Paul Rhoads has helped turn around Iowa State's program, becoming the first coach in school history to reach three bowl games in his first four seasons.
He's done it all despite having just one quarterback in those four years who finished a season completing at least 60 percent of his passes. Steele Jantz pulled off the feat in 2012, completing 62.1 percent of 269 attempts. But his 12 interceptions to just 13 touchdowns led to him getting benched late in the season in favor of freshman Sam Richardson.
Richardson threw seven touchdowns before his first interception, but completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in his final two starts. He finished with a completion percentage of 58.2 on his 79 attempts.
For a team fighting to earn Big 12 respect and with goals beyond simply making a bowl game, the need for improvement is glaring.
"There’s nowhere that we don’t need to improve to do that. There’s not one magical spot, but quarterback play has not got us to the position where we can win the nitty gritty games," Rhoads said. "I think that’s a position that every program looks for a difference-maker."
Jared Barnett transferred to Illinois State in the offseason. So Richardson will have to be that difference-maker if the Cyclones are going to move past struggling for postseason eligibility in late November every season -- which has been the case in their first three bowl seasons.
"It doesn’t have to be the great Heisman-level talent but a difference-maker is just running a good offense and not turning it over and scoring enough points and so forth," Rhoads said. "That’s a position that we have to have better play to get us into the top half of the Big 12 Conference."
Several teams across the Big 12 set a 70 percent completion rate as the goal for their quarterbacks, a mark meant to ensure their passers consistently move the chains and extend drives. New Iowa State offensive line coach Chris Klenakis, a disciple of Nevada coach and pistol formation guru Chris Ault, has helped add kinks to the formation Iowa State installed earlier in Rhoads' tenure. It's a good fit for Richardson's skill set, which includes speed and an accurate arm that can buy extra time if defenses are worried about the run or trying to get in position.
"It’s still zone-read based and no-huddle based and trying to still be more efficient with our tempo and when we can hurry up as an offense and hopefully catch defenses on their heels," Rhoads said of the Cyclones' version of the pistol.