2014 CFN Preview - Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State TE E.J. Bibbs
Iowa State TE E.J. Bibbs
Posted May 31, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Is there any chance Iowa State can finally make some Big 12 noise? (Getty Images)

Iowa State Cyclones

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Paul Rhoads
6th year: 27-36
Returning Starters
Off. 21, Def. 17, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 26
Ten Best Iowa State Players
1. C Tom Farniok, Sr.
2. RB Aaron Wimberly, Sr.
3. TE E.J. Bibbs, Sr.
4. DE Cory Morrissey, Sr.
5. WR Quenton Bundrage, Jr.
6. LB Alton Meeks, RFr.
7. QB Grant Rohach, Soph.
8. DE Mitchell Meyers, Soph.
9. QB Sam B Richardson, Jr.
10. LB Jared Brackens, Sr.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 North Dakota State
Sep. 6 Kansas State
Sep. 13 at Iowa
Sep. 27 Baylor
Oct. 4 at Oklahoma State
Oct. 11 Toled
Oct. 18 at Texas
Nov. 1 Oklahoma
Nov. 8 at Kansas
Nov. 22 Texas Tech
Nov. 29 West VIrginia
Dec. 6 at TCU

Is there a chance Iowa State can ever be anything more than just grinder looking for a bowl appearance?

It might have seemed impossible to ever win a ten-team league – winning a six-team North and taking a cut at the Big 12 title game was at least more reasonable – and then came Baylor, who proved that with the right coach and the right system, anything was possible.

Sure, Baylor has the advantage of being in Texas and grabbing a slew of relatively local guys who get passed over by Texas and Oklahoma, but it was still Baylor – the program that spent years unable to win a Big 12 game.

Iowa State doesn't have a great recruiting base, and it has to fight with Iowa for in-state talent, but head coach Paul Rhoads has been able to come up with a few nice seasons and some decent moments for a program that's only been to 12 bowl games and boasts just two conference championships – taking the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association title in 1911 and 1912. Even then, ISU was the co-champion in both seasons, just like it was in 2004 when it came up with its lone Big 12 North title.

So how do you take a program that hasn't been any good at playing college football since it first lost to Butte 12-10 on September 15th, 1895 and suddenly make it work? How does Iowa State turn into Baylor or Kansas State?

Rhoads has to hope that this season is a step forward to getting there, needing experience and depth to translate into wins, and he has to make sure that his Cyclones, never, ever, ever miss an opportunity.

The despair and exasperation shown by Rhoads after the heart-wrenching loss to Texas in the Big 12 opener was telling. This wasn't just Iowa State losing to Texas after having a chance to come up with a big win over a big name; this was loss in a 50/50 game that could've gone either way with one big stop late – and/or a better call from the officials.

Iowa State can afford to give away anything. For this program, the difference between a winning season and a bowl game and 3-9 and a disaster is a painful one-point loss to Texas, a six-point loss to Iowa, a home loss to Northern Iowa, a seven-point loss to Texas Tech and a four point loss to TCU. A 71-7 squeaker of a loss to Baylor and losing to the Big 12's Oklahoma schools by a combined 106-37 will happen from time to time, but for now, Iowa State has got to win the close ones, and then hope for a few big breaks.

This year's team could be an interesting thorn in everyone's side with 11 players with decent starting experience returning on offense, and the defense likely to be far better after having to rebuild a bit in 2013. However, there isn't a sure-thing win on the schedule, and everyone is going to have Iowa State circled as a needed victory.

Now it's up to Rhoads and the Cyclones to shock the world. At the very least, they have to get back to a bowl game and show that there's the potential to shock the world someday.

What to watch for on offense: There's more than enough experience to be far better, and it has to start with a more efficient and more effective passing game. Offensive coordinator and former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino has plenty of pieces to work with, including a good tandem at quarterback and a veteran offensive line, but there has to be more pop and explosion. The offense had its moments early on, but when it struggled, it really had problems getting the passing game going. Way too inconsistent, the Cyclones went through a rough midseason stretch where they failed to complete half of their passes in four big 12 games in five weeks – they lost them all. It's no coincidence that they won their final two games, and almost beat Texas, when they had their three most effective passing games of the season, with their three-highest passing totals coming against the Longhorns, Kansas and West Virginia. This year, with TE E.J. Bibbs along with receivers Quenton Bundrage and Jarvis West leading the way, there should be more production.

What to watch for on defense: Can the defense stop anyone from running the ball? The linebacking corps lost A.J. Klein and Jake Knott going into last year, and this year it has to replace top tackler Jeremiah George. This time around, the linebackers should be fantastic with quarterback Alton Meeks looking great this offseason, Luke Knott coming back from a hip problem, and statistical star Jared Brackens getting pushed hard by Drake Ferch for a job. But will this group have to make play after play behind a leaky defensive front? The Cyclones were pushed around way too easily allowing 33 rushing touchdowns and giving up 5.35 yards per carry. Any team that wanted to commit to the run – with the exception of Texas and TCU – didn't have much of a problem, and now the line has to get better and needs some new parts to fill in quickly around Corey Morrissey and David Irving. Not only do the Cyclones have to come up with a good rotation, they need to find a better starting four.

The team will be far better if … the offense can score. You can't win in the Big 12 if you don't put up big numbers on the board, and Iowa State struggled to keep pace losing all seven games last season when the offense failed to score 28 points. Going back to 2011, the Cyclones have lost 28 of their last 30 games – beating Kansas 13-10 in 2011 and Iowa 9-6 in 2012 – when they failed to score 28. That's where Mangino comes in, needing to find a good balance while putting the receivers in positions to make more plays. The quarterback situation will sort itself out between Grant Robach and Sam B. Richardson, the receivers are in place and the running game should be solid with Aaron Wimberly working behind a veteran line. It all has to translate into points – lots and lots of points.

The schedule: The Cyclones aren't going to be more talented than anyone else, so they have to catch teams napping. The big problem is the lack of sure-thing non-conference wins. North Dakota State – even with a coaching change – is hardly a layup, and Toledo should be among the best teams in the MAC. Throw in the road game at Iowa, and it wouldn't be a total shocker if Iowa State started out the season 0-3.

Can the Cyclones catch Kansas State napping? It's an early game in Jack Trice, and it might need to be a must-win – they can't give away home games. Will an open date help before facing Baylor? With Oklahoma State, Toledo and Texas to follow, it's a rough run before the next week off before dealing with Oklahoma. It's a long year, but there's another week off in mid-November before a manageable finishing kick with Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU to close.

Best offensive player: Senior C Tom Farniok. It's possible that a healthy RB Aaron Wimberly turns in a whale of a season, and E.J. Bibbs is one of the best tight ends in the Big 12 as both a blocker and a receiver, but it's Farniok who'll be the leader of the veteran offensive front that could quietly be among the best in the Big 12. The 6-4, 300-pound Farniok is a strong, tough quarterback up front who could and should be one of the key reasons the offense starts to do far more.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Cory Morrissey. A few key parts of the back seven – depending on what the linebacker configuration is and how the corner situation shakes out – could turn out to challenge for the honor of being the best defensive player, and in the Cyclone system, Alton Meeks could turn out to be the statistical star on the lot in the middle of the linebacking corps. But it's Morrissey who's the leader of the pack and the best player on a revamped front line with good pass rushing ability and excellent size. He'll be the one offenses try to stop, and he'll have to still come through until the other parts of the front four are ready to produce at a high level.

Key player to a successful season: Redshirt freshman DT Robby Garcia and sophomore DT Devlyn Cousin. The defensive front wasn't exactly a brick wall to begin with, and then tackles David Irving and Rodney Coe were kicked off the team. That means Cousin was the most experienced tackle this spring, and he only made six tackles in seven games of action. The 277-pound Garcia has to combine with 285-pound sophomore Pierre Aka to help out Cousin on the inside, or else, like last year, teams are going to pound and pound and pound some more in the interior.

The season will be a success if … the Cyclones win six games and get back to a bowl game. Yes, the program is way overdue for a shockingly good season, and yes, just going to a mid-level bowl game might seem boring, but after last year's 3-9 clunker, and with a schedule that's missing any sure-thing win getting to 6-6 would be great. To do that, ISU has to beat North Dakota State, Toledo, Texas Tech and West Virginia at home, can't blow the road game at Kansas, and has to sneak away with a win either at Iowa or TCU. Otherwise, it'll take a few big upsets to get back to the post-season.

Key game: Sept. 6 vs. Kansas State. Sometimes you just need to get off to a hot start, and with Kansas State coming to Ames for the Big 12 opener, the Cyclones need a win or else it could be an ugly start to the conference season with Baylor, at Oklahoma State, at Texas and Oklahoma to follow. The Wildcats have won six straight in the series, with five of them entertaining and close, and then came last year's 41-7 blasting. A win by the Cyclones could show that this really is a different year and a different team.

2013 Fun Stats:
- First Quarter Scoring: Opponents 103 – Iowa State 42
- Sacks: Opponents 38 for 225 yards - Iowa State 15 for 89 yards
- Rushing Yards Per Game: Opponents 224 – Iowa State 143.8

-  2014 Iowa State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players