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TGS 2011 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PREVIEW...IOWA STATE CYCLONES
by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor


Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads—born just 10 miles from Jack Trice Stadium and later the valedictorian at nearby Ankeny High—came within a roll of the dice in 2010 of nursing his lightly-talented Cyclone team into the postseason for a second straight year.

It was on a cold, windy (what else?), November day in Ames when Rhoads’ bold gamble failed on a faked PAT conversion versus Nebraska in overtime, resulting in a 31-30 loss. The Cornhuskers (playing without QB Taylor Martinez) had taken a 31-24 lead in OT, but ISU sr. QB Austen Arnaud responded with a nine-yard TD pass to cut the margin to 31-30. Even though his Cyclones had outscored NU 14-0 in the fourth quarter to send the game into OT, Rhoads took a gamble on the conversion attempt, with sr. holder David Kuehl rising up to pass, but throwing short toward an open Iowa State receiver, allowing Nebraska to intercept and escape from Ames with the victory.

Had Rhoads’ gamble worked, several beneficial things would have been in play for the hard-fighting Cyclones. First, they would have pulled an upset of mighty Nebraska for the second straight year. Second, they would have become bowl-eligible with their sixth victory. And, third, ISU would have positioned itself for a shot at the Big XII North title (Nebraska ended up in the league’s 2010 title game from the North). Instead, with the narrow loss to the Huskers lingering, ISU dropped its last two games—at Colorado and vs. Missouri—finishing 5-7 and out of the bowl picture. Despite the disappointment (Rhoads says he relives the call every week), the irrepressible coach says he wouldn’t have changed it, considering the fact that his QB and top WR were limping and that bedrock center Ben Lamaak had already left the game twice due to injury.

This year, Rhoads is rebuilding on offense, with a new starting QB, new starting RB (replacing workhorse Alexander Robinson), and two new starters in his OL. However, in a conference of football “big boys” (Texas, Oklahoma, A&M, etc.), the well-liked Rhoads has given every indication he can stay competitive while leading a “little guy” such as ISU. For example, at QB, Rhoads is bringing in 6-3, 224, dual-threat, juco QB Steve Jantz from the west coast to challenge two-year Cyclone backup Jerome Tiller (a good runner, but only 51.6% passing). Jantz was 11-1 last season at City College of San Francisco (where O.J. once played), passing for 3075 yards and 23 TDs and rushing for 601 yards and 14 more. Jantz was present at spring practice, where coaches spent lots of time seeking ways to improve ISU’s “dink, dink, dink” offense that finished 72nd in rushing, 95th in passing, 97th in scoring, and gained only 3.8 ypc LY. Not good in the era of no-huddle, spread attacks that snap the ball every 15 seconds.

Promising soph Shontrelle Johnson (218 YR, 6.2 ypc; 25 KORs) appears to have a solid future at RB. And there is experience at receiver in sr. returnees Darius Darks & Darius Reynolds. Juco WR Aaron Horne (Jantz’ teammate at O.J.'s CCSF) and juco TE Ernst Brun are expected to contribute early. Rhoads says replacing two starters on his OL might not be as difficult as first thought, as spring revealed that 7 to 8 of Rhoads’ “big uglies” up front appear ready to play at the Big XII level. The “prettiest” of those is LT Lelechi Osemele, a 6-6, 347 sr. with 27 straight starts and an NFL future. RS frosh Tom Farniok gets the first shot at center.

With seven starters back on defense, Rhoads is optimistic he can improve the team’s weak marks against the run (93rd nationally) and vs. opposing passers (only 11 sacks LY). First, ISU has a little more girth and depth up the middle this season. Second, sr. DE Jacob Lattimer (4 sacks LY) returns on the outside. And, third, defensive coordinator/LBs coach Wally Burnham has been given the green light to turn loose ISU’s pair of outstanding OLBs, jrs. Jake Knott (130 Ts, 4 ints. LY) and A.J. Klein (110 Ts). Burnham can afford to have the Cyclones take more risks because of the return of sr. MLB Matt Tau’fo’ou (leg injury LY) and the presence of an experienced secondary. Three veteran CBs return, including sr. NFL prospect Leonard Johnson (30 career starts; excels in coverage). If all works as planned, the blitz will be on this season in Ames.

An area of concern remains at kicker, where sr. Grant Mahoney returns after an 8-of-17 FG performance in 2010. To be fair, however, Mahoney was asked too often to hit from distance, as seven of his misses were from 45 or more yards.

Summary...With limited resources at his disposal, Rhoads has impressed well enough in two years at Iowa State that he is high on the list of prospects at several more-prestigious college outposts. But the 44-year-old Iowa native has given no signs he is eager to leave. A new $21 million football training facility is due next year, and a state-of-the-art video scoreboard is on line for this season. While they might not be exactly be Jerry Jones stuff, they’re just enough to keep well-grounded Iowa State in the Big XII mix. What is more of a problem for Rhoads is a murderous 2011 schedule that includes five Big XII road games in ISU’s round-robin conference slate. Plus, there’s little relief in the Cyclones’ non-conference list, which includes visits from in-state rivals Northern Iowa and Iowa, then a trip to Connecticut. Schedule relief is on the way in 2012 and beyond. But until then, Iowa State will need one of its new QBs to come through quickly and also to avoid key injuries if it is to return to the postseason.


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