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One Man For the Job

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

With fall camp set to open in the next week, players up and down Iowa State's roster will duke it out in practice to try an earn a starting gig for the Cyclones' opener against North Dakota State on August 30th. Coming off a 3-9 season, there are very few positions where a player is assured a spot atop the depth chart and unfortunately, in what has become a recurring theme, that holds especially true for the most important position on the field; the starting quarterback.

Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune penned a piece on Saturday highlighting the quarterback position and to summarize his thoughts, Iowa State has plain and simple just not been able to get any type of consistency from their signal callers over the last three years.

Not since 2010 has an ISU quarterback started at least ten games in a season and not since 2008 has an ISU quarterback started every game of the season. Those two seasons were the book ends of Austen Arnaud's career as a starter in Ames and over his three years as the #1 guy, he went on to rack up 34 career starts while also finishing as the Cyclones' #2 career passer.

Arnaud's legacy is tough to define as he went just 13-21 as a starter, but he did lead ISU to just their third bowl win in school history. No one will deny that he had short comings throughout his career, but if nothing else, he was consistently able to take the field just about every Saturday and execute the offensive game plan, which is more than we've been able to say about every quarterback that has followed him since.

Jerome Tiller, Steele Jantz, Jared Barnett, Sam Richardson and Grant Rohach have each had a signature moment where it appeared they could become "the man", but whether it be because of injuries, consistency or ability, all have created more questions than they've answered.

I've held firmly to the belief that Grant Rohach will be the starter on August 30th and will have every opportunity to cure ISU's QB woes. Rohach doesn't have to match the production of Bryce Petty or Davis Webb for ISU to be successful (though it would be nice), but simply being on the field each week would go a long way in improving the Cyclones' offensive profile.

Sticking With One Guy

On one hand, it's tough to really argue with how Rhoads has handled the quarterbacks over the last three years. Neither Steele Jantz nor Jared Barnett could ever consistently deliver the type of production needed to succeed in the Big 12 and Sam Richardson, or more accurately his body, simply couldn't handle the grind a season ago.

On the other hand, both Jantz and Barnett operated under the shortest of leashes, which arguably ruined their confidence and Richardson, for some bizarre reason, was never fully rested to allow his injuries to heal and even became a featured running quarterback as the season wore on, which was even more of a head scratcher given his health status.

Now, we can spend days upon days of arguing all of the other possible reasons ISU quarterbacks have struggled during this three-year stretch, which include but are certainly not limited to poor offensive planning and playcalling, an ineffective running game, a shoddy offensive line, etc. The fact of the matter remains, however, that at the end of the day, there just hasn't been a guy that was good enough to overcome it all.

I don't know if Rohach is going to be that guy or not, but with Mark Mangino now running the show, I think Rohach will get every opportunity to prove that he is. That's not to say that Mangino is some type of quarterback whisperer, but both he and Rhoads are at least saying all the right things and you get the sense that they both understand that things have to be different in 2014 when it comes to handling the quarterback position.

When you look across the league, there seems to be a direct correlation between success and stability at the quarterback position. Certainly, that shouldn't be any type of revelation for even the most average football fan, but humor me here and look at the following numbers.

Below, you'll see two different graphs. These represent all ten teams in the Big 12 and their conference record over the last three years and the number of quarterbacks that have started for them during that time.

Big 12 Record
Starting QBs
Oklahoma State
Kansas State

Now, it's important to note I'm looking strictly at the number of guys who have taken starting snaps and not the number of guys that have started in a particular season. Example: In each of the last two seasons, David Ash and Case McCoy have started games for Texas, but I'm not looking at the number of guys that have started per season, which would be two in Texas' case for both 2012 and 2013.

Now for the other half:

Big 12 Record
Starting QBs
West Virginia
Texas Tech
Iowa State

*TCU and West Virginia joined the league in 2012

With the exception of TCU, each of these schools have seen the revolving door act at the QB position at least one of the last three seasons, but even in TCU's case, Casey Pachall's legal issues created a situation where Trevone Boykin was forced into starting duty.

We all know that there's more to a team's success than just quarterback play, but if anything, I think those two graphs represent just how important it is to find a signal caller and stick with him. Of the five teams on the top graph, Texas is the only school that has not made it through an entire season with only one starting QB in the last three years. On the bottom graph, only Texas Tech and West Virginia have accomplished that in Big 12 play.

Turning things back to ISU and to paint an even more grim picture for truly how bad of an offensive football team Iowa State has been over the last three years, check out the three graphs below. These represent where Iowa State has ranked in the conference in the following categories, year by year:

Scoring Off
Passing Off
Total Off
Pass Efficiency
Turnovers Lost
1st Downs
3rd Down Conversions

Year Scoring Off Passing Off Total Off Pass Efficiency Turnovers Lost 1st Downs 3rd Down Conversions
2012 9th 8th 9th 9th 7th 8th 8th

Year Scoring Off Passing Off Total Off Pass Efficiency Turnovers Lost 1st Downs 3rd Down Conversions
2011 9th 7th 8th 10th 10th 7th 8th

Again, it might be unfair to place the blame solely on the quarterbacks, but I don't think any of us would say that there weren't wins left on the table that ISU could have had if only for better quarterback play.

A Sign Of Things To Come?

After bottoming out with one of the worst offensive performances I've ever seen, both from an offensive standpoint and quarterback standpoint in a 41-7 loss at Kansas State, Grant Rohach actually played much better football over his last four games and if one or two things go differently against TCU, ISU would have finished the season 3-1 over that stretch with the lone loss coming at Oklahoma. Check out Rohach's numbers over that span:

Opponent Comp Att Yards Comp% TD INT QB Rating
TCU 18 38 148 47.4 0 0 80.1
@Oklahoma 21 34 179 61.8 0 2 94.2
Kansas 15 20 300 75 2 1 224.0
@West Virginia 25 39 331 64.1 4 1 164.1

Rohach's total numbers during that span: 79-131, 60.3%, 239.5 YPG, 6 TDs, 4 INTs, 140.6 QB rating

I know what you're thinking. With the exception of Oklahoma, the other three teams were the three worst teams in the league (aside from Iowa State of course), so what does this really prove? To be honest, it may not prove anything except that Rohach can play better when the competition isn't as stiff. But I'm not so sure I can accept reducing it to that.

It's undeniable that over that span, Rohach's accuracy improved, as did his timing and decision making. It may not be quantifiable, but he also looked like a more poised and confident player on the field and I feel that carried over into the spring where he looked and acted like he belonged in that starting role.

Adding to his development, he's now had an entire off season of not only taking #1 reps, but taking those reps with game confidence. Furthermore, he'll be returning to a very familiar unit as Iowa State's offense returns 10 starters (including Rohach), which will feature the pre-season first team Big 12 tight end in E.J. Bibbs, a healthy and deep offensive line, a Doak Walker watch list member in Aaron Wimberly and finally, Quenton Bundrage, who emerged as a big play threat at wideout and tied the school single season record with nine scoring grabs a season ago. And that's not even mentioning possible breakout candidates like De'Vondrick Nealy, Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery.

The pieces are most certainly in place and Rohach looks poised to run with the starting job, which makes it all the more important that he gets the necessary guidance and coaching from Mangino. His reputation as a teacher and offensive guru is impressive and validated, but he'll have his work cut out for him if he's going to reverse the Cyclones' recent offensive fortune.

We've heard before from coaches about simplifying the playbook and the offensive concepts in general, but when Mangino says it, you believe him. If ISU's offense resembles anything like what we saw at Kansas, we can expect to see an efficient short to intermediate passing game, stressing timing and getting the ball out quickly, which is something Rohach executed better than Sam Richardson, who had a tendency to hold the ball or pull it down and take off at the first sign of trouble.

Rohach showed over those last four games that he could dink and dunk it down the field, setting up the big play and then most importantly, delivering the ball accurately and on time when that big play was needed. That's the type of game that Mangino will call and given the way Rohach finished the season, I think that's the type of game that he's comfortable playing.

Here's to hoping both he and his new offensive coordinator are up to the challenge.