Big 12: Darian Cotton

The Cyclones face the challenge of rebuilding the bulk of their back seven, especially safety.

Departed: Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield were veteran stalwarts at the back of the Iowa State defense. Broomfield compiled 18 career starts and was a key part of the Iowa State defense the last three seasons. Washington was a three-year starter, and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors last season.

Spring contenders: Junior Devron Moore, junior Darian Cotton, sophomore T.J. Mutcherson, redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya, redshirt freshman Kamari Syrie.

Summer contenders: Junior Qujuan Floyd and freshmen Victor Holmes and Reggan Northrup.

The skinny: The Cyclones signed two junior college safeties, who might be the favorites to take over the two starting spots. Moore was the No. 6 safety in the country and was hotly pursued by Big 12 rivals TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia. Already enrolled at school and ready to take part in spring drills, Moore could lock up a starting role this spring.

Floyd, who picked the Cyclones over Utah, is Iowa State’s other junior college signee. Floyd, however, is not scheduled to arrive until the summer, which could give Mutcherson a chance to give a shining first impression to first-year secondary coach Maurice Linguist. Mutcherson has the athletic ability to do it.

Cotton-Moya could have been the only other true freshman to play last season alongside cornerback Nigel Tribune, but he ruptured his Achilles during the preseason and is still working his way back. Syrie might not have the size to play safety, and Cotton has been a career backup and special teams player. It would be a surprise if Northrup and Holmes, both three-star recruits, came in and started right away, but both could add depth.

Prediction: The two juco transfers will lock down the starting jobs, but Mutcherson will help in spots and Cotton-Moya, when he heals, will give the Cyclones a second solid backup to round out the rotation.
We'll cap our coverage of Saturday's spring games with the Cyclones in Ames.

What happened:
  • Sam Richardson completed 9 of 12 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.
  • Running back DeVondrick Nealy carried the ball 18 times for 142 yards and two scores, and juco transfer Aaron Wimberly added 89 yards on 15 carries.
  • Attendance was 15,000.
  • Linebacker Jeremiah George and defensive back Darian Cotton led all defenders with 10 tackles.
  • Gold beat Cardinal, 41-27.
What we learned:
  • Holy offense, Batman. The biggest issue for Iowa State, even through an amazing first four seasons with Paul Rhoads, has been the offense, but Saturday looked solid. The defense is still adjusting to life after Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, but the big-play ability we saw was definitely something new. The offense turned up the tempo and ran for 535 yards and threw for 362. Nealy was fourth string last year, but Rhoads loved what he saw from the whole position all spring. "I had felt the running back position overall had the best spring,” Rhoads told reporters. "DeVondrick Nealy is running as he was capable. He is going into his third season and that is encouraging to see. James White is James White. He runs hard, smart, and knows everything about the offense. Aaron Wimberly showed why we are excited to have him and why we recruited him. Rob Standard is productive every time we play him." You can only put so much stock in a spring game, but Saturday was definitely a good sign. If you can put up points in the Big 12, you're going to win a whole bunch of games, and it's hard to see Iowa State's defense getting torched next season like it did for much of Saturday.
  • The defense is finding some new impact players. I was a little surprised to see coaches be so open about Willie Scott, a possible future star at defensive end who was arrested earlier this spring for possession of a controlled substance. He was maybe the biggest defensive star on Saturday with a whole bunch of tackles and an interception. "He’s a high-motor guy,” safety Jacques Washington told the Des Moines Register about Scott. "He’s a little undersized as a defensive end, but he’s athletic and closes on the ball well. He’s a guy you can always count on -- like everyone saw [Saturday].” Jeremiah George has a lot of experience, but I like what he showed on Saturday, too. Iowa State's defense centered around Knott and Klein, and though you can't replace guys like that easily, George looks solid.
  • The new offense is taking shape. You're going to see a lot more pistol with Richardson this year, which could mean good news for a decent running game, too. Richardson is a speedy guy, and the more the pistol works, the more you're going to see it. The misdirection that can come from the set is already paying off for the running game, and as that happens, life's going to get easier for Richardson in the passing game. Everybody wins.
  • The kicking competition is still a bit of a mess. Edwin Arceo made just 12 of 18 field goal attempts last season and missed three extra points, part of the reason the competition is open to Cole Netten this spring. Netten, a freshman, was just 2-of-4 on Saturday, but Arceo didn't take advantage, making just one of his own three attempts. The good news for Arceo? His only made kick of the day with a 53-yarder, and his last kick after beginning with two misses. Both of Netten's misses came from beyond 50 yards, but he made kicks from 29 and 45 yards. "I think that shows one, consistency, and it also shows two, we’ve got two guys very capable of playing winning football as kickers at this level," Rhoads told the Des Moines Register.