Big 12: Chris Klenakis

Iowa State season preview

August, 19, 2013
Today our Big 12 season previews continue with a look at Iowa State, which may be ready to take the next step as a program.


Coach: Paul Rhoads (24-27, 4 seasons; 24-27, 4 seasons at ISU)

2012 record: 6-7 (3-6 Big 12)

Key losses: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, WR Josh Lenz, DT Jake McDonough, OT Carter Bykowski

Key returnees: P Kirby Van Der Kamp, LB Jeremiah George, S Jacques Washington, RB James White, RB Shontrelle Johnson, QB Sam Richardson, S Deon Broomfield, C Tom Farniok, DE Willie Scott

[+] EnlargeSam B. Richardson
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerSam Richardson will lead what is expected to be a more up-tempo Iowa State offense in 2013.
Newcomer to watch: Junior college transfer TE E.J. Bibbs has earned praise from Rhoads this fall for his ability to make people miss when he gets the ball in his hands. Considering ISU’s inexperience at receiver, he could emerge as a key target.

Biggest games in 2013: Who’s going to be the upset special this season? Last year it was No. 15 TCU on the road, the year before No. 2 Oklahoma State at home. Texas (Oct. 3) and Oklahoma State (Oct. 26) both travel to Ames this fall. The rivalry game vs. Iowa on Sept. 14 is always a big one, too.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Iowa State has made bowl game appearances in three of Rhoads’ first four seasons. What’s the next step? ISU has won three Big 12 games in each of those four years, but it’s time for a new benchmark.

Forecast: Rhoads has a good thing going in Ames right now. He wins six games a year, pulls off one big upset in conference play, goes to a bowl and remains beloved by the Cyclones fan base. It’s a credit to the hard work he’s put in to steady a program that his predecessor, Gene Chizik, sent downhill in only two seasons at the helm.

If this Iowa State team is going to climb higher than No. 8 or No. 9 in the final Big 12 standings this fall, it’s going to take another strong coaching job. This Cyclones bring back only nine starters. There’s good talent in the secondary, and Van Der Kamp is one of the nation’s best punters, but there’s also inexperience throughout the defense. The Cyclones will rely on seniors Washington and George to raise the rest of the defense’s game, and they’ll be seriously tested by the league’s high-powered offenses.

The wild card for ISU just might be the addition of new offensive line coach Chris Klenakis and the intricate knowledge of the pistol offense he possesses as a disciple of legendary Nevada coach Chris Ault. Richardson, a sophomore, will be entrusted to run the show and operate a more fast-tempo attack, and he proved last year he isn’t afraid to tuck it and run. He’ll have lots of intriguing options at running back to work with, and if a few wide receivers emerge ISU might just have a pretty competitive offense and a fighting chance in most games.
Paul Rhoads has helped turn around Iowa State's program, becoming the first coach in school history to reach three bowl games in his first four seasons.

He's done it all despite having just one quarterback in those four years who finished a season completing at least 60 percent of his passes. Steele Jantz pulled off the feat in 2012, completing 62.1 percent of 269 attempts. But his 12 interceptions to just 13 touchdowns led to him getting benched late in the season in favor of freshman Sam Richardson.

Richardson threw seven touchdowns before his first interception, but completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in his final two starts. He finished with a completion percentage of 58.2 on his 79 attempts.

For a team fighting to earn Big 12 respect and with goals beyond simply making a bowl game, the need for improvement is glaring.

"There’s nowhere that we don’t need to improve to do that. There’s not one magical spot, but quarterback play has not got us to the position where we can win the nitty gritty games," Rhoads said. "I think that’s a position that every program looks for a difference-maker."

Jared Barnett transferred to Illinois State in the offseason. So Richardson will have to be that difference-maker if the Cyclones are going to move past struggling for postseason eligibility in late November every season -- which has been the case in their first three bowl seasons.

"It doesn’t have to be the great Heisman-level talent but a difference-maker is just running a good offense and not turning it over and scoring enough points and so forth," Rhoads said. "That’s a position that we have to have better play to get us into the top half of the Big 12 Conference."

Several teams across the Big 12 set a 70 percent completion rate as the goal for their quarterbacks, a mark meant to ensure their passers consistently move the chains and extend drives. New Iowa State offensive line coach Chris Klenakis, a disciple of Nevada coach and pistol formation guru Chris Ault, has helped add kinks to the formation Iowa State installed earlier in Rhoads' tenure. It's a good fit for Richardson's skill set, which includes speed and an accurate arm that can buy extra time if defenses are worried about the run or trying to get in position.

"It’s still zone-read based and no-huddle based and trying to still be more efficient with our tempo and when we can hurry up as an offense and hopefully catch defenses on their heels," Rhoads said of the Cyclones' version of the pistol.

Lunch links: Big 12 AD meetings updates

January, 28, 2013
Let's keep it this warm forever.