After an unscheduled week off we finally reach the conclusion of our preview series. There's only one unit left and it needs no introduction. It's the most important position on the field, which is a designation I absolutely abhor, but is nonetheless true.
So without further ado, let's get to The Sam Richardson Show.
There will be no breakdown of the entire position group this time around because suffice to say if Sam Richardson gets hurt this year the ceiling on the 2015 edition of the Cyclones takes a significant hit.
For the first time in his career Richardson is the unquestioned leader and starter behind center. His understanding of Mark Mangino's offense has grown significantly since the end of 2014 and he's known as the man who's organizing and leading the troops. Exactly what a quarterback should be doing as a fifth year senior.
It doesn't seem like that long ago Richardson took the field against Kansas to relieve an injured Steele Jantz and turned in one of the most efficient performances in Iowa State offensive history. Richardson's stat line for that game:
23/27, 250 yards, four touchdowns, 211.8 passer rating, 43 rushing yards and one touchdown on 11 attempts.
Just watch for yourself how virtuoso his performance was (potentially behind Cyclones.tv pay wall)
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The next week against West Virginia Richardson's stat line was less impressive in the high winds, but he added over 100 rushing yards and if not for a late Jeff Woody fumble may have earned his first Big XII conference win in his very first start. A win would have given Iowa State their first seven win regular season since 2005 and likely sent the Cyclones to San Diego and the Holiday Bowl.
Alas, it only took two games to see what has become The Curse of Sam Richardson: he can't win a conference game.
That fact has caused a lot of indigestion throughout the fan base and it's been made worse by Grant Rohach's two victories against Kansas and West Virginia in 2013. And while a quarterback is ultimately defined by his record he's often equally defined by events that are out of his control.
In 2013, Woody once again fumbled against West Virginia but was lucky enough to have Oni Omoile recover it. Had that fumble been recovered by the Mountaineers there would have been no Cole Netten tying field goal five plays later and no decisive 3rd overtime.
In 2014, late defensive breakdowns against Kansas State, Texas, and Texas Tech left Richardson with little chance to affect the game - especially against Texas. What those losses overshadow are the Herculean efforts by Richardson on two late scoring drives at Iowa, a record setting performance against Toledo in the second half, and a potential game winning drive against Texas that culminated in an E.J. Bibbs touchdown with a minute left. In a sense, Richardson is a victim of his own success, just like Peyton Manning.
Richardson will go down as statistically one of the best quarterbacks to ever don an Iowa State jersey; just like Manning is a sure fire first ballot hall of famer. Yet Manning will always be overshadowed by Tom Brady and his four Super Bowl rings; and Richardson is unfortunately in a similar boat.
His stats are on par or better than Austen Arnaud's, Bret Meyer's, Seneca Wallace's, and Sage Rosenfels'. Yet he has the results of a Todd Doxzon or Todd Bandhauer. The former are firmly entrenched in Cyclone lore while the latter are known as guys who handed the ball to Troy Davis.
It shouldn't be this way for Richardson. He's brought the right amount of size, intelligence, arm strength, and moxy to the position. He's as good of a runner as Jared Barnett, possesses a better arm than anyone in the Rhoads era (sans maybe Joel Lanning), and has the "hold my beer I'm going to try something" moxy of Jantz without all the terrible downsides.
Simply put, Richardson is possibly the most gifted quarterback we've seen in Ames since Rosenfels. He just needs the players around him to step up, and maybe most importantly, have a little luck along the way.
We don't know where the 2015 season will take us. But for the first time in years there's one man to lead the offense through the roller coaster that is a college football season.
Sam, it's your time.