The Big 12 released their 2015 Spring Football Review for Iowa State today and it paints a rather optimistic picture that we're all familiar with. Paul Rhoads believes Sam B. Richardson could be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12 and he was pleased with how this team progressed over the 15 practices in March and April.
We've been pretty unkind about the 2015 season around these parts, but believe it or not there are reasons to be optimistic heading in to the fall; actual real, tangible reasons to be optimistic and not hype train mechanisms to drive page views.
This is just a small sampling, and don't fret, I'll be back tomorrow to pull us back to reality and discuss the uphill battle the team will face to dig out of their two year, 5-19 hole.
Sam Richardson is in his fifth year in an Iowa State helmet and he's surrounded by talent on the outside that has its own shared experiences. Youth in the running back corps has taken the place over experience, but most admit that the experience lost was so negative it had a negative effect on the offense itself.
A young coaching staff is led by a grizzled veteran of the profession who hand picked most of his coaches and now is in the second year of the veteran's system. More focus this spring was on improvement in what the offense was doing rather than learning where to be.
Bundrage brings the ability to take the top off the defense, which was sorely missed last season after he went down on the fourth play of the season. Allen Lazard isn't going to outrun anybody on an opposing defense, but Bundrage has, and will again. His ability to stretch the field vertically, but still be dangerous underneath, makes him the most complete receiver on the team and a great complement to possession receivers Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery.
An Athletic Defensive Line
Demond Tucker brings a new dimension to the defensive line. Not since Brent Curvey or Ahtyba Rubin has the Iowa State defensive line had a space sucking difference maker in the middle of the line. Both of those men created memories in the trenches for the Cyclones, and went on to play some form of professional football. In Rubin's case, he's in his 8th season in the NFL and is currently on the Seattle Seahawk's roster.
Having Tucker sucking space in the middle opens up things for athletic defensive ends Trent Taylor, Dale Pierson, Gabe Luna, and Darius White. With the exception of Luna (back injury), the defensive ends all made plays at one time or another last year that showcased their ability. They did so with a patchwork defensive middle that rarely kept the ends in a one on one situation, and Tucker once again will prove to be a difference maker.
No hyperbole here, this secondary is good and could potentially be great with a consistent pass rush. Sam E. Richardson and Nigel Tribune are multi-year starters at cornerback, Kamari Cotton-Moya is the returning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and Darian Cotton is the "weak link". A "weak link" that just happens to be a fifth year senior that has featured prominently on special teams the past few seasons.
No matter your opinion on Paul Rhoads it should be recognized that he can coach the hell out of a secondary unit, and secondary coach Maurice Linguist is no different. This unit is experienced, aggressive, and will be the glue that holds the rest of the defense together while the coaches figure out the linebacker situation.
What the hell, right? If you go back and read previous columns you'll know I'm an unabashed fan of Swoll Netten and I still believe he's going to go down as one of the best, if not the best, kicker in Iowa State history. All he needs his his "moment". Right now it's this:
His 3-5 field goals, 5-5 extra point performance against West Virginia in November 2013 is a close second, but what will make Netten stand out in history is kicking a game winner or two against someone who isn't an in-state rival that treads around .500 in the most middling Power 5 conference in the country. And before anyone jumps in with "BUT OHIO STATE WON THE WHOLE FUCKING THING LAST YEAR", just remember a team does not a conference make.
Anyway, back on topic.
Since 2012 Iowa State is just 4-10 in games decided by 8 points or less; including an astounding 1-5 in those games in 2013, which was Netten's freshman year. The Cyclones "improved" to 2-3 last season but only in the Iowa game did Netten have an opportunity to influence the outcome late. This isn't to say Netten doesn't have faults as he's inconsistent from outside 40 yards, but rather with his ability you would hope this team would give him a better chance to win games late than they have in the past.
That may very well change this year. Rece Davis told me last year he thought a lot of the issues with Iowa State were between the ears, and I tend to agree. Mark Mangino commented this spring that the mental focus and toughness of the team is well ahead of last year, and this is just one author's opinion, but perhaps that will be the difference between a handful of wins and losses in 2015.
Tomorrow I'll be back to talk about the thing that gets everyone excited: the tire fire and reasons to be pessimistic about 2015. Until then just try to enjoy the few rays of sunshine bestowed upon us.