Whatever was left of Iowa State fan’s hope and promise from 2011 and 2012 was taken out back, shot, and buried under the Jayhawks last season. Nobody wanted to be the team to evict Kansas from their 5-year residency at the bottom of the standings, but for Cyclone fans that nightmare was theirs.
It’s hard to believe this is the same program that beat both TCU and Baylor just three seasons ago. For the second year in a row Iowa State was embarrassed by a FCS school in the season opener, and after going winless in Big 12 play, head coach Paul Rhoads’ seat is hotter than a West Texas sidewalk on mid-July afternoon.
The good news for Cardinal and Gold Nation is that the brass in Ames seems serious about getting better in football. With a big-time stadium renovation underway, 15 returning starters, and a battle tested QB, 2015 could be the return of the upset-minded darlings of the Big 12.
I spoke with Dan Becker (@) from SB Nation’s Iowa State blog, Wide Right & Natty Light, and he gave his thoughts on what’s going on in Ames, and what to expect from the Cyclones in 2015. WRNL has an incredible community that loves to talk football, so be sure to check them out!
While many schools in the Big 12 are trying to figure out who’s going to lead their offense, Iowa State doesn’t have that problem. This is Sam Richardson’s final year as the Cyclones’ QB. What are expectations for him this season, and how will it define his legacy in cardinal red and gold?
I’m not sure there’s a quarterback in my time as a Cyclone fan that has been debated as much as Sam Richardson. When we write the epitaph for his career this winter it’s going to go one of two directions: Sam Richardson is one of the greatest quarterbacks to come through Ames or Sam Richardson is just another man behind center. There really is no middle ground here.
Sam tied or set a number of Iowa State passing records last season and he’ll go down in the record books next to Austen Arnaud and Bret Meyer, but both of those men won bowl games during their time in Ames. Sam has only so far played in the 2012 Liberty Bowl, which saw him fighting off the flu and without his best running back who torched Tulsa earlier in the season.
At this point it’s hard not to put the expectations on Sam to lead this offense to one of the best seasons in Iowa State history and back in to the postseason. It’s really the only way to settle the debate on where he stands compared to those who came before him.
The QB position is locked up, but what key position battles are you keeping an eye on this spring, and going into the fall?
Offensively there’s a battle at the running back position between Tyler Brown and redshirt freshman Mike Warren. With DeVondrick Nealy transferring in the off-season, the backfield is the youngest it’s been in years, and either Brown, who played sparingly in 2014, or Warren will be tasked with developing a running game that will take the pressure off Richardson’s shoulders.
A less sexy competition is who replaces four-year starting center Tom Farniok on the line. JUCO guard Patrick Scoggins was tasked with the job initially, but has struggled snapping the ball in his first spring as a center. Guard Jamison Lalk, who backed up Farniok the last two seasons, is currently the top center on the roster but the coaching staff feels the line is significantly better with Scoggins and Lalk on the field together, and Scoggins is too small to play guard.
Only two players touch the ball on every single play an offense runs, so it would behoove Iowa State to settle on a man who can snap it consistently.
The Cyclones held their spring game on saturday. How did the team look, and was there anyone that stood out as a potential play-maker this fall?
Decidedly average is the best way to describe the events on Saturday. Paul Rhoads ran more of a scrimmage than an actual game, and it culminated with ending the first half with a “down by 1, need a field goal to win” scenario that had the first team offense return to the field after attempting a 50 yard field goal and missing. The first team offense drove only a few more yards and settled for a 35 yard attempt that Cole Netten nailed to “win”.
To say this created enthusiasm for the fall would be an outright lie.
As for performers, I would nominate JUCO defensive lineman Demond Tucker as the guy worth keeping an eye on. Tucker is the size of a dorm fridge but plays with a lot of energy and was wreaking havoc consistently in the middle. He brings athleticism and determination that this defensive line has not seen in years and he may be the first step in creating a run defense that doesn’t allow holes a truck could drive through. If that happens then Iowa State becomes a better team almost instantly.
Jack Trice Stadium is currently being renovated. Can you tell us a little bit about the changes being made, and how they will help boost the program?
Iowa State is finally bowling in the south end zone, adding a larger scoreboard to the area, and adding a ribbon board to encircle the stadium. The expansion will make Jack Trice Stadium the third largest venue in the Big 12 with 61,000 seats and completely change the gameday environment in Ames.
At the game on Saturday it was already noticeable the echo that is created from the partially finished end zone. The club section is in, as are the lower level corners, and the upper level corners are half finished. This abundance of concrete created a reverberation that should make Saturdays ear-splitting when Iowa State is playing well.
If anyone wants to see for themselves they can head over to jacktricestadium.org, and see the renderings and videos.
Paul Rhoads is ranked the first-most coach on the hot seat by coacheshotseat.com. Just how hot is Coach Rhoads seat in Ames? What does he need to show the fan base this season to restore their confidence in him?
Rhoads’ seat is burning hot right now after combining to go 5-19 the past two seasons, which is the same record Gene Chizik had in Ames before bolting for Auburn. Rhoads’ 5-19 record includes two losses to FCS schools (Northern Iowa, North Dakota State) and a winless Big 12 season in 2014.
Athletic Director Jamie Pollard fired Dan McCarney for less and likely would have given Chizik only two more years to turn things around had he not left. Some people believe Rhoads is here for the long haul regardless of record since Pollard “doesn’t fire his guys”, but Pollard didn’t get to his position without knowing how the world works. If Rhoads keeps losing the fans will quit showing and the well will dry up. That’s a recipe for disaster and Pollard knows it. Rumors around the area state that Rhoads knows it’s a bowl or bust season, and I have no reason to doubt that.
A 5-7 record might be good enough to keep Rhoads if the team is winning games/competitive late in the fall, but a bowl trip goes a long way to buying him a few more years.
Having said that, I have to ask… What are expectations around Ames for the Cyclones this upcoming season? What would be a good season, what would be a disaster?
A good season would be to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012, and an even greater one would be winning that game. Rhoads hasn’t won a bowl game since 2009 and even if it’s the lowest tier Big 12 bowl game it’ll go a long way to restoring the program to where we thought it was three years ago.
A disaster would be a repeat of the past two seasons with an inconsistent offense, a defense that can’t get off the field, and a close loss one week followed by a blowout the next week.
My gun to the head prediction is 4-8, possibly 5-7. Iowa State should be better than all of their non-conference opponents (Northern Iowa, Iowa, and Toledo) and will slug it out with the bottom dwelling teams in the Big 12. The problem comes with the Cyclones taking to the road to play Texas Tech and West Virginia while only getting Kansas at home. This is the year of the four home game Big 12 schedule and that is not conducive to making a return trip to the postseason and restoring the faith in Cyclone Nation.