EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the 23rd in a series of previews on West Virginia and Marshall football opponents.
Checking them out
There are certainly other teams in the Big 12 that haven't completely bought into the fast-paced, outscore-'em mentality that is so pervasive, but few are as anti-mainstream as the Cyclones. Not that he has much choice given the difficulty recruiting to Ames, but Paul Rhoads continues to emphasize solid defense and a no-frills offense in an attempt to climb up the league ladder.
He's accomplishing that to a point, having put together four straight seasons of essentially break-even football and three bowl appearances, but until Iowa State takes the next step it will still be in doubt whether the philosophy can work. This year might be the toughest test.
For starters, Rhoads must rebuild most of a defensive front seven that included two of the best linebackers in school history in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. The pass rush was awful in a league that demands a pass rush and Klein and Knott combined for 708 tackles in their career, so that's a big rebuilding job. Fortunately the back end is experienced and talented, led by NFL-bound free safety Jacques Washington.
On offense, Iowa State benefits from being one of the few programs in the Big 12 with a semi-established quarterback. Sam Richardson emerged late in the season to assume the role and gave the Cyclones a dual threat at the position (he ran for 119 yards against West Virginia). If ISU can find him some receivers, he might be a star in the making.
Whether he is or not, the running game should be strong. James White will be the go-to guy in the backfield, but the Cyclones will play plenty of backs. The offensive line has been a strong point the last few years and should be again.
Iowa State started last season by beating Tulsa in the opener and ended it by losing to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. The teams play again on Sept. 26. . . . The Cyclones have both of their open dates in September, then play 10 games in 10 weeks, the last nine Big 12 games. . . . Perhaps the best weapon a defensive-minded, offensively-challenged team can have is a good punter and the Cyclones have one in Kyle Van Der Camp, who averaged a decent 41 yards, but put 29 kicks inside the 20, had only two touchbacks, forced 30 fair catches and opponents averaged just 1.7 yards per return.