AMES | From year to year the objectives don’t change much for the Iowa State football team under Paul Rhoads.
In its shortest form the Cyclones want to finish above .500 in the Big 12, have a winning season and win a bowl game.
Those expectations won’t change in 2013 despite this being Rhoads most inexperienced team. ISU returns just 11 starters and its two-deep is chuck full of underclassmen as once again it will face a schedule that ranks among the Top Ten nationally in difficulty.
“I think our youth is very apparent right now,” Rhoads said Sunday during Iowa State’s annual media day at the Bergstrom Football Complex. “We have the least amount of returning starters in the Big 12 conference.”
Young and youthful, however, won’t make Rhoads lower his expectations for the Cyclones.
“I think it is something ... as we went into 2099 and had the expectation established of winning a bowl game in that year ... looking back at that people often ask that was a 2-10 football team you inherited, a team that lost 10 straight, longest road-losing streak in the country ... etc. etc. Did you believe you could do that? It didn’t matter. It was a matter of setting the bar high and the same is true with this season and the fact that this youth is part of this team but pushing through three (Big 12) victories and into the top half of this league is not something we are going to back away from.
“We’re not going to say this is an off year and lets wait a year and Jeremiah (George) and Jacques (Washington) and Jeff (Woody), I’m sorry we’re not going to push for that mark.”
Among the biggest question marks for the Cyclones are the fact they return no starting wide receivers and return just two starters – Willie Scott and Jeremiah George – in its front seven on defense.
That doesn’t factor in that quarterback Sam Richardson is a veteran of exactly two starts and one really good relief appearance against Kansas. However, Rhoads says those two starts put the Cyclones ahead of the game as the Big 12 has only two teams returning full-time starting quarterbacks.
“The question I posed to (offensive coordinator) Courtney Messingham this morning in our staff meeting was compare Sam to our four previous years and we truly believe we are ahead at that position,” Rhoads said. “Sam is a smart football player. He is throwing the ball with a good accuracy at this point and his running ability isn’t to be overshadowed.”
Richardson, who completed 46 of 79 passes for 541 yards and eight touchdowns, in his final three appearances last year feels comfortable.
“The expectations we have are to put up points this year,” Richardson said. “Being young and youthful is not an excuse. I feel confident in being able to go out there and do the job this team needs me to do for us to be successful.”
While no starters return at receiver, it is expected sophomore Quenton Bundrage, and tight end Ernst Brun Jr., who had 26 catches for 330 yards and six scores, figure to play a prominent role. And no position could be more deep then at running back where James White, Shontrelle Johnson, Jeff Woody and junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly are all expected to fill big roles.
The offensive line is in the solid hands of third-year starter Tom Farniok at center as well as returning starters Ethan Tuftee at right guard and Kyle Lichtenberg at right tackle.
Defensively there are more questions than answers, but nobody seems concerned.
“I would confidently say we’ve done so much in the last few months to build strength and speed so when we got out there for the first time this week we were running from sideline-to-sideline making plays,” said George who made 87 tackles, including 50 solo a year ago playing alongside now NFLers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. “As soon as we could make our minds match our bodies we will be fine.”
There is high-hope for newcomers Cory Morrissey and Rodney Coe, both transfers from Iowa Western Community College, to make impacts at defensive end and defensive tackle, while the secondary with Washington, Jansen Watson and Deon Broomfield makes up the most experience group for the ISU defense.
“We have a lot of developing to do the rest of camp, but we’ll be solid,” said Washington, a three-year letterwinner.
And the Cyclones early schedule may help with its development.
ISU opens with Northern Iowa on Aug. 31 at Jack Trice Stadium, but it then has two weeks to prepare for Iowa. After hosting the Hawkeyes, the Cyclones will have 12 days before it travels to face Conference USA favorite Tulsa on a Thursday, Sept. 26, the first of two consecutive Thursday night games as ISU hosts Texas on Oct. 3.
After facing the Longhorns it will be another nine days before the Cyclones start a stretch of eight consecutive weeks of playing at Texas Tech.
“It is unconventional certainly to say the least,” Rhoads said of the early schedule. “Whether that benefits us or not time will tell. We have a plan. We have pan for the two weeks, the 12 days, the nine days. Everyone of the first six games is a different length, different type of preparation.
“We look to take advantage like with any team, any game, you are looking to correct things and fix problems you have and move on and continue on with next appointment. That time could potentially lead to the improvement we need. It also, being sporadic like it is, could cause our kids some problems. It’s a challenge we have to deal with as a staff and team.”