Three things we learned in the spring about the Iowa State Cyclones:
1. The offense has pass-catchers: On top of returning tight end E.J. Bibbs, slot receiver Jarvis West and wideout Quenton Bundrage, receivers P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and South Florida transfer D'Vario Montgomery emerged this spring. Blue chip freshman Allen Lazard will also be joining the receiving corps this summer, potentially giving Iowa State its best collection of pass-catchers in years.
2. QB Grant Rohach is the favorite to start: Coach Paul Rhoads said the Cyclones will wait until mid-August before naming a starting QB. But after leading Iowa State to a pair of wins at the end of last season, then outplaying Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning in the spring game, Rohach will go into the summer as the odds-on favorite to be the starter when the Cyclones are finally ready to name one.
3. The OL should be way better: Injuries forced Iowa State to use nine different starting combinations along the offensive line last year. The silver lining? The Cyclones brought back a wealth of starting experience up front, headlined by four-year starter Tom Farniok at center, who was healthy again in the spring. This line should give new coordinator Mark Mangino a strong foundation to build around.
Three questions for the fall:
1. Can the interior of the D-line hold up? The Cyclones suffered major attrition along the defensive line this spring, as projected starters Rodney Coe and David Irving were booted off the team. The Cyclones did get some good news last week as Brandon Jensen, a starting nose guard last year, decided to rejoin the squad after initially quitting. But interior D-line play is still a major question.
2. How will Mangino impact the offense? Rhoads tabbed Mangino to turn around an Iowa State offense that finished 90th nationally in scoring last season. Rhoads was drawn to Mangino’s track record, which included taking Kansas to the Orange Bowl and coordinating a national championship attack at Oklahoma. Mangino brought energy and intensity this spring, but whether that will translate into more points will play out in the fall.
3. Who will be the defensive anchors? Under Rhoads, the Cyclones have seemingly always featured a defensive lynchpin. Last year it was All-Big 12 linebacker Jeremiah George. But with George graduated and several key players off last year’s defense gone, it’s unclear who that foundational defender will be. One possibility is cornerback Nigel Tribune, who started as a true freshman last year.
One way-too-early prediction:
Iowa State has ranked at least second-to-last in scoring offense in every year since 2005. But under Mangino and a host of budding playmakers, the Cyclones will feature their highest scoring attack since that ’05 season, and finish well above the bottom two in the league in scoring.