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If Iowa State football has any underdog magic left, now's the time

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Head coach Paul Rhoads made a reputation as a master underdog, and right now the odds are as against them as they've ever been.

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1. Now or never

Paul Rhoads is playing the long game. Quite a few of his better players are young, and he's not exactly on a win-or-else hot seat. But with Big 12 contenders Kansas State, Baylor, and Oklahoma visiting Ames, it's not a bad idea to score another upset and remind locals why he became so popular in the first place.

Honestly, I expect another down year. 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. Perhaps there's more upside than there has been. But it will probably take a year to realize potential.

-- 2014 Iowa State guide

You can survive in Ames winning six games a year, especially if some of those wins are memorable.

Rhoads earned a reputation as a high-caliber motivator; he went 24-27 in his first four seasons, but he made the wins count. He beat Iowa twice, won at Texas and Nebraska, and knocked Oklahoma State out of the 2011 BCS Championship with a 37-31 late-November win. His Cyclones reached three bowls and scared the daylights out of the fan bases of every good team on the schedule, even if that fear was warranted less often than not.

As I always say, however, hard jobs remain hard. And when your recruiting never comes around -- when you're still pulling in top-70 classes while most in your league are in the top 40 -- it will catch up to you. Rhoads has never been able to build a deep squad, and in 2014, that bit him like never before. His Cyclones were hit hard by injuries, and the underbelly was exposed, especially on defense. After three straight top-50 Def. S&P+ finishes between 2010-12, ISU disintegrated to 115th.

In last year's preview, I mentioned that I had hope for the offense in 2015. That remains the case; new coordinator Mangino managed to wrangle improvement despite injuries, and now he returns his quarterback, some exciting receivers, and a strong line. After years of holding ISU back, there's a path to success for the offense.

And now the defense needs a rebuild. Good injuries luck and some JUCO transfers could help to stabilize the Cyclones, but we're dealing with ifs and coulds. Relying on two JUCOs in particular to plug a gaping hole in run D, for instance, could work, but it usually doesn't.

It's probably now or never for Rhoads in Ames. The offense should move forward again, and the defense brings in some newcomers and, for now at least, gets healthy.

After slipping to 92nd in the F/+ rankings, the Cyclones should rebound. But if they don't, hope is all but lost. And if they don't at least crawl back into the 70s, it's hard to envision a second dawn in the Rhoads era.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 2-10 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 92
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug North Dakota State N/A 14-34 L 5% -37.5 1%
6-Sep Kansas State 26 28-32 L 51% 0.7 14%
13-Sep at Iowa 63 20-17 W 64% 8.3 54%
27-Sep Baylor 10 28-49 L 22% -18.3 0%
4-Oct at Oklahoma State 75 20-37 L 39% -6.6 20%
11-Oct Toledo 59 37-30 W 78% 18.1 73%
18-Oct at Texas 53 45-48 L 44% -3.4 19%
1-Nov Oklahoma 19 14-59 L 11% -28.4 0%
8-Nov at Kansas 99 14-34 L 17% -22.6 7%
22-Nov Texas Tech 82 31-34 L 40% -5.6 27%
29-Nov West Virginia 40 24-37 L 36% -8.6 10%
6-Dec at TCU 6 3-55 L 12% -26.9 0%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 28.7 63 37.0 115
Points Per Game 23.2 99 38.8 118

2. Minimal upset karma

There are two ways to look at Iowa State's 2014.

Option 1: injuries broke the Cyclones, dragging them from below average to awful.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 7 games): 43% (~top 75 | record: 2-5)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 5 games): 23% (~top 100 | record: 0-5)

This would make sense. For most teams (especially those without superior talent), continuity is vital, and ISU had none. Quarterback Sam B. Richardson missed time with injury, only one running back played in all 12 games, and after losing its 2013 leader to injury in the preseason, the receiving corps only managed to keep two players on the field for all 12 games. Meanwhile, the back seven of the defense was shuffling personnel from the start of the season to the end.

When your squad is thin, you will give out when you face that level of in-season turnover.

Option 2: ISU had nothing to offer against strong teams.

  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. F/+ top 25): 15% (avg. score: Opp 54, ISU 15)
  • Average Percentile Performance (vs. No. 31-plus): 42% (avg. score: Opp 34, ISU 26)

For the third time in four years, ISU took down Iowa and nearly did the same to a solid Kansas State despite getting outgained by 152 yards. But the upset karma has been just about tapped. The Cyclones needed a punt return score and some KSU miscues in scoring opportunities to stay close to the Wildcats, and against teams better than KSU, there was no hope. The run defense was dismal, and nothing else was good enough to pick up the slack.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.75 116 IsoPPP+ 89.3 95
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.7% 75 Succ. Rt. + 108.0 40
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.1 34 Def. FP+ 103.0 33
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.3 78 Redzone S&P+ 111.1 38
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.8 ACTUAL 16 -6.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 92 73 44 95
RUSHING 108 58 34 79
PASSING 51 82 47 96
Standard Downs 81 62 88
Passing Downs 65 25 96
Q1 Rk 71 1st Down Rk 101
Q2 Rk 83 2nd Down Rk 104
Q3 Rk 92 3rd Down Rk 105
Q4 Rk 67

3. Mangino had an impact on efficiency

It was one of those storylines that TV announcers crave. You have to fill more than three hours in a television broadcast, and there's a 30-second break between every play. (Well, in the Big 12, it's probably not 30 seconds, but still.) You're going to end up falling back on narratives, and for ISU, the narrative was "Mangino's back, and he's saving the ISU offense!"

Mangino, Kansas' head coach the last time the Jayhawks were anything but awful, returned to the FBS ranks after a five-year absence. And basically every time the offense made a good play, Mangino's presence was the first thing that got mentioned. (The KSU game was particularly funny; ISU averaged 4.6 yards per play and scored on three of 11 possessions, but Mangino seemed to get mentioned more than Rhoads on the broadcast.)

Announcers may have jumped the gun (and hey, it's more fun to talk about him than the ISU defense), but Mangino had an impact. Despite quarterback Richardson again dealing with injuries late in the season, and despite constant uncertainty when it came to who would be available to run or catch, the Cyclones' efficiency numbers improved. ISU moved from 64th to 40th in Success Rate+, staying ahead of the chains with Mangino's patented, Todd Reesing-esque dink-and-dunk style, and even figuring out ways to catch back up once in passing downs situations. And they again finished drives pretty well to boot.

With a lot returning in the passing game and on the offensive line, we can assume another rather efficient ISU offense even if the running back position remains in flux.

But there's no evidence that the Cyclones will do any better from a big-play perspective. ISU ranked 95th in IsoPPP+ in both 2013 and 2014 and produced just 16 gains of 30-plus yards last year, 118th in the country. Efficiency is any offense's lifeblood, but big plays save you from having to play without error. ISU had to move methodically to score, and eventually mistakes derailed drives.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Sam Richardson 6'2, 214 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8083 254 451 2669 18 9 56.3% 26 5.5% 5.2
Grant Rohach 6'2, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8621 27 54 283 2 1 50.0% 4 6.9% 4.3
Joel Lanning 6'2, 232 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8120
Dominic DeLira 6'1, 180 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8060

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Aaron Wimberly RB
147 642 7 4.4 4.0 33.3% 1 1
Sam Richardson QB 6'2, 214 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8083 99 589 3 5.9 3.8 56.6% 4 1
DeVondrick Nealy RB
71 273 1 3.8 5.3 26.8% 2 1
Tyler Brown RB 5'11, 186 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8312 24 109 0 4.5 3.5 37.5% 0 0
Martinez Syria RB
20 47 1 2.4 1.2 15.0% 0 0
Grant Rohach QB 6'2, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8621 4 21 0 5.3 4.5 25.0% 2 1
Mike Warren RB 6'0, 196 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8593
Joshua Thomas RB 5'11, 230 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8528
Sheldon Croney RB 5'11, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8189







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Allen Lazard WR-X 6'5, 218 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9616 93 46 592 49.5% 19.0% 58.1% 6.4 4 6.4 69.4
Quenton Bundrage (2013) WR-F 6'2, 192 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8238 91 48 673 52.7% 24.1% 52.5% 7.4 27 7.0 83.3
Jarvis West WR-F
76 46 349 60.5% 15.5% 56.6% 4.6 -214 4.6 40.9
E.J. Bibbs TE
72 45 382 62.5% 14.7% 62.5% 5.3 -165 5.5 44.8
D'Vario Montgomery WR-Z 6'6, 236 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9274 67 44 605 65.7% 13.7% 62.7% 9.0 75 9.1 70.9
Aaron Wimberly RB
42 27 209 64.3% 8.6% 52.4% 5.0 -117 5.0 24.5
Dondre Daley WR-Z 6'2, 188 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8116 41 21 208 51.2% 8.4% 43.9% 5.1 -58 4.9 24.4
DeVondrick Nealy RB
29 18 187 62.1% 5.9% 51.7% 6.4 -32 6.7 21.9
Tad Ecby WR-X
21 8 236 38.1% 4.3% 42.9% 11.2 127 12.3 27.7
Jauan Wesley WR-F 5'11, 181 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8391 20 10 107 50.0% 4.1% 70.0% 5.4 -20 6.3 12.5
P.J. Harris WR
10 9 55 90.0% 2.0% 40.0% 5.5 -48 5.1 6.4
Ben Boesen TE 6'6, 241 Sr. NR NR 3 0 0 0.0% 0.6% 66.7% 0.0 -4 0.0 0.0
Quan West TE 6'4, 233 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8383 2 0 0 0.0% 0.4% 50.0% 0.0 -3 0.0 0.0
Brandon Harris WR 6'0, 195 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7998
Justin Chandler TE 6'4, 272 Jr. NR NR
Cole Anderson TE 6'4, 275 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8352
Darius Lee-Campbell WR 6'2, 214 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8230
Denver Johnson WR 6'3, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8357

4. Still need playmakers

That Richardson broke even was, in and of itself, an accomplishment. He was battling injuries, his run game was mostly ineffective (combined, only 31 of carries by Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy gained at least five yards), and his most proven receiver, Quenton Bundrage, was on the sideline in street clothes.

Throwing primarily to freshmen and sophomores, frequently on second- or third-and-long, Richardson managed to improve his completion rate from 55 percent to 56.3, cut his interception rate from 3.2 percent to 2, and keep his meager per-attempt average above 5 yards. These aren't amazing numbers, but again, he got no help from big plays.

There might not be much hope at running back, where sophomore Tyler Brown (who did lead ISU backs in efficiency) is the only returnee with any experience. But between Bundrage's return and the further development of sophomore Allen Lazard (the rare blue-chipper on the roster) and big D'Vario Montgomery, you can talk yourself into ISU again crafting a physical short passing game.

And if you've got three big options, you might be able to spring one deep occasionally. Lazard averaged 14.5 yards per catch over the first half of 2014 before slowing, and Bundrage and Montgomery each approached that same average in their respective last seasons. There's potential for more balance between efficiency and explosiveness.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 111.6 3.03 3.43 37.7% 61.3% 20.7% 103.4 4.0% 8.3%
Rank 30 56 52 81 105 84 62 47 79
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Tom Farniok C 47
Jacob Gannon RT
21
Daniel Burton RG 6'6, 330 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8279 20
Jamison Lalk C 6'6, 311 Sr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8065 19
Brock Dagel RT 6'8, 306 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8081 15
Jake Campos LT 6'8, 295 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8918 11
Oni Omoile LG 6'3, 307 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) NR 10
Jacob Dunning OL 6'5, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 1
Wendell Taiese LG 6'6, 354 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8215 0
Nick Fett RT 6'7, 313 Jr. NR NR 0
Nick Severs C 6'4, 279 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8256 0
Shawn Curtis LT 6'5, 293 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8382 0
Jacob Homa OL 6'4, 290 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8249 0
Ryan Glenn RG 6'4, 301 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8047 0
Kory Kodanko OL 6'5, 316 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8241
Patrick Scoggins RG 6'1, 290 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7957
Jaypee Philbert OL 6'4, 305 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8528
Julian Good-Jones OL 6'5, 275 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8513
Bryce Meeker OL 6'5, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8306

5. The line is ready

First things first: Mangino and Richardson helped the line quite a bit. Richardson is an efficient scrambler who helped ISU's run blocking stats, and the quick passing game kept sacks low on standard downs. So while ranking 30th in Adj. Line Yards and 62nd in Adj. Sack Rate seems nice, the line wasn't responsible for all of the positivity. Plus, ISU stunk in short-yardage and didn't pick up blitzes very well.

So maybe I'm overestimating the line. But it seems like there's quite a bit to like. Joshua Brown seemed reasonably capable of taking advantage of his blocks, and he'll be running behind some hosses. The six returnees with starting experience average 6'6, 308; both tackles are at least 6'8, and the top three returning guards average 330. Size isn't everything, but at the least, this unit isn't a weakness.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.83 55 IsoPPP+ 86.6 110
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 52.3% 128 Succ. Rt. + 84.0 121
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 27.5 118 Off. FP+ 97.0 99
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.9 110 Redzone S&P+ 92.3 94
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.0 ACTUAL 16.0 -2.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 128 115 121 110
RUSHING 123 126 127 123
PASSING 122 88 105 70
Standard Downs 119 125 118
Passing Downs 65 91 49
Q1 Rk 115 1st Down Rk 119
Q2 Rk 102 2nd Down Rk 115
Q3 Rk 102 3rd Down Rk 74
Q4 Rk 89

6. Bend and break

There's nothing sadder than a defense that is decent on passing downs but can't force any. ISU had an okay pass rush and a secondary with up to five players capable of making plays on the ball. But run defense was such a nightmare that it forced even the secondary to remain passive on standard downs. Opponents were free to move via ground or air on first-and-10, and there wasn't much the Cyclones could do about it.

These struggles made sense, really. ISU had to completely rebuild after losing seven of 11 contributors from 2013. End Cory Morrissey, just about the only major contributor returning up front, had a nice year as a pass rusher, but a new set of tackles made almost no plays and struggled to occupy blockers. And the back seven, tasked with picking up the slack, couldn't keep the same seven players on the field.

That we can explain ISU's struggles might be encouraging. Now you've got experience (and a little bit of new blood) up front, and your back seven might be able to stay healthy. That alone should get ISU back into the double digits in the Def. S&P+ rankings. But there still has to be talent here, and outside of the secondary, it's difficult to feel too confident in its existence.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 80.6 3.55 3.98 49.6% 78.7% 14.8% 64 2.1% 7.0%
Rank 125 124 123 127 120 119 118 119 72
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Cory Morrissey DE
12 40.0 5.2% 8.5 6.0 0 1 1 0
Trent Taylor DE 6'2, 257 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8840 12 27.5 3.5% 5.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Dale Pierson DE 6'2, 246 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8163 12 24.0 3.1% 4.5 2.0 0 0 1 0
Mitchell Meyers DT 6'4, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8298 12 23.0 3.0% 2.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Darius White DE 6'1, 251 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.7996 12 12.0 1.5% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Vernell Trent NG 6'3, 289 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8094 12 7.5 1.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Devlyn Cousin DT 6'4, 302 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7984 9 7.0 0.9% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Jensen NG
9 6.0 0.8% 2.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Robby Garcia DT 6'4, 281 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7888 12 5.5 0.7% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Pierre Aka DT 6'4, 313 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8526 7 4.0 0.5% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Gabe Luna DE 6'2, 250 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8041
Terry Ayeni DT 6'2, 278 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8474
J.D. Waggoner DE 6'3, 245 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8029
Demond Tucker DT 6'0, 287 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8722
Bobby Leath DT 6'3, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8463
De'Amontae Jackson DT 6'0, 285 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8590
Seth Nerness DE 6'4, 235 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8211








7. No pressure, new guys

Demond Tucker talks a big game and, by ISU standards, brings quite a high recruiting ranking to Ames. The bowling ball-shaped JUCO transfer was the story of spring ball, bringing a boost of energy.

If Tucker and fellow JUCO Bobby Leath are able to supplement the two-deep, then the Cyclones' biggest 2014 issue could be somewhat rectified. ISU got almost nothing from its tackles and must now replace its best end. The presence of Tucker and Leath could allow for ISU to use only the best tackle or two from last year's rotation -- Mitchell Meyers, Vernell Trent, Robby Garcia, Pierre Aka.

Getting more from the tackles is a requirement not only because it's hard to have a good defense without it, but also because the linebacking corps is retooling. Luke Knott returns, and Kane Seeley and Brian Mills got more experience last year than expected, but Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens were rare playmakers for this front seven, and they're gone.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Luke Knott WLB 6'1, 221 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8056 12 55.5 7.2% 3.5 0.0 1 0 0 0
Jevohn Miller MLB
8 52.0 6.7% 3.5 1.0 0 2 0 1
Jared Brackens SLB
12 45.5 5.9% 7.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Drake Ferch SLB
11 41.0 5.3% 1.5 0.5 0 2 0 0
Kane Seeley MLB 6'2, 241 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7759 12 38.0 4.9% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Brian Mills WLB 5'10, 233 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7926 12 23.0 3.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Levi Peters (2013) WLB 5'11, 213 Jr. NR NR 12 12.5 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Alton Meeks MLB
11 8.5 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Jordan Harris MLB 6'0, 233 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7852
Reggan Northrup SLB 6'1, 191 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8131
Sam Seonbuchner LB 6'2, 236 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8272
Bobby McMillen LB 6'1, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389
Marcel Spears LB 6'1, 215 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8244








Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kamari Cotton-Moya FS 6'1, 194 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8076 12 66.0 8.5% 2 0 0 8 0 0
T.J. Mutcherson SS
10 66.0 8.5% 2 0 2 4 1 0
Nigel Tribune CB 5'11, 188 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8095 11 56.5 7.3% 2 0 3 13 0 0
Sam E. Richardson CB 5'8, 189 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8300 12 52.5 6.8% 1.5 0 4 6 0 0
Kenneth Lynn CB 5'10, 168 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8407 12 28.0 3.6% 3.5 0 0 10 0 0
Qujuan Floyd SS 6'0, 202 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8156 11 27.5 3.5% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Darian Cotton SS 5'11, 200 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8259 12 19.5 2.5% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Kamari Syrie FS
12 10.5 1.4% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Josh Jahlas DB 6'2, 203 Jr. NR NR 11 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Matthew Thomas CB
11 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Matt Swoyer DB 5'11, 185 Jr. NR NR 4 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brian Peavy CB 5'9, 184 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8094
Jarnor Jones NB 6'3, 203 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8000
Jomal Wiltz CB 5'10, 174 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7833
Mike Johnson DB 5'11, 182 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8578
Stephon Brown DB 6'0, 170 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8020








8. Just give the secondary a little help

I don't want to overstate the quality in the secondary; ISU gave up 130 passes of at least 10 yards (109th in the country) and 16 of 40-plus (122nd), after all. But most of the damage was done on standard downs, when even the secondary was preoccupied with the run. On passing downs, with just a decent pass rush, the secondary was able to prevent big plays and get hands on passes.

The top four returnees (safety Kamari Cotton-Moya and corners Nigel Tribune, Sam E. Richardson, and Kenneth Lynn) combined for nine tackles for loss, seven picks, and 37 break-ups, a damn near heroic effort given the defensive deficiencies.

This isn't a physically imposing unit; the top three corners average just 5'10, 182. But there's experience, and JUCO transfers Jarnor Jones and Jomal Wiltz and mid-three-star freshman Mike Johnson could contribute early. The two-deep in the secondary should be the least of ISU's concerns. If the run numbers improve, the pass numbers almost certainly will, too.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Colin Downing 5'11, 190 So. 69 39.4 0 29 13 60.9%
Holden Kramer 6'3, 184 So. 7 29.9 0 3 7 142.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Cole Netten 6'1, 219 Jr. 56 61.5 13 3 23.2%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cole Netten 6'1, 219 Jr. 35-35 9-10 90.0% 2-4 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Aaron Wimberly KR 14 23.4 0
Jarvis West KR 8 18.0 0
Jarvis West PR 8 14.4 1
Aaron Wimberly PR 3 13.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 62
Field Goal Efficiency 50
Punt Return Efficiency 61
Kick Return Efficiency 109
Punt Efficiency 61
Kickoff Efficiency 41
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 128

9. Coffin corner experts

ISU's special teams unit was neither a strength nor a weakness in 2014 -- solid kicks were offset by mostly nonexistent returns. (Jarvis West's punt return score against Kansas State was just about the only bright spot.) West and Aaron Wimberly are gone, which means a complete reset in returns (maybe not a bad thing), but the legs will again be a strength.

Cole Netten emerged as a strong kicker, and the punter combination of freshmen Colin Downing and Holden Kramer was outstanding. Nearly half of Downing's punts were fair caught, and all seven of Kramer's punts were stopped inside the 20. That's a severe field position weapon to be exploited if you're getting anything from your returns.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep Northern Iowa NR
12-Sep Iowa 57
19-Sep at Toledo 69
3-Oct Kansas 95
10-Oct at Texas Tech 53
17-Oct TCU 18
24-Oct at Baylor 14
31-Oct Texas 36
7-Nov at Oklahoma 10
14-Nov Oklahoma State 43
21-Nov at Kansas State 33
28-Nov at West Virginia 40
Five-Year F/+ Rk -6.5% (73)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 67 / 66
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 0 / -4.7
2014 TO Luck/Game +2.0
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (6, 7)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 2.3 (-0.3)

10. The wins come early

An experienced, healthy squad should start the season fully formed. There aren't many new starters to break in, and depth should be solid until or unless injuries take their toll. So in theory, Iowa State should be pretty decent in September.

This is good because the Cyclones play only five teams projected to rank lower than 43rd, and they account for the first five games on the schedule. The Cyclones won't win all five, but a top-70 team will have an outside shot at a 4-1 start. Get to that point, squeeze out home wins against beatable Texas and Oklahoma State teams, and voila: a return to bowl eligibility.

That path has almost no margin for error. When you fall to 92nd overall, it's hard to expect a rebound of more than about 20 spots, and even that would make ISU an underdog most of the time against this schedule.

After stockpiling so much goodwill, it appears Rhoads has spent most of it. Five wins and stark regression over two years have put him in a tight spot, and now he has to hope that an increasingly efficient offense and a couple of JUCO defensive tackles can pave the road for further improvement in 2016.