With August officially here, it’s that time of year again. Bring on the bragging rights from last season’s campaigns and outcomes from fans from across the country. Bring on the all of the preseason rankings and predicted finishes from countless writers on websites and in magazines. Bring on the hype from media day. Most importantly, bring on the college football.
With 31 days left until the Iowa State Cyclones 2015 squad takes the field against the UNI Panthers, what can we expect from Rhoads and Co. this season?
First, a quick look back from the 2014 journey. Final record: 2-10, Big 12 record: 0-9. Woof. Iowa State opened up 2014 with a face-palm loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State, who had their way with the Cyclones in an easy win. Wins against Iowa and Toledo were nice, but close losses to Kansas State, Texas, and Texas Tech left a Folgers’ dark roast coffee-like taste in Paul Rhoads’ mouth. Not to mention the stinker at Kansas in Lawrence in the “Battle for the Big 12 Basement.”
So this poses a common question around campuses nationwide: How many games is my team going to win this season?
Iowa State will open 2015 underneath the lights in the newly expanded Jack Trice Stadium—which now has a capacity of 61,000, good enough to be the third largest stadium in the Big 12. Expect one of the largest crowds at Jack Trice Stadium, as it is a night game against an intrastate opponent in UNI.
The first four games are the most important, as they are foreseeably the most winnable on the 2015 schedule. ISU needs to be at least 3-1 after the first four games if it wants to have a successful season. After those games it gets dicey for the Cyclones. My over/under win-count for Iowa State this season is five—and that’s if ISU can stay healthy. The injury bug has plagued the Cyclones the last two seasons. Bad breaks and critical injuries on both sides of the ball have taken their toll in the wins column. There is no excuse for losing to a FCS foe for the third consecutive season versus UNI. If Paul Rhoads loses this game, fans will get ornery. A beatable Iowa team comes to Ames before a road trip to a pesky Toledo team that the Cyclones beat in 2014. Kansas follows to begin Big 12 play—which may be Iowa State’s best chance at getting a conference win.
Every single Cyclone fan is cringing at last year’s run defense, which gave up a whopping 246.2 YPG. The expectation is that the defensive line is going to be healthy and improved after bringing in a couple of junior college players. Demond Tucker has been highly touted since he arrived on campus, and Iowa State is eager to get Bobby Leath on the field with camp beginning. Both of these players should improve the rush defense numbers.
Another concern for Cyclone fans is who will replace tackling machine Jevohn Miller? Jordan Harris, another JUCO, is the frontrunner and was brought in last year to help the linebacker corps, but he redshirted. If Tucker and Leath can provide a push up front, it will free up Harris to make some plays the defense has been lacking.
The last two seasons have been tough for Iowa State with the injury bug hitting, coupled with sub-par defense. There are some intriguing pieces on the offensive side of the ball, which will feel the pressure early to get the Cyclones off to a hot start. If the defense can take some baby steps and improve game by game, five wins is a real possibility. Getting back to post season play is obviously the goal, but after a 3-9 and 2-10 season, it’s best to just take one step at a time. Cyclones fans should know that by now.
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