Big 12: Kyle Lichtenberg
Next up: Iowa State.
Strongest position: Offensive line
Iowa State's run the ball pretty well lately, and that should be case yet again in 2013. Four starters return from last season's solid offensive line, and they've taken to calling themselves "The Union." That union will serve the Cyclones well after losing only left tackle Carter Bykowski from last year's team in the second half of the season. Center Tom Farniok has shown tons of promise early in his career, and the junior will be flanked by a pair of seniors at guard: Ethan Tuftee and Kyle Lichtenberg. Farniok, with 26 starts, is actually the team's most experienced player, leading Tuftee by three starts. Jacob Gannon should hold down the right tackle spot. The strength of the line is in the middle, but losing Brayden Burris last year to injury was a huge loss, but the Cyclones adjusted and the offensive line should be a huge strength that makes things a whole lot easier on the skill positions, which are much stronger at running back than in the passing game.
Weakest position: Receiver and/or defensive line
You can't really pick between these two, where a whole lot of work is needed for the Cyclones. Three starters and five overall contributors on the 10-man rotation along the defensive line are gone, and starter Willie Scott, a rising senior, is currently suspended after an arrest on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance earlier this month. The unit was improved last season with Jake McDonough and Roosevelt Maggitt holding things down, but finding new talent to fill those voids this season is a tough task.
It might be even tougher at receiver. All three of the team's leading receivers -- Aaron Horne, Josh Lenz and Chris Young -- are all gone, and the leading returning receiver is tight end Ernst Brun Jr. Iowa State's receivers were already quite average, and judging by Big 12 standards, below average. Quenton Bundrage, Albert Gary and Jarvis West headline the unit, which should also get some help from sophomore Tad Ecby.
Schedule: The first of 15 spring practices allowed by the NCAA begins and they'll conclude with the spring game on April 14. Practices are closed to fans and media.
What's new: Offensive coordinator Tom Herman helped Paul Rhoads build his program and take the Cyclones to two bowl games in three years, but he left to take the offensive coordinator job on Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State. In his place is receivers coach Courtney Messingham, who has lots of experience at lower levels of football, but will be calling plays at the FBS level for the first time.
Key position battle: Kelechi Osemele has been an All-Big 12 stalwart at left tackle for the last three season, but the inevitable happened this offseason: He graduated and moved on to the NFL. Now, Iowa State needs a replacement. Converted tight end Carter Bykowski -- now up to 6-foot-8 and 303 pounds -- could be the man protecting the blind side, but 6-foot-6, 294-pound Kyle Lichtenberg could try to win the job this spring, too. The line also lost right guard Hayworth Hicks, a two-year starter. Jacob Gannon, a 6-foot-7, 286-pound sophomore gets the first crack at replacing him.
On the mend: The front seven. Linebacker Jake Knott will miss the spring after undergoing shoulder surgery. He'll be missed, but replaced by Jevohn Miller. Junior Willie Scott steps in for defensive end Roosevelt Maggitt, who will miss the spring with a knee injury. Cornerback Jeremy Reeves will also miss be limited this spring after undergoing wrist surgery. Look for sophomore Matt Thomas to jump in when Reeves doesn't participate.
Question marks: Cornerbacks. Reeves should be OK, but he's the only returning starter at corner for the Cyclones, and as noted, he'll be in and out during the spring. Junior Jansen Watson draws the tough task of trying to replace NFL-bound Leonard Johnson, one of the most underrated corners in the league last season. You need lots of good corners in this league, and Iowa State still has a lot to prove at the position.
All eyes on: The quarterbacks. Jared Barnett looked like the future in midseason after leading the Cyclones to wins over Texas Tech, Kansas and Oklahoma State, but he faltered down the stretch and was benched for Steele Jantz, who opened the season with three fourth-quarter comeback wins over Northern Iowa, UConn and Iowa. The guess here is it's Barnett's job to lose, but there's no guarantee he won't do exactly that: lose it. The sophomore was streaky last season.
For now, however, the pair are officially listed as co-starters to begin the spring. Looks like we've got a legitimate quarterback battle on our hands for the second consecutive season in Ames.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
New Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads kept working until the final minute on his first recruiting class with the Cyclones.
Rhoads told reporters at a press conference in Ames that he received one final commitment only about a minute before his press conference began to introduce his 23-man class. That came from wide receiver Joshua Bellamy, who produced 38 receptions for Butte Community College this season.
The Cyclones fell short on two late recruiting battles that were settled on Wednesday. Inside linebacker Mike Marry of Largo, Fla., decided on a scholarship offer from Mississippi and diminutive 5-foot-11 inside linebacker Larvez "Pooh Bear" Mars of Apopka, Fla., opted for an offer from Florida International.
Top players in Iowa State's class included offensive tackle Aaron Moore of Frisco, Texas, the nation's 40th best offensive tackle according to Scouts Inc. and offensive tackle Kyle Lichtenberg of Bettendorf, Iowa, who was ranked 44th nationally at his position by Scouts Inc.
Ten different states were represented in Rhoads' first class. His familiarity in Iowa enabled him to obtain three commitments from the state. Florida and Texas led Iowa State's recruiting class with six players apiece.