The Iowa State Cyclones suffered a very disappointing 2013 season that saw them outmatched at almost every turn. Injuries, bad luck, and overall deficiencies in talent resulted in a 3-9 record on the year and 2-7 in Big 12 play. Paul Rhoads has made some changes on his coaching staff, most notably Mark Mangino as the new offensive coordinator, in an attempt to spark the Cyclones in 2014.
There are some major question marks that face the Cyclones as they head into the season that could prevent Iowa State from making up much ground in the Big 12 standings. However, there is enough talent to make this a very interesting team, particularly with the return of Mangino to the Big 12. How well the new system utilizes the talent on this roster could be the difference in another disappointing finish or a trip to a bowl game this December.
The quarterback position is one of the biggest unknowns heading into 2014 for Iowa State. Grant Rohach rode the momentum of a strong finish to the 2013 regular season to take the first team reps in the spring game. He was the most productive passer in Mangino’s system during spring practice but will still have to contend with Sam Richardson for the starter’s job in 2014. Neither quarterback has shown the consistency to lead this team through the Big 12 but Iowa State will ride with one of them this fall.
Whoever ends up at quarterback will have plenty of weapons at their disposal. Senior Aaron Wimberly returns after leading the team with 567 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Junior DeVondrick Nealy figures to take on a larger role in the running game as well after rushing for 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season. Filling out the running back rotation could be junior Rob Standard, whose bigger frame should help him earn reps as the short-yardage back this fall.
At receiver, Iowa State is loaded with talent that should flourish in Mangino’s system. Tight end E.J. Bibbs could end up being the best tight end in the Big 12 this season after catching 39 passes for 462 yards and two touchdowns last season. Junior Quenton Bundrage led the team in 2013 with 48 receptions for 676 yards and nine touchdowns and will be a highly reliable target in the passing game. Beyond that, Iowa State has Jarvis West, Tad Ecby, P.J. Harris, Dondre Daley, and D’Vario Montgomery returning while welcoming four-star incoming freshman Allen Lazard this fall. Receiver, without a doubt, is Iowa State’s strength in 2014.
No matter how good the offense might be, the defense could keep Iowa State from accomplishing much this fall. The defense is young, untested, short on proven quantities, and devoid of playmakers. The defensive line loses three starters and will rely heavily on junior college transfers to fill the void. Senior Cory Morrissey is the most experienced member of the group after recording 52 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss from the defensive end position.
Luke Knott continues to work his way back from injury but should slide back into the starting lineup once he does. He’ll serve as a reliable playmaker that the linebacking corps, and the rest of the defense, needs to keep them together. Senior Jared Brackens brings some potential explosiveness off the edge on the strong side and should see a prominent role in the defense this fall.
In the secondary, Iowa State will lean on sophomore Nigel Tribune to be the No. 1 cornerback in 2014 but will struggle with depth behind him. The Cyclones signed another pair of JUCO transfers to fill the hole at safety but one, Devron Moore, is questionable to make it on campus. That would leave sophomore T.J. Mutcherson and redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya to man the back end of the defense where their inexperience could get them shredded by the high-powered offenses of the Big 12.
Further damaging Iowa State’s chances at a turnaround in 2014 is a pretty difficult schedule. They open the season against three-time FCS National Champion North Dakota State, who went into Manhattan last year and beat the Kansas State Wildcats. They also are on the road for the rival Iowa Hawkeyes and at home for the Toledo Rockets, which should be a shootout, to close out their non-conference schedule.
In conference play, they’ll have the usual slate of tough opponents with high-powered offensive attacks that they’ll be unable to keep up with. They have to go on the road for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Texas Longhorns, and TCU Horned Frogs. Their most winnable game, against the Kansas Jayhawks, is also on the road, opening them up to a possible letdown.
It will take several major upsets for the Cyclones to make up some ground in 2014. More than likely, however, Iowa State is in store for a difficult season that could see them fall even further in the Big 12 standings. Look for Iowa State to win between three and six games in 2014.