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Hopes and concerns: Iowa State

Three Big 12 teams already are looking toward 2015.

After disappointing seasons that ended without a bowl game, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State won’t see the field again until the fall of 2015. There are plenty of reasons for concern but some glimmers of hope at each school. For the next three days, we’ll take a look at three reasons for hope and three reasons for concern at Tech, KU and ISU as they look toward 2015.

Today we look at Iowa State.

Reasons for hope

Offensive coordinator Mark Mangino: Despite dealing with injuries all over the roster, the Cyclones' offensive coordinator had a solid first year, highlighted by a stellar showing against Texas’ stout defense in a 48-45 loss on Oct. 18. The Cyclones rolled up 524 yards and five touchdowns against one of the Big 12’s best defenses. Mangino is a main reason the Cyclones’ third-down conversion rate jumped from 34.5 percent in 2013 to 42.3 percent this season.

Sophomore Nigel Tribune and redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya: The gems of the Cyclones’ recruiting class of 2013, Tribune and Cotton-Moya have blossomed into the foundation of ISU’s secondary and two of the conference’s top defensive backs. Both three-star prospects, Tribune and Cotton-Moya are examples of how the Cyclones can have Big 12 success through good evaluation and development as neither guy was an elite prospect yet both are on the road to all-conference honors.

A receivers room full of talent: With Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery set to return, the Cyclones will have two of their top four receivers back in 2015. Add Quenton Bundrage, who appeared poised to be one of the conference’s top pass catchers before his ACL injury in the season opener, and quarterback Sam B. Richardson should have plenty of talented options in 2015.

Reasons for concern

Has Paul Rhoads stayed around too long? It’s a question that must be asked after the Cyclones have won five combined games during the past two seasons. ISU athletic director Jamie Pollard has been vocal in his support of the veteran coach, but both men understand college football is a results-driven business. Yet, there is a direct correlation between the Cyclones’ injury struggles and bowl-less campaigns during the past two seasons. Rhoads has proven he can get ISU into bowl games and his teams consistently play hard, a sign he has never lost the locker room. But until the Cyclones start winning more games this question could linger.

Lack of defensive playmakers in the front seven: Quite frankly you could see a winless Big 12 season coming for the Cyclones after Rhoads' team was left with a hole in the middle following the dismissals of defensive tackles Rodney Coe and David Irving. Defensive end Cory Morrissey was a shining light in his final season, but the rest of the front seven left plenty to be desired. Hope could be on the way with the recent commitment of four-star junior college defensive tackle Demond Tucker, the No. 23 player in the ESPNJC50, but this remains a major concern for the Cyclones.

Lack of roster depth: ISU was crippled by injury in 2014, from Bundrage’s ACL injury to linebacker Jevohn Miller’s ACL injury, it seemed like luck was never on the side of Rhoads' team as only four Cyclones started every game. And when the injury bug hit the drop-off was apparent. It’s a tall task to have minimal drop-off from starter to backup, but if the Cyclones can add more talent and competition on the roster, it would help minimize the impact of injuries, which have been the driving force behind the Cyclones' recent slide down the standings.