Let’s get right to it. As promised, here are the remaining four in my “top five” things I will be watching for this football season.
4. How will the front seven perform?
Lately, this seems to be a real area of concern for Cyclone fans. This year is no different. With guys like Frere, Lyle, and Jesse Smith moving on, there are a lot of unknowns. On top of that, we learned that Austin Alburtis would forego his final season of eligibility after earning his degree (and contributing to Iowa State’s best-in-the-conference football graduation rate). The D-line does return some experience at the ends, with Patrick Neal and Rashawn Parker (medical hardship), but there are mostly questions.
But even with all of the question marks, many fans are still excited to see how some of the new parts will function as a unit. Who isn’t excited to see the sophomore linebackers, A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, step onto the field in more prominent roles this fall? It’s hard not to notice the buzz surrounding this duo. And what about sophomore DT, Jake McDonough? The guy definitely looked the part at media day.
While there are plenty of unknowns, last year’s performance does provide reasons to be hopeful. The Cyclone defense was opportunistic and kept the opponent out of the endzone enough to be competitive in most games. There will be growing pains, but there is no reason not to expect a fundamentally sound defense that tackles well and commits few penalties.
3. How will this team perform at Iowa?
I don’t ask this because Iowa is the most important game on the schedule. It’s not. I ask because it could mean good things for the rest of the season. If, in game two, the Cyclones step onto the field at Kinnick Stadium and look unfazed, consider me excited. As always, expect the point spread to be illogically skewed in favor of Iowa. But if the past dozen seasons have taught us anything, this game should be competitive.
As a fan, I often find that a small part of me has been suckered into believing that this annual battle is destined to be an Iowa blowout. I suppose if that’s all you hear for weeks leading up to the game, it’s bound to wear on you. But as soon as that first series is in the books, I usually find that my nervousness has subsided, and that the teams are more evenly matched than most expected.
Extra attention will be paid to Arnaud’s performance. As everyone knows, he played an unfortunate game of pitch-and-catch with the Hawkeye secondary for most of the afternoon last year, throwing four picks. It was especially unfortunate as it looked as if the rest of the Cyclone squad had come ready to play. Line play did not favor Iowa, as expected, and the Cyclones were showing an ability to run the ball. Hopefully Coach Herman learned something from that game as well.
2. Will the 2010 Cyclone squad return to a bowl game?
Many college football experts believe that Iowa State is set to play the most difficult schedule in the country. An unnecessarily difficult non-conference schedule and a tough South Division rotation are the reasons why. Outside of the Big 12, Iowa State will play two top-25 teams, a very solid team from the MAC, and one of the best D1-AA programs in the country. Conference play is “highlighted” by a two-week road trip from hell, with back-to-back games in Norman and Austin. Ugh.
I hate to imply that anything is certain, but the way I see it, there are three wins, three losses, and six “toss-ups” on the schedule. And keep in mind that not all toss-ups are created equal, meaning I’ve included some very difficult games that I’m simply not ready to chalk up as losses. I would consider the following games to be toss-ups: at Iowa, Texas Tech, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska/Mizzou, at Colorado. I split Nebraska and Mizzou because I could see us winning one of those two daunting home contests, but not both.
Iowa State has to win three of those toss-up games. The fact that all but two will be played in Ames is why I’m hopeful that a bowl game is a possibility in 2010. Personally, I’ve set my sights on five wins, perhaps to avoid disappointment. (Cyclone fans have become experts at limiting expectations.) But if Paul Rhoads manages to win six and earn a chance to win a seventh, look for him to receive serious consideration for conference coach of the year.
1. Will a lead donor step forward and help finance the south endzone expansion?
This is my number one for a few reasons. First of all, it’s about damn time this got done. Amidst my collection of old games on VHS, I have a VHS that was sent to donors by then athletics director, Gene Smith, highlighting his plans for the south endzone. Fast-forward way too many years, and we’re still waiting. I may leap for joy then fall from my first-row, balcony seat when Pollard finally trots a lead donor out to midfield with a giant check in-hand.
So why put a non-field-of-play issue at number one on my watch list? Because it’s not just about the stadium. It’s about continuing to bring our facilities to a level comparable to some of the “haves” in college football. It’s about no longer being “little ol’ Iowa State” and, instead, acting aggressively- something that doesn’t happen often in Iowa State athletics. And, most importantly, it’s about impressing Joe Recruit and finally having a stadium worthy of the Big 12.
Our AD has a vision. The plans for the stadium are a big part of that overall vision. But it’s up to some of the heavy hitters in our fanbase to give this vision a big shot in the arm. Whether or not it happens this season, one thing is certain: Cyclone fans have been waiting so long for the south endzone expansion that they’ll probably flock to the construction site like a bunch of cult members to a shrine.
I hate to quote a famous Husker fan to close this post, but… “git ‘r done.”