AMES | One of Paul Rhoads' most enduring qualities as Iowa State’s head football coach is his sense of humor.
Since the time he took over for Gene Chizik four years ago, Rhoads has never avoided talking about the fact his Cyclones will be considered underdogs on an annual basis.
That was the case a year ago when Iowa State defied all odds to upset previously undefeated and second-ranked Oklahoma State and reach the Pinstripe Bowl for its second bowl appearance in three seasons under Rhoads.
Rhoads has worked hard to change the perception about his program but he’s still finding it a tough sell as his Cyclones were picked to finished 8th in the Big 12 in a preseason media poll.
So Rhoads wasn’t surprised when informed that Iowa State has been listed as a 1 to 2½ point underdog to Tulsa in their season opener slated for Sept. 1 at Jack Trice Stadium.
“Didn’t realize that is the case,” feigned an indifferent Rhoads. “They start thinking about that already at this time? How about that. Is there money in that stuff?”
While Rhoads and the Cyclones were in a jovial mood Thursday the team is fully aware it has a lot to accomplish over 29 scheduled practices prior to opening kickoff against the Golden Hurricanes.
Iowa State’s sorting out process started today with its first scheduled practice and it has multiple fronts. For instance, will it be Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett at quarterback? Can a beleaguered defensive line group find a way to slow down opposing rushers to allow all-conference linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott to roam and make big plays?
“We have a lot of work to do and short time to get it done,” said Klein, last year’s co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. “But we have high expectations for ourselves and it doesn’t matter what people put us as. We want to become a championship football team. And to be at that level ... to be in the top of the Big 12 we have to take small steps and we’ve been making those steps.”
The Cyclones process starts at quarterback where Rhoads and new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham want to find the individual who is going to consistently lead ISU’s offense into the end zone.
That wasn’t the case a year ago. Jantz and Barnett combined to complete only 51 percent of their passes and threw more interceptions (17) than they did touchdowns (16).
The competition for the starting job remains tight.
“It is deadlocked,” Rhoads said. “Nobody has a leg up right now.”
Rhoads mentioned redshirt freshman Sam Richardson as part of the quarterback mix, but it is widely expected either Barnett or Jantz will be named starter at the end of August.
Both the quarterbacks say the competition is good.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Barnett said of the competition. “Because it’s going to push me and push Steele. It’s going to make us a lot better by the time we come out of camp.”
“Being in a battle is not new to me,” added Jantz. “I’m not worried about when the coaches are going to name a starter. As a quarterback you have to worry about what you can control. Like you trust coaches to do their job and name a starter you have to do your job on the field so that is where the focus is at.”
Whomever gets the nod will have plenty of weapons to choose from including running backs James White, Shontrelle Johnson and Jeff Woody to veteran wide receivers Josh Lenz, Jarvis West and Aaron Horne.
Up front, while the losses of Kelechi Osemele and Hayworth Hicks to the NFL hurt, Rhoads feels he has a unit that will make fewer mistakes while creating running lanes and protecting ISU’s quarterbacks.