With 2014 coming to a close, we at WRNL wanted to take a look back and reflect on the year that was. As Iowa State fans, 2014 brought us exhilarating highs and debilitating lows. We drank to celebrate and also drank to drown our sorrows and despair. It was a quintessential year for an Iowa State fan in every way imaginable and we lived it all together in our little community in this corner of the online world.
We're going to talk at length about 2014 over the next few days, but today we'll be starting with covering what mattered most; the biggest stories of 2014.
The Headlines of 2014
We'll get to football in a moment, but we have to begin the conversation talking about the Iowa State men's basketball team and the thrilling run they took us all on last March.
A March To Remember
After finishing the regular season 23-7 and ranked #16 in the country, Iowa State went on a post-season tear that saw Fred Hoiberg's team become one of the hottest in the country.
The Cyclones ripped through Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor en route to winning the Big 12 Tournament Championship and restored the "Hilton South" reputation in the process. It was Iowa State's first conference tournament championship since 2000.
In the semi final match up against Kansas, Georges Niang drew a charge in the closing minute and came up from the floor bloodied. The gash required stitches and as a salute to Niang's toughness, Iowa State fans donned Band-Aids over their right eye for the championship game.
Iowa State was rewarded with the 3-seed in the East Region and for the third straight year, easily downed their opening round opponent, beating North Carolina Central by a score of 93-75. The victory did not come without a price, however, as it was revealed after the game that Niang would miss the remainder of the season as he broke a bone in his foot (more on this in a moment).
Without Niang, Iowa State entered their round of 32 match up against 6th-seeded North Carolina as a heavy underdog and late in the game, down by 8, it looked as if Niang's absence would prove to be too much to overcome. That's when Naz Long went to work, draining a trio of treys in the final minutes including a three that would tie the game at 83 and set the stage for a classic finish, putting the ball in DeAndre Kane's hands with 15 seconds to play.
Kane of course delivered one of the shots of the tournament, driving into the paint and banking home the game-winner that put Iowa State into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 (there was of course the clock fiasco that played out after this as well).
From there, Iowa State drew 7th-seeded Connecticut in the Sweet 16 in Madison Square Garden and this time, the Cyclones simply couldn't overcome the loss of Niang as the eventual national champions ended ISU's post season run by a score of 81-76. Dustin Hogue put up a gritty 34 points in defeat. Iowa State finished 28-8 and #9 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches polls.
WRNL's own Austin Narber penned this fabulous tribute to the '13-'14 team after the final game and Hogue also gifted us this gem of a hair cut for the Sweet 16 match up.
Georges Niang: A What If For the Ages
Niang's injury certainly doesn't overshadow what Iowa State was able accomplish last March, but the Sweet 16 run and Niang's injury will always live together in our memories. You simply can't think about one without recalling the other.
Iowa State was playing as well as anyone in the country when Niang went down and when we see what UConn was able to accomplish coming out of the same region, it only amplifies the magnitude of Niang's injury. UConn went on to beat Michigan State in the Elite 8, Florida in the Final Four and Kentucky in the national championship game. Could that have been Iowa State with a healthy Niang in the line up?
We'll never know and oddly enough, maybe it's better that we don't. Last March's run is still part of the ascension of the Fred Hoiberg era at Iowa State and with arguably a more talented team at his disposal this year and possibly next, we all believe that there are better things awaiting on the horizon for this program.
Still, just how far could have Iowa State gone with a healthy Georges Niang?
Ejim Becomes Elite
Long thought to be just a glue guy, Melvin Ejim turned in one of the greatest seasons in Iowa State history and was named the Big 12 Player of the Year by the conference. Ejim posted a career-high in points and finished 3rd in the conference in scoring at 17.8 per night. He was also 3rd in the conference in rebounding (8.4), was 2nd in field goal percentage (50.5%), 11th in free throw percentage (76.1%) and 12th in steals (1.18).
It was a pantheon-level scoring outing against TCU, however, that thrust Ejim into the conversation for player of the year. On February 8th, Ejim scored 48 points, breaking the conference scoring mark and notching the second highest single game scoring mark in Iowa State history (Lafester Rhodes with 54 against Iowa in 1987 being first). Ejim also threw in a career-high 18 rebounds for good measure.
Ejim was also named first team all-conference and was joined on the first team by DeAndre Kane.
Lured by the success of Kane, Fred Hoiberg reeled in another high profile graduate transfer in April in Bryce Dejean-Jones. The troubled star had previously played at USC and UNLV and left both programs under dubious circumstances.
Dejean-Jones' signing was a big reason that Iowa State entered the '14-'15 season as a top 15 team. His arrival hasn't come without controversy, however, as he was arrested two days before Iowa State would play at Iowa earlier this month and was suspended for that game, though the Cyclones didn't need him as they easily laid waste to the hapless Hawkeyes in a 90-75 laugher.
Iowa State landed a couple other wayward souls in former Oregon State guard, Hallice Cooke and former Marquette wing, Deonte Burton. Both Cooke and Burton will be eligible for the '15-'16 campaign, though Burton will have to sit out first semester action.
Niang Loses Weight
Really, what else needs to be said?
One last final note on basketball. Technically, Johnny Orr passed away on December 31st, 2013, but given that it was New Year's Eve, we didn't get a chance to pay tribute to the legend until January 1st. You can read our tribute here and at the end of the story, there are quite a few other links from other writers, both locally and nationally who remember Johnny.
And now we turn the conversation to football...
Mangino Returns To the Big 12
In January, Iowa State announced the hiring of former Kansas head coach, Mark Mangino, to lead the dreadful Cyclone offense. The hire made national headlines and was lauded as both a bold and brilliant move by Paul Rhoads.
Mangino was fired from Kansas after the 2009 season and toiled away in the FCS ranks at Youngstown State before returning to "big time" college football.
It's debatable as to whether or not the Cyclone offense made any real strides under Mangino's tutelage in year one as Iowa State actually averaged fewer points per game (24.8 in '13 to only 23.2 in '14) and only managed about nine more yards of offense.
There were moments of optimism and with Sam B. Richardson becoming the first Cyclone signal caller since Austen Arnaud in 2010 to start 10 or more games in a year, the Iowa State passing attack appeared to be improved. Richardson threw for 2,669 yards (242.6 per game) and tossed 18 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. His completion percentage wasn't great, but was semi-respectable at 56.3%. Richardson returns for his senior campaign in 2015.
Mangino also made a point of featuring tight end E.J. Bibbs, who caught 8 touchdowns in 10 games and was a first team all-conference selection.
Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery also emerged as big-play threats on the outside. Just a freshman, Lazard made an immediate impact catching 45 passes for 593 yards and 3 scoring grabs. Montgomery continued to get better as the season progressed and led Iowa State in receiving yards (605) while also hauling in 44 passes and two touchdowns.
Lazard Stays True; Rhoads Spouts Off
Allen Lazard committed to Iowa State in December of 2012 as a high school junior and despite taking visits to Notre Dame and Stanford, the consensus 4-star honored his commitment and signed a national letter of intent on signing day in February, putting an official end to the speculation that he'd spurn Iowa State for bigger and better offers.
This was great news. What wasn't great was how Paul Rhoads handled Lazard's signing. On what should have been a day of celebrating (and breathing a sigh of relief), Rhoads not only placed a media restriction on Lazard (which was later lifted), but he threw some thinly veiled attacks at a couple schools who continued to pursue Lazard right up until the very end. Rhoads had this to say:
"He's (Lazard) not going to a school in Northern Indiana," Rhoads said. "Boy, they wasted a lot of time and money. He's not going to another school in this state who feverishly tried to call him about a half a dozen times in the last week."
Of course, Rhoads was just fired up about landing Lazard, who was the biggest signing of his tenure, but he came off as both a hypocrite and a blowhard in the process. It was only a year earlier that Iowa State had feverishly pursued West Des Moines Valley product, Jake Campos, who had previously committed to Missouri, but Rhoads was able to flip Campos who ended up signing with Iowa State.
More FCS Woes
For the second straight year, Iowa State dropped their opener to an FCS team This time, powerhouse North Dakota State recovered from a 14-0 hole to score 34 straight points in an utterly dominating 34-14 destruction of the Cyclones. Iowa State was outgained 506 to 253 in the yardage department and gave up a staggering 302 yards rushing to the Bison.
Iowa State lost 28-20 to Northern Iowa to kick off the 2013 campaign. Let's move on...
Netten Sinks Iowa
Iowa State came to Iowa City on September 13th at 0-2 and as a huge underdog. The Cyclones were down 14-3 at the half, but battled back to take a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter before Iowa knotted it up at 17, setting up Iowa State's game-winning drive.
Netten lined up for a 47-yard try and appeared to miss the attempt, but the play had actually been blown dead as Kirk Ferentz called a timeout just prior to the snap. Netten connected on the redemption attempt and Iowa State won their second straight Cy-Hawk game in Iowa City in hilarious fashion.
Jamie Pollard Incurs the Wrath of the Big 12
Conspiracy theories are fun and the world of college sports certainly isn't immune from crying foul every now and then, but rarely do you see a coach or administrator go public with claims of wrong doing.
On October 4th in Stillwater, Oklahoma though, Jamie Pollard had had enough. After stopping the Cowboys on a goal line run that ended the first half, the play was reviewed by the replay official and stunningly overturned, giving Oklahoma State a touchdown and a 13-6 half time lead. The Cowboys would then run back the opening kick off of the second half and just like that, a 6-6 tie became a 14-point deficit in only two plays.
In the post game press conference, Pollard did everything short of accusing the Big 12 of unfair play and having it out for the Cyclones and was hit with a $25,000 fine by the conference, the largest levied in the league's history.
Earlier in the year, Iowa State had received an apology from the conference after a scoring play was botched against Kansas State, which prompted us to put together the "Apology Wall".
No such apology came from the Oklahoma State mess.
Despite decent efforts against Kansas State, Texas and Texas Tech (and maybe West Virgina), Iowa State bottomed out and finished 0-8 in conference play and 2-10 overall, both the worst marks of the Rhoads era.
As futile and pathetic as the campaign was, it's tough to really talk about one particular instance that was worse than the others, but a two-game stretch that saw Iowa State get pummeled 59-14 at home against Oklahoma and then lose 34-14 in dismal fashion the following week at Kansas was probably the low point. The 55-3 annihilation to end the year at TCU is a strong candidate as well as is the opening embarrassment against North Dakota State.
Simply put, Iowa State was awful in 2014 and Rhoads' seat couldn't possibly be any hotter entering 2015 (many felt he should have been fired after this season).
By any measure the Cyclones fielded one of, if not the worst defenses in the FBS ranks. Iowa State was 122nd out of 128 teams in rushing defense, giving up 246.3 yards on the ground per game. Iowa State also gave up nearly four miles of offense on the year as opponents gained 6,347 yards on the deplorable Cyclone defense. The 38.8 points given up per game put Iowa State at 118th in the country.
Injuries and attrition certainly didn't help matters. Rodney Coe and David Irving, who were both returning starters on the defensive line, were dismissed from the program in the off season and Jevohn Miller, who had finally found a home at the Mike linebacker spot, tore his ACL against Oklahoma and was lost for the final four games.
Offensively, Quenton Bundrage tore his ACL on the season's 2nd offensive play. Iowa State also played its final two games without Bibbs in the line up and starting left tackle, Brock Dagel, tore his ACL prior to the Oklahoma State game.
The fact that Rhoads has been retained despite going 5-19 the last two years and has now finished with five straight losing seasons might be the biggest story of the year, but we'll save the commentary for another time.
These were just a few of the top stories from 2014 for the top sports we cover on this site. Tomorrow, we'll have everyone's favorite; the top Iowa State gifs of 2014.