combination of solid blocking and efficient running got ISU into the end zone quite a bit. But again, that only matters if you're generating opportunities. ISU created scoring opportunities (trips inside the opponent's 40) on only 37.3 percent of its possessions, 114th in the country. If you're getting so few chances, you pretty much have to score touchdowns on every single one of them.
Consider this a case of doing the Little Things well but not doing enough of the Big Things.
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Sam B. Richardson||6'2, 223||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||121||220||1397||11||7||55.0%||21||8.7%||5.3|
|Grant Rohach||6'1, 224||So.||3 stars (5.6)||110||191||1208||8||7||57.6%||15||7.3%||5.4|
|Joel Lanning||6'2, 236||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Trevor Hodge||6'0, 198||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
4. Find a QB who will stick
Yep, said it last year.
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.
Thanks to both countless injuries to Sam B. Richardson (ankle, groin, thumb, head/neck) and the relatively equal play of backup Grant Rohach, ISU again split time between two quarterbacks in 2013 and again enters a season unsettled at the position.
Granted, Rhoads knows how to handle a quarterback battle -- he's gotten more than used to it -- but at some point it would certainly help if one stood out from the others. Maybe that's Richardson, re-discovering the late-2012 form that won him the job int he first place (which basically constituted not throwing interceptions). Maybe that's Rohach, taking a sophomore step forward. Or, since this is Iowa State, maybe that's This Year's Emerging Redshirt Freshman (either Joel Lanning or Trevor Hodge). For what it's worth, Rohach held the starting job at the end of the spring. But that doesn't necessarily mean a lot in Ames.
Perhaps the biggest reason for hope when it comes to the quarterback position is the new guy calling plays. Former Kansas head coach (and, before that, former Oklahoma offensive coordinator) Mark Mangino takes over as Rhoads' offensive coordinator. Mangino has never been an extreme innovator, but he's a strong craftsman, and he has a knack for keeping things as simple as possible. ("It takes too much time out of your day to be real complicated.") He figures out what his players are best at doing, he determines what the defense is giving him -- be it the run, the dink-and-dunk, the seams, whatever -- and he goes to work. He is more likely than most to maximize the talent at hand.
So now the question simply becomes, "How good is the talent at hand?"
|Aaron Wimberly||RB||5'9, 174||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||141||567||2||4.0||3.5||34.0%|
|Sam B. Richardson||QB||6'2, 223||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||80||481||2||6.0||4.8||51.3%|
|DeVondrick Nealy||RB||5'10, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||41||158||2||3.9||3.2||29.3%|
|Grant Rohach||QB||6'1, 224||So.||3 stars (5.6)||33||182||1||5.5||6.3||45.5%|
|Rob Standard||RB||5'10, 213||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Tyler Brown||RB||5'10, 179||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Mike Warren||RB||6'0, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Quenton Bundrage||WR-X||6'2, 191||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||91||48||673||52.7%||24.1%||52.5%||7.4||27||7.0||83.3|
|E.J. Bibbs||TE||6'3, 261||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||60||39||462||65.0%||15.9%||51.9%||7.7||-8||7.7||57.2|
|Tad Ecby||WR-Z||6'0, 203||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||41||22||233||53.7%||10.8%||48.6%||5.7||-60||5.1||28.8|
|Aaron Wimberly||RB||5'9, 174||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||24||18||211||75.0%||6.3%||40.9%||8.8||9||9.8||26.1|
|Dondre Daley||WR-Z||6'1, 191||So.||3 stars (5.5)||20||13||120||65.0%||5.3%||65.0%||6.0||-37||6.3||14.9|
|Jarvis West||WR-F||5'7, 177||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||18||15||105||83.3%||4.8%||37.5%||5.8||-56||5.3||13.0|
|Ernst Brun, Jr.||TE||11||6||47||54.5%||2.9%||62.5%||4.3||-32||2.8||5.8|
|P.J. Harris||WR-Z||6'1, 163||So.||3 stars (5.6)||9||7||67||77.8%||2.4%||33.3%||7.4||-10||8.3||8.3|
|Ben Boesen||TE||6'6, 238||Jr.||NR||4||2||9||50.0%||1.1%||100.0%||2.3||-19||2.5||1.1|
|Brett Medders||WR-F||6'2, 203||Jr.||NR|
|D'Vario Montgomery||WR-X||6'5, 212||So.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Bryan Ajumobi||WR-X||6'1, 204||So.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Damein Lawry||WR-F||5'10, 177||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Allen Lazard||WR||6'5, 215||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Jauan Wesley||WR||5'11, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
5. No pressure, D'Vario and Allen
Iowa State's offensive line managed to rank 67th in Adj. Line yards despite constant shuffling. Two multi-year starters are gone, but plenty of players have amassed experience at this point -- eight have started a game (86 starts in all) -- and the addition of some exciting youngsters like four-star redshirt freshman Jake Campos can't hurt. One assumes this will be a decent line, at least in terms of run-blocking.
So how about the guys they're blocking for? Generally speaking, if a running back averages better than about 5.0 highlight yards per opportunity, that's a sign of solid explosiveness. An average of 4.5 is at least decent.
None of ISU's top three running backs averaged better than 3.5.
Rohach was a relatively exciting runner at times, but the backs didn't bring much to the table. Health and experience could be assets here, but the best-case scenario for Mangino and the running game is efficiency over big plays.
Of course, moving the ball without big plays is something ISU has gotten pretty used to at this point. Explosiveness has long been an issue for this team. Bundrage and Justin Coleman combined to average a healthy 14.1 yards per catch, but Coleman has graduated, and Bundrage's 53 percent catch rate tamped down his effectiveness. Still, Bundrage is a decent weapon, and tight end E.J. Bibbs isn't bad.
But it's difficult to talk about ISU receivers without focusing on a pair of newcomers. First, you've got sophomore USF transfer D'Vario Montgomery, a former four-star recruit and high school teammate of Sam B. Richardson. He has proven nothing, but recruiting rankings hint at upside if nothing else, and Montgomery evidently has it. And so does Allen Lazard, an Urbandale, Iowa, native and the No. 47 overall recruit in the country (according to Rivals).
If Montgomery and Lazard can begin turning potential into production in 2014, that not only gives the offense more upside as a whole; it also gives the Cyclones a pretty clear identity. Montgomery and Lazard are both big targets, as is Bibbs. (And Bundrage isn't exactly small.) If there is at least a little bit of play-making ability here (TBD), and ISU can turn short and medium passes into occasional big gains, as was the KU way under Mangino, then that could open up the entire field.
This duo is still young, though. The most likely result here is sporadic output from these two in 2014 and a truly decent offense in 2015.
|Tom Farniok||C||6'4, 300||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||35|
|Jacob Gannon||RT||6'7, 301||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||12|
|Brock Dagel||LT||6'8, 303||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||11|
|Oni Omoile||LG||6'3, 297||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||9|
|Jamison Lalk||LG||6'6, 303||Jr.||2 stars (5.2)||8|
|Daniel Burton||RG||6'5, 320||So.||3 stars (5.5)||8|
|Ben Loth||C||6'6, 327||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||2|
|Jacob Dunning||RT||6'5, 287||So.||2 stars (5.4)||1|
|Jake Campos||LT||6'7, 279||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Jacob Homa||RG||6'4, 295||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Shawn Curtis||LT||6'5, 288||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Ryan Glenn||RG||6'4, 305||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Nick Severs||C||6'3, 285||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Wendell Taiese||OL||6'5, 355||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.9%||87||Succ. Rt. +||94.0||84|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.5||62||Off. FP+||98.5||77|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.4||86||Redzone S&P+||99.7||60|
|Q1 Rk||67||1st Down Rk||90|
|Q2 Rk||100||2nd Down Rk||106|
|Q3 Rk||49||3rd Down Rk||19|
6. The secondary deserved better
Never mind the fact that the offense did the defense next to no favors. The defensive front gave the defensive backs few of them as well.
The Iowa State secondary featured a pair of high-class safeties (Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield combined for five tackles for loss, 15 passes defensed, and two forced fumbles) and a young duo of cornerbacks (Sam E. Richardson and Nigel Tribune) that usually held its own. Plus, Jeremiah George was a strong play-maker, against run and pass, at middle linebacker. ISU was excellent at preventing big plays and conversions on passing downs, but with one of the worst overall run defenses in the country, passing downs were few and far between.
That Richardson and Tribune return is good news, but they might not find the going any easier this fall. Both Washington and Broomfield are gone, as is George. Plus, six of the top nine tacklers up front are gone; granted, major line attrition would hurt more if the line had actually been good, but the ISU line is going to be under-sized and under-seasoned in 2014.
Every linebacker not named George returns, and there's JUCO help in each unit, but it's hard to be too optimistic about this defense as a whole. ISU has always been salty and opportunistic under Rhoads, but that's different than simply being good. Veteran coordinator Wally Burnham has his work cut out for him this year.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Cory Morrissey||DE||6'4, 260||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||43.5||6.1%||6.5||2.0||0||0||1||0|
|Brandon Jensen||NG||6'5, 301||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||12.5||1.8%||4.0||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Mitchell Meyers||DE||6'4, 262||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||11.5||1.6%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Devlyn Cousin||NG||6'1, 295||So.||3 stars (5.5)||7||4.5||0.6%||1.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Walter Woods III||NG||9||2.5||0.4%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Darius White||DE||6'0, 249||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Pierre Aka||DT||6'4, 285||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Robby Garcia||DT||6'3, 277||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|J.D. Waggoner||DE||6'2, 247||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Vernell Trent||NG||6'3, 287||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Dale Pierson||DE||6'2, 260||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Gabe Luna||DE||6'1, 255||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
7. A nearly total tackle rebuild
The good news, I guess, is that the end position won't be worse. Granted, ISU had one of the worst standard-downs pass rushes in the country, so there's almost nowhere to go but up, but in Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, plus a couple of JUCO transfers (Dale Pierson, Gabe Luna), the Cyclones aren't going to regress at what was a position of weakness.
But to the extent that ISU had a strength up front, it was at tackle, where Rodney Coe, David Irving, and Brandon Jensen combined for 13.5 tackles for loss and quite a bit of short-yardage push. Coe and Irving were both dismissed from the team this spring, leaving Meyers, sophomore Devlyn Cousin, and a whole lot of new (not to mention only one 300-pounder) up front. It's hard to be optimistic that this bad line will be better.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jared Brackens||SLB||6'1, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||49.0||6.9%||4.5||2.0||0||2||0||0|
|Jevohn Miller||WLB||6'1, 243||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||37.5||5.3%||2.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Luke Knott||WLB||6'0, 218||So.||3 stars (5.5)||6||35.5||5.0%||1.5||0.0||0||2||1||0|
|Levi Peters||WLB||5'10, 217||So.||NR||12||12.5||1.8%||0.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Drake Ferch||SLB||5'11, 212||Sr.||NR||11||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Kane Seeley||MLB||6'1, 240||So.||2 stars (5.4)||11||1.5||0.2%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Alton Meeks||MLB||6'2, 249||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Brian Mills||WLB||5'10, 227||RSFr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Jordan Harris||MLB||5'11, 241||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Sam E. Richardson||CB||5'7, 189||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||49.5||7.0%||1||0||0||7||1||0|
|Nigel Tribune||CB||5'10, 183||So.||2 stars (5.4)||10||27.0||3.8%||0||0||1||6||0||0|
|Kenneth Lynn||CB||5'10, 166||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||7||8.0||1.1%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|T.J. Mutcherson||SS||5'11, 203||So.||2 stars (5.3)||8||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Darian Cotton||SS||5'11, 201||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||11||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Matthew Thomas||CB||5'10, 168||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)|
|Kamari Syrie||FS||5'9, 203||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Kamari Cotton-Moya||FS||6'0, 190||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)|
|Devron Moore||DB||5'11, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Qujuan Floyd||DB||6'0, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Mike Johnson||DB||5'11, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
8. A nearly total safety rebuild
Linebacker Jared Brackens returns, sophomore Luke Knott is healthy, and again, Richardson and Tribune return at cornerback. These are good things. ISU tends to do just fine at the linebacker position in general, so one assumes a decent level there, but if the strength of the defense was big-play prevention in the passing game, and Washington, Broomfield, and nickelback Charlie Rogers are all gone ... well ... that's not good. ISU will probably need both JUCO signees (Devron Moore, Qujuan Floyd) to be ready to contribute from Day 1 (not typically a strong bet) to match last year's production in the back.
In all, there's reason to believe the offense will take a lovely step forward. But the defense is simply trying to tread water.
9. Damn you, Iowa State
Every year, Iowa State starts a Knott at linebacker (first Jake, than Luke). Last year, the Cyclones had a Sam Richardson at both quarterback and cornerback. And now they have two redshirt freshman free safeties named Kamari. It's one thing to confuse opponents; it's another to confuse the people writing about your team.
|Kirby Van Der Kamp||84||41.6||8||22||27||58.3%|
|Cole Netten||6'1, 213||So.||33-34||10-11||90.9%||3-7||42.9%|
|DeVondrick Nealy||KR||5'10, 190||Jr.||16||23.5||1|
|Jarvis West||PR||5'7, 177||Sr.||11||13.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||34|
|Field Goal Efficiency||89|
|Punt Return Efficiency||82|
|Kick Return Efficiency||8|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||111|
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|30-Aug||North Dakota State||NR|
|4-Oct||at Oklahoma State||18|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-5.4% (73)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||56|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-1 / 5.3|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (8, 5)|
10. Brace yourself
In its first five games, Iowa State plays a team riding a 24-game winning streak (North Dakota State), a major, improved in-state rival (Iowa), and the last three Big 12 champions (Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Baylor).
For a team coming off of a 3-9 campaign and breaking in a new offense (potentially with a sophomore quarterback and key sophomore and freshman receivers), new defensive tackles, and new safeties, that's less than optimal. (Well, it's less than optimal for just about any team, I guess.)
There are wins on the schedule after that, but only if this team's health and confidence aren't completely frayed.
Honestly, I expect another down year for ISU here. I'm optimistic about the offense, but a) I'll be more optimistic about the offense in 2015, and b) I'm terrified for this defense in 2014. If some of the young, ace recruits take hold this year and Mark Mangino begins to figure things out on the offensive side of the ball, then perhaps there's more upside for this team than there has been in the past. But it will probably take a year to realize potential.