The Iowa State Cyclones check in at No. 75 in our Rant Sports 100 in 100 college football preview series. Coming off a season in which they went 6-7 and played in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, their third bowl appearance in four seasons, fan excitement is high evidenced by new records set in 2012 for single game attendance, highest average attendance and total attendance.
The Cyclones are feeling good heading into fall practice but they have their fair share of issues to shore up before the season begins. They will be breaking in a new starter at quarterback in Sam Richardson. They will also have to replace defensive leaders A.J. Klein and Jake Knott at linebacker.
If Iowa State can find answers to these questions, they could find themselves in their fourth bowl game in five years under coach Paul Rhoads.
With Steele Jantz graduating and Jared Barnett transferring Sam Richardson will take the reins at quarterback. Last season, Jantz and Barnett combined to throw 16 interceptions so that will be an area that will have to be improved this season. In limited playing time in 2012, Richardson threw only one interception in 79 attempts so there’s reason to be optimistic.
Iowa State will implement some pistol concepts into their offensive scheme in order to take advantage of Barnett’s athleticism and to get their three returning senior runningbacks on the field as much as possible. Last years leading rusher, James White, returns as the lead back with Shontrelle Johnson hoping to come back strong from an ACL tear and Jeff Woody providing some thump at 242 pounds.
Wide Receiver might be the thinnest position on the roster as the Cyclones lose Aaron Horne, Chris Young and Josh Lenz. They return only three players at the position with game experience and will rely on top returning threat Jarvis West to step up and become a reliable target.
The Cyclones return a very large and very experienced group on the offensive line including three senior starters and most of their two deep from 2012. Jacob Gannon will protect the blind side and Kyle Lichtenberg will man right tackle. At guard, Shaban Dika and Ethan Tuftee emerged from spring practice as the starters. The coaching staff believes that Tuftee has the talent and experience to be one of the best offensive lineman in the Big 12. Tom Farniok returns as the starter at center.
The departures of Klein and Knott at linebacker will hurt but Jeremiah George returns and is expected to be the primary leader and playmaker. Stepping into the vacated starting spots will be juniors Jared Brackens and Jevohn Miller. Miller should be solid but Brackens is moving to linebacker from safety and will have to learn the position if he wants to remain a starter.
Along the defensive line, senior Willie Scott returns at defensive end but the rest of the line is very young and inexperienced. Joining him at defensive end are juniors Corey Morrissey and David Irving. Both have flashed potential but have limited game experience. Walter Woods III will be a starter for the first time in his career and the senior will team up with another first-time starter, junior Brandon Jensen, at the interior positions.
The Cyclones lost strong safety Durrell Givens to graduation but return three starters in the defensive backfield. Deon Broomfield, who started at nickelback last season, will step into the vacated strong safety position. The free safety spot will belong to senior and team leader Jacques Washington and Jansen Watson will start at one cornerback spot. Ken Lynn and Sam Richardson will battle to be the other starting cornerback.
The Cyclones open the season against Div-1AA opponent Northern Iowa before hosting Iowa in their annual rivalry game and will look to retain the Cy-Hawk Trophy for the third straight season. They will then travel to Tulsa before entering Big 12 play. They will likely struggle against conference foes as their offense should be formidable but having a young and inexperienced defense in the pass-happy Big 12 does not bode well. If they can go undefeated in the non-conference portion of their schedule and squeak out three or four conference wins, they will be eligible for a bowl game.