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Iowa State's eyes open to tough opener

8/27/2014

Iowa State gave little notice to the biggest upset in college football in Week 1 of last season.

Because as North Dakota State was driving to knock off Kansas State in Manhattan, the Cyclones were licking the wounds after falling to another FCS power, Northern Iowa.

So its little surprise that Iowa State is giving its full respect to this weekend’s opener with North Dakota State, which not only knocked off the Wildcats, but went on to capture a third consecutive FCS national title.

“They have our kids’ full attention, as they should,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “They can beat anybody in America on any given day, based on how they have executed and based on how extremely hard they’ve played.

“They are a well-coached, hard-playing football program.”

Iowa State, meanwhile, will try to stave off a second straight disappointing start to its season. After winning their opener in Rhoads’ first four seasons – three of which ended in bowl appearances – the Cyclones couldn’t stop Northern Iowa’s balanced offensive attack, which included 228 yards on the ground and 229 threw through the air. Iowa State fell behind 21-7, and its rally in the second half fell short in a 28-20 defeat.

The Cyclones never recovered, and started the season 1-9.

“I would argue that the start of our season, beyond the opener, was affected by that opening game loss,” Rhoads said.

That is why starting strong is a major goal for the Cyclones, who face a daunting September schedule that includes Kansas State, Iowa and Baylor. Including North Dakota State, Iowa State’s four September opponents went a combined 42-12 last year.

“We want to be 1-0, and that is pretty much the only thing right now,” said Sam Richardson, who was named Iowa State’s starting quarterback this year after losing the job in part due to injuries last season. “We want to start fast.”

That might be easier said than done. The Bison lost head coach Craig Bohl to Wyoming, as well as several key offensive players, including quarterback Brock Jensen, who engineered the 18-play, game-winning touchdown drive against Kansas State. But North Dakota State also is riding a 24-game winning streak, has the bulk of its defense back and has defeated an FBS opponent – Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado State and Kansas State – in each of the last four seasons.

“There isn’t anyone in that program that doesn’t know how to win and expect to win when they take the field,” Rhoads said. “They will get on the buses and come into Ames, Iowa, expecting to win their first game of the season.”

The Cyclones know it can happen, and how critical it is to the rest of their season that it doesn’t happen again.

“Our guys' eyes are wide open,” Rhoads said.