The countdown to the start of the college football season continues as anticipation for those long Saturdays in the fall keeps building. Today, we roll on with the 100 in 100 college football preview with the No. 71 team, the Iowa State Cyclones.
Iowa State shocked the world last season when they gave Oklahoma State their only loss of the year in a mad 17-point rally in Ames. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, they weren’t able to do much else, and finished the season at 6-7. Head coach Paul Rhoads has built Iowa State into a respectable team, qualifying for a bowl game in two of his first three seasons, which has raised the expectation in Ames to “bowl game or bust”. But the Cyclones have won more than seven games just once since 1978, and that was thanks to a very soft schedule. Iowa State will need to find some playmakers this offseason to try and reach their low ceiling and keep pace with a loaded Big 12.
The Cyclone offense is looking for playmakers at pretty much every position, and every spot seems to be in flux. Even at quarterback, despite Jared Barnett showing flashes of excellence last season. The inconsistency of Barnett opened the door for senior Steele Jantz to make a lasting impression. Last season, Jantz started seven games while Barnett started six, and they are listed as “co-starters” again heading into next season.
The receiving corps will be thinned out considerably with the loss of two of the Cyclones top three wideouts from 2011, but they do get senior Josh Lenz back and will ask him to take on a bigger playmaking role in the offense. Lenz was the second leading receiver for the Cyclones last season and also returned kicks, leading the team in all-purpose yards.
The biggest loss on the offense from 2011 is at the left tackle position with the departure of Kelechi Osemele, who was a rare talent for Iowa State. Senior tackle Carter Bykowski will have the unfavorable task of filling Osemele’s large shoes, and it’s no guarantee that he’ll secure the job when the season actually starts, but for now, it’s his spot to lose.
The Cyclone defense was downright not terrible at times last season, but overall they struggled as they allowed nearly 30 points per game. The team does boast, however, one of the top linebacking duos in the country in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, who were the top tacklers for the Cyclones in 2011. They are two of the surest tacklers in the country, but need to make fewer plays down the field and overcome their general lack of athleticism.
Part of the struggle for Klein and Knott is the poor play of their defensive linemen in front of them. The Cyclones generated no pass rush last season and now lose three starters off their 2011 squad. Their defensive front now gets young and inexeperienced in a hurry. The team will rely on 302-pound tackle Jake McDonough to act as the anchor inside and they will need Roosevelt Maggitt to come back and be a force off the edge.
The secondary will be thinned down a bit as well, as the team will look to Jansen Watson to replace Leonard Johnson, who became one of the Big 12′s best covermen last season. Watson doesn’t have the size of Johnson, but he has excellent athleticism and can really move.
The Cyclones will have to hit the ground running in 2012 as they have a very tough schedule right out of the gate. They open up September 1 against a strong Tulsa team at home before heading to Iowa City, where they haven’t won since 2002, to take on Iowa for the Cy-Hawk Trophy.
Conference play begins for Iowa State on September 29 with a home game against Texas Tech, who will be looking to finally take the next step under Tommy Tuberville. Things will only get harder for the Cyclones after that, and coming out of the first month with a 2-2 record would be a big win.
Starting with a road trip to Forth Worth to take on TCU on October 6, Iowa State will play five straight games against teams who won at least 10-games last season. They will have to travel to TCU,Oklahoma State, and Texas this season while hosting Baylor, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. It will be a tall order for this Cyclones team to reach another bowl, and a four-win season seems much more likely.
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