Clearly I've missed you all so much that the urge to write couldn't be suppressed any longer. Sometime on my plane ride home from Europe a few weeks back I came up with the idea of a column to look at the current state of affairs with Iowa State.
Some weeks the column will be wide ranging, other weeks it'll just be about the sport that has our attention, and other weeks it won't even exist. This isn't necessarily intended to be a mail bag column, but if you want to throw questions in the comments, via e-mail, or Twitter (@WRNLKnowDan) then feel free and I'll answer the ones I deem deserving of my limitless column space.
Off we go...
The Jamie Pollard & Travis Hines Rumble
Like all hit pieces published by intrepid reporters the piece that Hines published last week probably has some validity to it and some sore spots in others. I don't doubt that Travis believed what he heard but he was done a disservice by his editor not cleaning up the stories from Hawai'i that made it seem like the basketball team was sleeping on their luggage overnight in a hotel ballroom.
Many of us that cover Iowa State believe that Hines is destined for greater things, but that same crowd now feels that Hines may have damaged his long term prospects by publishing such a one sided piece; a piece that was immediately refuted by the parties being accused of wrongdoing. That's not good for anyone, and the entire Ames Tribune organization should be ashamed.
And about Pollard's penny pinching ways...
Firing Paul Rhoads & Economics
If the wheels fall off in October and November it'll cost $4.5 million to buy Paul Rhoads out of his contract at the end of this season. That's his $750,000 base times the remaining six years on his contract once the final whistle sounds at the end of November. This doesn't take in to account any coaches who are in the first year of a two year contract and the obvious expense of hiring a new staff.
If you're Jamie Pollard you have to weigh the simple economics of the situation. Attendance this year is already going to threaten the streak of consecutive games with over 50,000 in attendance, and it's not going to get better next year unless the team does something drastic this season.
At what point do you look at the potential ticket uplift from a new coaching staff and realize it won't be high enough to offset the massive buyout the department has to swallow if they fire Rhoads?
The brand of football will suffer if Rhoads is the head coach in 2016, but the AD might suffer worse swallowing a large buyout and not making it up with increased attendance.
Rhoads Won't Be Fired After 2015
Despite the coaching staff's best effort to rewrite the definition of "center" this team is a foot from being 3-1. That's how narrow the margin of victory can be in football. I'm firmly entrenched in the belief that this team finishes 5-7 and we're sitting in our living rooms after the West Virginia game cussing about a game played in September that keeps us out of a trip to Memphis.
That said, for this team to win three more games they're going to have to skin some pretty decent scalps. Sure, they can win this weekend at Tech and twice at home against Texas and Oklahoma State, but two of these teams are going to play in the postseason and by that definition those wins will be "good wins".
The defense has shown marked improvement because Wally Burnham finally did something this writer was imploring him to do last season: shake things up. The offense is still finding their way, and with that in mind...
Sam Richardson is Both the Problem & Solution
I had a crisis of confidence in Richardson this past weekend. Richardson was gifted a wide open Juaun Wesley on the play prior to the touchdown pass to Allen Lazard. It was a simple smash route that got Wesley open in the back of the end zone and Richardson threw a dart 10 feet over Wesley's head. Here's why my mind on Richardson changed with that play:
- It's the exact same play that Josh Lenz scored on against Iowa in 2011. A play that Steele Jantz executed with perfect touch.
- Sam displayed great touch earlier in his career, but in Mark Mangino's system of tight throws, Sam has had to result to adding velocity to his throw. That additional velocity has all but ruined his touch on routes where he throws it to a spot.
It was that sequence that made me realize that Sam has hit his ceiling. That's not a bad thing as he's a very good quarterback on an average team with an average offensive line. But I think it's been apparent that he's going to not carry this offense more than he already is. No doubt he still has a few statistically eye popping games left in him, but he's not going to be having those games week in and week out.
It's Not Time for LANRAM
Seeing more of Joel Lanning is fine, but some calls to name him a starter are shortsighted for a few reasons:
- This team can still go bowling, despite popular opinion
- To my point above, Sam is also the solution. He's very good and he's finally settling in with a consistent offensive line (thanks Daniel Burton!) and a burgeoning running game.
- For as timid as Sam may seem we run the same risk of doing the same to Lanning if he starts before duty calls.
There hasn't been a single season under Rhoads where the back up quarterback hasn't started a game. There was Jerome Tiller in 2009 and 2010, Jared Barnett in 2011 and 2012, Richardson in 2012, and Grant Rohach in 2013 and 2014. For those calling for Richardson to run more (yours truly included) that above sentence should describe exactly why it isn't happening. Richardson still gives this team the best chance to win, and Lanning being thrown to the wolves might do more long term damage than people expect. Mixing Lanning in to jumpstart the running game and keep teams honest is great, but now let's see a little more of it.
Stats Don't Hate Iowa State
We're still on hiatus over at CFBAnalytics but are feverishly working to fix our data feed and bring back our unique brand of rankings in the next few weeks. We're not the only ones doing this and it bears mentioning that those other places don't absolutely hate Iowa State.
Jeff Sagarin's rankings have Iowa State at 57th, which is 8th in the Big XII and ahead of Texas (72nd) and Kansas (134th). And what's the next closest team above Iowa State? Texas Tech at 43rd. Every other Big 12 team ranks in the Top 25.
Bill Connelly's S&P+ Rankings have the Cyclones at 53rd with a current season win total of 4.8. That includes wins at home against Texas and Oklahoma State, and a virtual toss up with TCU. Yes, you read that right.
For perspective, the last Iowa State team to make a bowl finished 55th in Sagarin's rankings with the 11th toughest schedule in the country and going 1-4 vs his Top 30.
The 2015 squad has lost to Sagarin's 23rd (Iowa) and 35th (Toledo) ranked teams, and lost to the latter on the road with a chance to win late. Connelly ranks those teams 23rd and 15th, respectively.
The pure stat geeks will sit here and regale you with the virtues of "quality losses". That isn't me, and I cannot emphasize how much this team has already left on the table this early in the season. Yet those rankings do matter and they do provide one key piece of perspective a lot of us are missing out on: Iowa State is better than we think, and they're going to eventually start winning games.
And if That Starts Saturday, Watch Out...
The hype train comes back in full force if the Cyclones eek out a win against an offensive juggernaut in Lubbock. A win puts Iowa State at 3-2 with three home games remaining against beatable teams.
TCU still ranks in the Top 5 in the AP and Coaches Polls, but every advanced stat ranking thinks they're a marginal Top 25 team at best. That's what happens when injuries deplete a defense that was already seeking replacements to the 2014 squad. Texas is a hot mess that comes to town on Homecoming, and Oklahoma State might be 3-2 had it not been for some colossal officiating blunders that went in their favor two weeks in a row.
I guess I'm really only here to tell you that there's opportunity for this squad. They may not seize it, but the situation is not as dire as one might expect. In the end that's all we really wanted for this season.