Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Gene Chizik's departure for Auburn is a big surprise after Iowa State's struggles in 2008. The Cyclones won their first two games and then lost 10 games in a row, becoming the first team since Iowa State in 2003 to go winless in Big 12 Conference play.
Chizik was committed to building for the future, utilizing 11 freshmen this season. By the end of the year, the Cyclones were starting four freshmen along with kicker Grant Mahoney.
Running back Alexander Robinson also developed into a consistent ball carrier, producing a team-best 703 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Chizik's forte before coming to Iowa State was working with defenses. But his young unit regressed in every major statistical category from his first season, ranking 95th nationally in rushing defense, tied for 110th in scoring defense, 111th in total defense, 115th in pass defense and 117th in pass efficiency defense.
Whoever takes over will have to build some continuity for a program which will be working with its third coach in the last four seasons.
Offensive player of the year: QB Austen Arnaud. After struggles typical of first-year starter, Arnaud showed some flashes late in the season. He passed for 2,792 yards and 15 touchdowns, finishing with a school-record 440 passing yards against Kansas State in his final game. That outing should provide promise for the Cyclones' new coach.
Defensive player of the year: LB Jesse Smith. The junior linebacker was a consistent producer on a unit that often struggled. Smith finished second on the team with 84 tackles, led the team in passes broken up, tied for the team lead in forced fumbles and ranked second in quarterback hurries and fumble recoveries.
Turning point: The Cyclones likely weren't going to challenge for the North Division title, but their confidence took a big shot in a 34-31 overtime loss at UNLV. Iowa State rebounded from a 21-0 halftime deficit, tying the game with three seconds in regulation. But the defense couldn't hold up in overtime -- a foreshadowing of its struggles in conference play.
What's next: Obviously the hiring of Chizik's replacement will determine in which direction the program will move forward. It's an attractive job in a power conference with 16 starters and two specialists returning. The Cyclones have a productive quarterback coming back in Arnaud. Those factors will prove enticing to somebody.