2011 Record: (6-7, 3-6 in Big 12)
Head Coach: Paul Rhoads (18-20 at Iowa St, 9-16 in Big 12)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Pinstripe Bowl: lost to Rutgers 27-13
Must Win: 9/1 vs Tulsa, 9/15 vs Western Illinois
Stat to Cheer: allowed 36.79% on third down conversions (3rd in Big 12)
Stats to Fear: -0.85 turnover margin (last in Big 12); converted 68.75% of red zone attempts (last in Big 12)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 7; Defense: 5; Specialists: 1)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Jake Knott (114 tackles, 2 INT), LB A.J. Klein (117 tackles, 2 sacks), DL Jake McDonough (35 tackles, 2 sacks)
Key Offensive Returnees: RB James White (743 yds rush, 8 TD), WR Josh Lenz (39 rec, 2 TD), WR Aaron Horne (38 rec)
In three years at Iowa State, Paul Rhoads has taken the Cyclones to two bowl games. Prior to Rhoads, Gene Chizik went 5-19 but before him Dan McCarney had taken the Cyclones to five bowl games in seven years including a 9-3 finish in 2000. Under Rhoads, the Cyclones have re-emerged as a "fringe bowl team".
With season ready to start in a couple of weeks, Iowa State still needs to find a starting QB. Steele Jantz (10 TD, 11 INT, 53.3% completions) and Jared Barnett (6 TD, 6 INT, 50% completions) are deadlocked at this point in camp. The Cyclones do have some RBs and all three that contributed last year, including James White (743 yds and 8 TDs), will be juniors this season. Overall, Iowa State has most of their skill position players back although they do lose leading receiver Darius Reynolds (43 receptions). The key for the Cyclones could be how their offensive line comes together. In the Big 12, only Kansas St and TCU have less experience on the OL and the Cyclones must replace Kelechi Osemele and Hayworth Hicks. They also have a new OC as Tom Herman is frolicking in Columbus with Urban Meyer.
While it might not look like it if you look at raw statistics, the Cyclones defense has continued to grow over the last few years. The Cyclones actually finished third in the conference in pass defense and were third in the conference in third down conversions. Linebackers Jake Knott and AJ Klein are the heart of this defense. For Iowa State to get better on D this year they need better production from their defensive line. That's probably why Klein and Knott combined last year for a million tackles.
Iowa State is no longer an easy out. Just ask Mike Gundy and Tommy Tuberville. I would expect Iowa State to challenge for a bowl game and keep some of the Big 12 challengers on their toes. The difference between this team being mediocre and good will be the offense. Completing 50% of your passes simply isn't going to help you win the majority of your football games. Offensive improvement is needed for the Cyclones to take the next step.
2012 Prediction: 5-7
Previous 2012 Previews: