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You can read the entire Iowa State preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 Big 12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#57 Iowa State
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Paul Rhoads, 24-27 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Courtney Messingham | DEF. COORDINATOR: Wally Burnham
The quarterback competition is not as wide open as in previous years, but tabbing Sam Richardson the starter is not a slam dunk. The sophomore is, however, the only quarterback on the roster with game experience, and he has the clear edge over strong-armed redshirt freshman Grant Rohach.
Who Richardson’s targets will be is not as clear. The top three-pass catchers from last season are gone, leaving sophomore Quenton Bundrage as the player expected to step into the role as ISU’s No. 1 receiver. He’ll get help from veterans Jarvis West and Albert Gary and group of speedy youngsters.
The Cyclones are stacked at running back. James White, Jeff Woody and Shontrelle Johnson — although he’s coming off a knee injury — are known commodities. Most interesting, and possibly with the most upside, are junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly and sophomore DeVondrick Nealy. Wimberly ran for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final season at Iowa Western Community College.
Of course, the key to the running backs’ effectiveness is the guys who are blocking for them. A majority of the line returns, led by center Tom Farniok and guard Ethan Tuftee.
The Jake Knott and A.J. Klein era is over, and it’ll take a while for Cyclone players, coaches and fans to get used to life without the first-team All-Big 12 linebackers. There still is a Knott at linebacker, younger brother Luke, who will get a shot at replacing his brother. Jeremiah George takes over as this group’s leading man, and the senior middle backer is ready for that responsibility. He should challenge for All-Big 12 honors.
Three-fourths of the defensive line also needs to be replaced. Coaches will look to players like Willie Scott and David Irving, along with junior college transfer Rodney Coe, to fortify the edge. On the inside it’ll be by committee, maybe more so than usual because there’s so much youth.
There is a ton of experience in the secondary with seniors Jacques Washington, Deon Broomfield and Jansen Watson. Watson missed spring practice due to injury but will be fully ready this fall.
Punter Kirby Van Der Kamp is one of the Big 12’s best. He averaged 41.0 yards on his conference-leading 77 attempts in 2012. The staff would like to see less of him this season. Edwin Arceo and redshirt freshman Cole Netten are vying for the placekicking duties. Arceo was a pleasant surprise last season, hitting 12-of-18 field goals, two from 50-plus yards. The Cyclones need to improve in the return game, particularly kickoffs, an area where they ranked last in the Big 12 a year ago.
The Cyclones have reached the postseason three of the last four years, and each time they outperformed expectations to get there. That will have to be the case again this season in their quest for (at least) six wins and a bowl bid.
The pieces are in place offensively to improve upon last year’s production (24.5 points and 364.2 yards per game), and it has to in order to be a factor in the Big 12. The defense lost a number of important players whose absence will be felt tremendously. Untested players will have to step in and have an impact right away for ISU to have any shot at reaching its goals.
The program is on the up-tick, in a lot of ways. Fan support has always been strong, and with the success under coach Paul Rhoads it’s reached unprecedented heights. Fans should expect growing pains, especially on defense, although there’s a chance to once again be playing and practicing in December.