Iowa State season preview

Today our Big 12 season previews continue with a look at Iowa State, which may be ready to take the next step as a program.


Coach: Paul Rhoads (24-27, 4 seasons; 24-27, 4 seasons at ISU)

2012 record: 6-7 (3-6 Big 12)

Key losses: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, WR Josh Lenz, DT Jake McDonough, OT Carter Bykowski

Key returnees: P Kirby Van Der Kamp, LB Jeremiah George, S Jacques Washington, RB James White, RB Shontrelle Johnson, QB Sam Richardson, S Deon Broomfield, C Tom Farniok, DE Willie Scott

Newcomer to watch: Junior college transfer TE E.J. Bibbs has earned praise from Rhoads this fall for his ability to make people miss when he gets the ball in his hands. Considering ISU’s inexperience at receiver, he could emerge as a key target.

Biggest games in 2013: Who’s going to be the upset special this season? Last year it was No. 15 TCU on the road, the year before No. 2 Oklahoma State at home. Texas (Oct. 3) and Oklahoma State (Oct. 26) both travel to Ames this fall. The rivalry game vs. Iowa on Sept. 14 is always a big one, too.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Iowa State has made bowl game appearances in three of Rhoads’ first four seasons. What’s the next step? ISU has won three Big 12 games in each of those four years, but it’s time for a new benchmark.

Forecast: Rhoads has a good thing going in Ames right now. He wins six games a year, pulls off one big upset in conference play, goes to a bowl and remains beloved by the Cyclones fan base. It’s a credit to the hard work he’s put in to steady a program that his predecessor, Gene Chizik, sent downhill in only two seasons at the helm.

If this Iowa State team is going to climb higher than No. 8 or No. 9 in the final Big 12 standings this fall, it’s going to take another strong coaching job. This Cyclones bring back only nine starters. There’s good talent in the secondary, and Van Der Kamp is one of the nation’s best punters, but there’s also inexperience throughout the defense. The Cyclones will rely on seniors Washington and George to raise the rest of the defense’s game, and they’ll be seriously tested by the league’s high-powered offenses.

The wild card for ISU just might be the addition of new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis and the intricate knowledge of the pistol offense he possesses as a disciple of legendary Nevada coach Chris Ault. Richardson, a sophomore, will be entrusted to run the show and operate a more fast-tempo attack, and he proved last year he isn’t afraid to tuck it and run. He’ll have lots of intriguing options at running back to work with, and if a few wide receivers emerge ISU might just have a pretty competitive offense and a fighting chance in most games.