116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — A south end zone project years in the making — expanding Jack Trice Stadium capacity to 61,000 — was a necessary offseason project for Iowa State football to enhance game day atmosphere.
But on the field, the Cyclones collecting just five wins during the last two years has fans restless and pondering what 2015 has in store. Iowa State will host media day Thursday and begin fall camp Friday, so here's a look at five of the biggest questions surrounding Cyclones football as the season nears
1. How important is winning early with a back-loaded schedule?
Winning or losing early isn't the absolute predictor on how Iowa State will fare in the second half of the season, but it can give a pretty good picture.
In ISU coach Paul Rhoads' first four seasons, he won his season opener and led the Cyclones to seven, five, six and six wins. The last two seasons saw Iowa State fall to FCS opponents Northern Iowa and North Dakota State at home, finishing the year with three and two wins.
While winning a season opener isn't an end-all-be-all to future success, losing it at home to an opponent in another division can set a team on the wrong path quickly.
Iowa State's first five opponents are Northern Iowa, Iowa, Toledo, Kansas and Texas Tech, with the Panthers, Hawkeyes and Jayhawks visiting Ames. The Cyclones won't necessarily be favored to win all five games, but getting off on the right foot against perennially pesky Northern Iowa will be crucial to gain momentum before the Big 12 powers come calling in October and November.
2. How big of a step will Sam B. Richardson make in 2015?
Zero Big 12 wins and three total victories as a starting quarterback isn't exactly glowing, but that doesn't mean senior quarterback Sam B. Richardson is destined for the same fate in 2015.
The Winter Park, Fla. native has taken his lumps through the 19 losses in two seasons, but has put up numbers capable of winning games. His 56.3 percent completion rate with 2,669 passing yards and 18 touchdowns last season have him listed as a Manning Award Watch List candidate. He was third in the Big 12 and 13th nationally in completions per game with 23.1.
But the intangibles might be the deciding factor in his individual performances.
Richardson has the luxury of knowing he won't have to be looking over his shoulder in 2015 and is atop the depth chart from day one. Combined with more than a year under his belt in offensive coordinator Mark Mangino's offense, Richardson could be poised for success if his weapons in the passing game come together.
3. What will the impact of JUCO transfers be on defense?
Dismissals and injuries have plagued Iowa State each of the past two seasons, but an influx of immediately eligible junior college players may be just what the Cyclones need.
Iowa State has had its hands full the last two seasons finding the pieces to fill holes left by key players, particularly in the middle of the defense. The Cyclones gave up 529 yards per game — 246.3 on the ground — and 38.8 points per game a year ago, but might have players near the line of scrimmage to turn those numbers around.
Defensive tackle Demond Tucker was the NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 at Copiah-Lincoln CC. His 6-foot, 296-pound frame should give the Cyclones' opponents a force to contend with near the ball. Middle linebacker Jordan Harris is coming off a red-shirt year and Iowa State added JUCO transfers Gabe Luna, Terry Ayeni, Jarnor Jones and Jomal Wiltz to the depth chart in the offseason.
4. How effective will the talented wide-receiving corps be?
The Cyclones should expect improvement in each position group in 2015, but arguably none have more potential than the wide receivers. The trio of Quenton Bundrage, Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery should provide Richardson with plenty of options.
Bundrage missed all of last season after tearing his ACL on the fourth play of the season opener, but will be a top target as a senior. He was a go-to wide out in 2013, with 48 catches, 676 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Lazard and Montgomery were a one-two punch a year ago, combining for 89 catches, 1,198 yards and five touchdowns. Should the ISU offense be clicking, from the offensive line to quarterback to receiving targets, the Cyclones could put eye-catching passing numbers on the stat sheet.
5. Who will emerge at running back?
DeVondrick Nealy and Martinez Syria, two of the more experienced backs from a year ago, were dismissed in the offseason. That left Iowa State with little options heading toward 2015, but Tyler Brown and Mike Warren find themselves as the top two backs on the depth chart as fall camp nears.
Brown registered 24 carries for 109 net yards as a redshirt freshman, while Warren sat out his initial college season. Warren, who burst onto the scene his senior year of high school, has a lot of buzz surrounding what he can provide to the ground game, but only time will tell how effective the Cyclones will be after ranking 110th as a team at 124.1 yards per game in 2014.
l Comments: email@example.com