Preseason camp in Ames is underway. Let's have a closer look.
Schedule: Players reported last Sunday and camp kicked off on Monday. Local media day is slated for Sunday, and the Cyclones open their season on Aug. 31 at home against Northern Iowa.
Setting the scene: Iowa State's been fighting to turn the corner for awhile now, but with talents like Jake Knott, A.J. Klein, Jake McDonough and Durrell Givens gone, as well as the team's top three receivers, it's something of a rebuilding year for the Cyclones after a 6-7 record a season ago. Jared Barnett transferred in January, so Sam Richardson grabbed a strong hold of the quarterback spot. But this still does not look like a year for Iowa State to get over that hump to 8-9 wins in a deep Big 12.
All eyes on: The offensive changes. The pistol offense is the talk of Ames all offseason, and the Cyclones installed it during the spring. I talked to Paul Rhoads about the move for awhile last month, and he was clear about one thing: The pistol is "who we are" now. There's no telling just yet how many snaps will use the formation, but hiring Chris Ault disciple Chris Klenakis was a deliberate move. He was a person Rhoads had his eye on for a few years, and the zone read aspect of what the pistol brings suits Richardson well.
On the mend: Running back Shontrelle Johnson. Johnson's been snakebit with injuries for much of his career. He's perhaps the most promising running back in Ames since Alexander Robinson, but suffered a neck injury against Texas in 2011 that nearly ended his career. Last season he went down with a knee injury. He's finally back, but earning carries won't be easy with Jeff Woody, James White and DeVondrick Nealy returning to the team.
Breaking out: The coaching staff loves what they've seen from Quenton Bundrage, and he's got the look of a possible future star. He had a nice spring after catching 20 balls for 232 yards and a pair of scores a year ago, and they need him to step up with an offense that has no established stars in the passing game. The opportunity is there, and I'd expect a big camp for him.
Outlook: Iowa State was picked ninth in the Big 12 by the league's media for the second time in three years. This team, however, looks like it has less upside previous ones -- especially considering the depth of quality teams across the Big 12. The Cyclones will be dealing with inexperienced players all over the field and simply don't have the talent that teams in the top half of the conference have. It could be a tough year, but nobody's better at winning when the chips are down than Rhoads.
Quotable: Rhoads, on building without Knott and Klein. "What you count on is that you're running your program the right way, and the development and the progress is able to step forward and take over. I think that's what will be the case with Jeremiah George. Was he a better player last year with those guys side by side him? Without a doubt. But his most productive game is the game where he stepped up when Jake wasn't out there on the field. And I have zero doubt that he's going to be that kind of player for us this year."