After losing Gene Chizik to Auburn, Iowa State fell completely out of the news for the rest of the off-season but they made plenty of great moves after Chizik left.
Paul Rhoads was hired as the coach. In a state and college that is as tradition poor as football at Iowa State finding someone with ties to the state, fan base and/or school is extremely important and Rhoads, a native Iowan, knows exactly what to expect at Iowa State. He is both an Iowa native and was an assistant coach for the Cyclones for the first four years of the Dan McCarney era at Iowa State.
Rhoads was instrumental to the recarnation of Pitt Football after he left Iowa State in 1999 to become the defensive coordinator for the Panthers. Rhoads did a masterful job with the Pitt defense and it was definitely the defense under Rhoads that made Pitt a perennial championship contender in the Big East.
In 2002, Rhoads was actually offered the Defensive Coordinator job at Auburn by Tommy Tuberville but turned it down and it eventually went to Chizik. Rhoads was offered the job once more at the end of the 2007 season when Will Muschamp left Auburn for Texas.
This time he accepted and lead a strong defensive effort for the Auburn Tigers which ranked 27 nationally. This was despite getting almost zero help from the offense which seemingly was more likely to go three and out than get a first down.
Rhoads has also brought in two really impressive coordinators and recruiters from two talent rich states, Texas and Florida. Wally Burnham will be the new defensive coordinator. Burnham, has plenty of coaching experience, he spent time at South Carolina as the defensive coordinator and under Bobby Bowden at Florida State where he helped the team win a national championship in 1993.
He has been at USF since 2000 were he has helped build a team that did not even exist in 1997 to a division one bowl subdivision contender. He has coached many linebackers that made to the NFL and is a great recruiter who will recruit Florida extremely well even at Iowa State who got six Florida commits this year.
What Burnham brings in experience, the new offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, brings in excitement. Herman installed a spread offense at Rice in 2007 and in 2008 he helped the Owls to a 10-win season and a first bowl win since 1954.
Under Herman, the offense broke more than 50 school records and was ranked a top ten offense in passing, scoring and total offense in 2008. Herman is still young and could be one of the hottest young names for a head coach position if he can repeat his success at Iowa State.
The Cyclones return an extremely talented quarterback in Austen Arnaud and good receiving and running back corps. They also return three starting offensive lineman. Offensively the biggest challenge will be learning Herman's spread, it will require the quarterbacks and receivers to be on the same page through the reads and progressions and may take two full years to be completely understood by the players.
Arnaud threw for nearly three-thousand yards last season but his TD to INT ratio was lackluster at 15 TDs to 10 INTs. Look for the numbers to go up as this spread will lead to quicker and more high-percentage passes which should mean more yards, TDs and a better TD-INT ratio.
The Cyclones have three good running backs lead by junior Alexander Robinson. Bo Williams will also be eligible after setting out a year after transferring from Florida and the trio will be rounded out by freshmen Jerwmiah Schwartz.
Robinson is expected to have a big year after leading the team in rushing and averaging 4.6 yards a carry as a sophomore last year. Robinson is also a great receiving RB so look for him to get plenty of yards one way or another. Arnaud is an extremely mobile QB and expect at least 500 yards rushing from him this year as well.
The receiving corp is deep and talented but the receiver most worth mentioning is Darius Darks, who was just one catch shy of 50 last year as a freshman and will be the primary receiving option this year. Herman has a history of getting tight ends involved in the passing game and the Cyclones have plenty of big boys at that position that will make great short yardage targets for the QBs.
The offensive line is as veteran as it has been in a while. They return all three interior lineman but have to replace both bookends which could mean problems in the new spread. Look for Iowa State to increase their splits on passing formations to increase the distance for ends to get to the QB and RBs using block and release routes to give the QB more options. Plus, in spread offenses, you normally do not have to hold blocks as long that should help the new tackles get used to life in the Big 12.
The defense is a much bigger concern for the Cyclones, it was a glaring weakness of the team last year, especially the backfield.
The defensive line will be good if it can stay away from injury. Depth is not a strength of the defensive line for the cyclones but they do have two lineman that will spend some time in the opponent's backfields in Nate Frier and Christopher Lyle. Rashawn Parker will need to have a big year for Iowa State.
The linebacker are not deep either but they do get help by adding a Junior College All- American Matt Taufoou. Senior Jesse Smith had 84 tackles last year and Fred Garrin, also a senior, started last year as well. lack of speed was a big problem last year and looks to remain a problem this year as well.
It is hard to know where to start with the Defensive backfield because last year's performance was not strong but they should improve this year with lead tackler FS James Smith returning and the addition of SS David Sims, a former Oklahoma Sooner's recruit. While we should definitely see an improvement in the safety positions both cornerbacks will need to be replaced and they have little experience to do so.
A bright spot will be the kicking game. Iowa State returns a great punter and a great kicker. The punter, sr. Mike Brandtner averaged 41.6 yards a punt despite pinning a team inside the twenty ninteen times.
The place kicker, Grant Mahoney, went 17-25 as a freshman last year.
The primary kick returner, Leonard Johnson, is extremely dangerous. Just ask Oklahoma State. He broke the FBS record for most return yards in a single game against them last year with 319 yards gained on returns. Expect him to be even more dangerous this year, as a sophomore, his reads and vision should be quicker and will probably be used on punt returns as well.
This is the most exciting off season the Cyclones have had in a long time, they have three proven leaders on their staff and the offensive firepower in place to start scoring in bunches quickly but the defense will not provide enough stops to make a difference this year. The ten game losing streak in the Big 12 will stop this year with Iowa State getting the easy Big 12 south schedule not having to play OU or Texas. If Iowa State can keep this coaching staff in tact this could be the start of something special in Ames.
Big 12: 1-7
Sixth in the Big 12 North Division
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