AMES, Iowa — For years, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has insisted that the Cyclones are bigger, stronger, faster and more athletic than ever.
This could be the season that the Big 12 learns just how far Iowa State has come under Rhoads.
The program is certainly a lot healthier than it was when Rhoads took over in 2009. The Cyclones have again broken their own record with more than 40,000 season tickets sold, and the $20 million football facility they opened in October should help recruiting.
But the breakthrough many Iowa State fans believe is coming under Rhoads hasn’t arrived yet. The Cyclones have finished 6-7 in each of the past two season and they’ll have to replace 11 starters — more than any other team in the Big 12.
There’s muted optimism that the depth Rhoads has built up during his tenure should keep Iowa State from falling off the proverbial cliff in 2013. For that to happen, a host of inexperienced, unknown players will have to step up.
“Our youth is very apparent right now on the practice field,” Rhoads said. “We have the least amount of returning starters in the Big 12 conference. I think that’s showing a little bit right now, especially on defense.”
Five things to watch for this season from Iowa State in its fifth season under Rhoads:
1. Sam I am?: The Cyclones aren’t engulfed in a quarterback controversy for the first time in years because sophomore Sam Richardson has a firm grip on the job. Richardson has only started two games in his brief career, and he’s still a bit of an unknown despite throwing eight touchdowns against one interception at the end of 2012. Richardson has shown a lot of promise with his arm and his feet, and he could the crucial piece the Cyclones need to compete in the quarterback-driven Big 12. But if Richardson gets hurt or simply underperforms, the Cyclones will probably be in serious trouble.