The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 66 Iowa State.
Previewing Iowa State’s Offense:
The good news here is that Iowa State has 10 starters returning on offense. The bad news is that last year’s offense ranked 96th in the nation with only 363.0 yards per game. Still, new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino has plenty of quality pieces to work with, including two experienced quarterbacks in Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson. Rohach ended last season by throwing for 300-plus yards in wins over Kansas and West Virginia and is the favorite to win the starting job.
Iowa State should be in good shape at running back with Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy as the featured backs. Wimberly is the more proven of the two, but durability is an issue for his 5'9", 174-pound frame. Nealy has simply been the victim of a crowded backfield over the course of the last two seasons and could be due for a breakout year.
Wide receiver is a position of strength for Paul Rhoads’ Cyclones. Junior Quenton Bundrage, an All-Big 12 candidate, caught nine touchdown passes last year. The addition of true freshman Allen Lazard and South Florida transfer D’Vario Montgomery provides two new talented targets. Tight end E.J. Bibbs was second on the team in receptions a season ago. With Mangino calling the shots, expect Bibbs, a second-team All-Big 12 performer last year, to see an even larger role this season.
A plethora of injuries last season should help Iowa State’s offensive line develop in 2014. The Cyclones started nine different combinations in 12 games last season. Senior Tom Farniok is one of the top centers in the Big 12.
Previewing Iowa State’s Defense:
Veteran defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has his work cut out for him with this group. Only five starters return from a unit that ranked 105th nationally in total defense in 2013.
Defensive end Cory Morrissey will be forced to carry a large load of responsibility up front after fellow seniors Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed from the program in the spring.
The Cyclones have numbers at linebacker but not much experience, as the majority of players competing for time are underclassmen. Luke Knott will return after undergoing groin/hip surgery in the offseason. Despite missing half of the season, Knott still recorded 45 tackles during his rookie campaign. Jared Brackens is an undersized but athletic strong-side linebacker who fits nicely against Big 12 offenses.
Rhoads is high on sophomore Nigel Tribune, who will lead the secondary at cornerback. Two veterans, Sam Richardson and Kenneth Lynn, will combine to man the opposite side. Newcomers will occupy both safety spots.
Previewing Iowa State’s Specialists:
After relying on Kirby Van Der Kamp for the last four seasons, Iowa State will hand the punting duties over to a true freshman in Colin Downing. Ranked as the top kicker/punter in the state of Wisconsin, Downing chose the Cyclones over Penn State. After going 13-of-18 — including 10-of-11 inside 40 yards — on field-goal attempts last season, Cole Netten will kick once again for the Cyclones.
Iowa State must improve significantly on both sides of the ball if it hopes to bounce back from last season’s disappointing three-win season. With Mangino on the staff, there is legitimate hope for better production on offense. There are some nice pieces at the skill positions for the former Kansas head coach to work with. Defensively, however, there are major issues. The staff will be relying on several junior college transfers — always a dangerous proposition. If the Cyclones want to reach a bowl game in 2014, they will have to do it by simply outscoring the opposition.