Schedule: Iowa State opens spring practice today and will close with its spring game on April 16.
What’s new: For one, the quarterback. Starter Austen Arnaud has been the face of the program for the last three seasons, but he's gone, taking with him an impressive legacy. His 6,777 career passing yards are second most in school history and he completed a higher percentage of his passes than any passer in school history.
On the mend: Linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou missed most of the season with a broken leg suffered against Iowa, but he's back this spring and debuted at the top of the depth chart at middle linebacker. The senior, 5-foot-11, 243-pounder is pretty stout in the middle of the defense.
New faces: Quarterback Steele Jantz, a juco transfer, is in practice this spring. More on him in a second.
Key battle: It's pretty simple: Quarterback. Somebody has to fill Arnaud's shoes, and there should be a great competition in the spring to do it. Jerome Tiller has the most experience, so he'll start the spring atop the depth chart, but Jantz has earned plenty of buzz prior to spring practice. If he can make good on it, he'll win the competition that coach Paul Rhoads says is wide open. Jantz will start the spring at No. 2 on the depth chart, right ahead of James Capello and Jared Barnett.
Breaking out: Running back Shontrelle Johnson. Playing behind Alexander Robinson last year, Johnson showed quite a bit of burst and finished with 318 yards on his 35 carries. That included a 61-yard touchdown run against Texas Tech.
Don’t forget about: The secondary. The Cyclones struggled to stop the run, which perhaps prompted teams to run more than throw, but they finished sixth in the league in pass defense. Iowa State brings back both corners, Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson, and safety Ter'Ran Benton. They should be good again, and sophomore Jacques Washington will begin the spring as the starter at free safety.
All eyes on: The skill positions. You can't win in the Big 12 without great play at quarterback, running back and receiver, and the Cyclones have big, big questions marks at all three positions. Johnson is the least of these, but he's still very low on experience. Jantz has never played major college football and in spot duty last year, Tiller struggled, especially late in the year against a stingy Missouri defense that beat the Cyclones 14-0 in Ames. The receivers, Darius Reynolds, Darius Darks and Josh Lenz, were underwhelming last year with neither cracking the Big 12's top 30 in receptions or yardage. The team's top two receivers, tight end Collin Franklin and receiver Jake Williams, are gone, and somebody has to emerge and ease the new quarterback's transition.