116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES - The word Paul Rhoads used twice about it Thursday was “mammoth.”
That may have undersold the new video display board in the north end zone of Iowa State's Jack Trice Stadium. It may be visible from outer space.
The board is 36 feet high and 79 wide. The structure that supports it is twice as wide. It cost $5 million, financed via athletic program revenues and multimedia rights. It is 101 feet above the playing surface.
It's just plain big.
I thought I had my fill of big in the omnipresent “B1G” logo at last week's Big Ten football media days. Then I got here, and saw really big. Not just the video board, either.
Kelechi Osemele looked down upon reporters at Thursday's ISU media day. Not in a rude manner, but in the literal way that comes from being 6-foot-6. Not to mention 347 pounds.
Osemele is a senior offensive tackle from Houston. A good one. He has done what isn't easy to do, which is to show up on a lot of preseason All-America teams though he played on a team with a losing record last year.
He is a first-team preseason All-America according to Phil Steele's College Football Preview. The Sporting News and Lindy's Sports College Football Preview has him at second-team.
That, despite the fact Osemele was merely honorable mention All-Big 12 in 2010 for the 5-7 Cyclones.
“I think a lot of that is recognition by the league's coaches,” Rhoads said. “You're talking about a guy that has started a lot of games (30).
“You're talking about a very large human being that has started a lot of games.”
Osemele seems no more fond of preseason accolades than he is of opposing defensive ends.
“I really haven't seen them, but I've heard about them,” he said. “I really don't like to read that type of stuff. I just feel like it's a distraction.
“But, I would say I feel like they've been earned, just because of how hard I've worked since I got here.”
That may read like braggadocio. But it didn't sound like it. Mostly, Osemele gave the standard pat lines like about wanting to be a good leader, and that his goal is for the team to reach a bowl game.
“I think it's very realistic,” he said. “Everybody's beatable, every game is winnable.”
Yet, the new, condensed, 10-team Big 12 with a 9-game league schedule makes the Cyclones hard-pressed to assemble a record as good as the 7-6 and 5-7 posted in Rhoads' first two years as coach. Those marks eclipsed expectations and featured road wins over Nebraska and Texas.
ISU has five road games in league play this year, and that's after a home game against Iowa and a visit to defending Big East champion Connecticut. No longer do the Cyclones avoid Oklahoma and Texas and the rest of the former Big 12 South teams two out of every four years.
Keep in mind Iowa State is 34-86 over the 15 years of Big 12 play when the Sooners and Longhorns (and Texas Tech, and Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State) weren't annual foes.
The world views Cyclone football as being on a sled that's always going uphill. But two years ago, the world didn't see ISU competing as well as did right away under Rhoads.
“This is our most talented team for sure,” Rhoads said. “Whether it becomes our best football team remains to be seen.”
But he touted playmakers with size and speed at wide receiver and running back, a veteran defensive line he expects to be improved, linebackers who are larger than they've been here lately, and an experienced secondary.
The starting quarterback spot is unsettled for now, never comforting for a team in early August. But whoever wins that position will get protection from a mammoth left tackle who has said “I try to make every guy who lines up against me remember my name.” Even if it is hard to pronounce.
Gene Chizik left talented young players like Osemele behind when he fled ISU to become a national name at Auburn. Rhoads has connected with the players here, be they Chizik's recruits or his own. There isn't anyone anywhere who doesn't think he's done an admirable job to date.
Thursday, Rhoads deftly managed to sound positive about the season ahead without coming across as a wild-eyed optimist.
“If you go by the prognosticators, you're led to believe we'll probably be favored to win two football games this season,” he said.
“Everybody understands the realism of what out schedule is in 2011.”
But, he said “I am very pleased with the development as we head into Year 3.”
The goal for now, said Rhoads, “is to win bowl games. College football is about getting yourself to the postseason and enjoying that experience. We don't want to just get there to eat steaks and go to amusement parks.
“That, year in and year out, will remain the expectation of this program. Now long-term, we've got our sights set on building a championship program.”
That would be big. Mammoth, you might say.