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May 7, 2013Iowa State is one of the harder teams for Texas Tech fans to keep up with in the Big 12 by nature of its distance from Lubbock and lack of exposure within the Texas market.
If Kansas State's Bill Snyder is "The Wizard," then the Cyclones' Paul Rhoads has to be considered a magician for what he has done in Ames. Rhoads is the first head coach in Iowa State history to lead the program to three bowl games in his first four seasons. Will he be able to reach a fourth this season?
We caught up with CycloneReport.com's Paul Clark for the latest on the Cyclones.
THE SPRING LEAD
Iowa State's biggest strength at this point is its stable of running backs, which is great for a team that loves to work with the zone-read option.
However, there's no incumbent at quarterback as Jared Barnett -- remember him, Texas Tech fans? -- transferred to FCS Illinois State.
"It doesn't necessarily hurt that much," Clark said. "He left because the handwriting was on the wall and he probably was not going to win the starting quarterback job. So he transferred to Illinois State for the opportunity to play.
"Sam Richardson and Grant Rohach are the scholarship quarterbacks they had in the spring and there's two more freshmen coming in the fall."
The starting quarterback will get to lean on the team's deep running back unit which features three returning seniors -- James White, Shontrelle Johnson and Jeff Woody -- and Council Bluff (Iowa) Western Community College transfer Aaron Wimberly.
"You also have to throw the sophomore Devondrick Nealy into the conversation at running back as well," Clark said. "I really think even though Iowa State is going to stay with the spread offense it's going to use more Pistol formation. It's really going to be a running football team because of the talent and depth they have at running back."
While a handful of Iowa State receivers have had good days against the Red Raiders over the past few seasons, the Cyclones have been without a consistent, big play receiver since the departure of Todd Blythe in 2007.
This spring fans got to see the emergence of sophomore Quenton Bundrage, a Florida product that could be the No. 1 receiver that ISU has been missing the last several seasons.
"He's really going to be the primary target and big play receiver for Iowa State," Clark said. "It's certainly something Iowa State has lacked in recent years. They typically have a lot of guys that are OK, but they haven't had a lot of guys who were difference makers at the receiver positions."
Though the news is promising on the wideout front, the Cyclones also received some bad news on the injury front -- projected starting guard Shaban Dika had to give up football due to medical reasons.
"He actually never played a down for Iowa State," Clark said. "He's had two major knee injuries. Surgery and rehab on both of them. Came back and was going to be a starter here, but the cumulative effect of those knee injuries has just made it where he can't compete anymore.
"Iowa State is going to have to do some juggling there."
The Cyclones may have had the best linebacker tandem in the Big 12 last year with Jake Knott and A.J. Klein playing alongside each other. Losing them was obviously going to hurt, but the extent of graduation's full impact on the team isn't that well known yet outside the fan base.
"Iowa State lost two senior defensive tackles, two senior linebackers and a senior safety," Clark said. "It's almost like baseball where you have to be good up the middle, it's the same for football. Iowa State lost a lot of guys right through the core. So youth and inexperience is the biggest concern.
"There's talent, but there are guys who haven't played many snaps at all."
Fortunately, the Cyclones do return linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington.
"Their leadership is going to be huge and they'll have to carry the younger guys as the defense matures," Clark said. "It needs to mature pretty fast."
? Missed Significant Time: DE David Irving, CB Jansen Watson, RB Shontrelle Johnson
? Position Switches: RB Jeff Woody worked out some at TE, S Jared Brackens moved to LB
? Schedule Note: Iowa State may have the toughest schedule of all Big 12 opponents relative to its talent. The Cyclones start off playing a premiere FCS team in Northern Iowa and then play Iowa at home before visiting Tulsa. Texas will play in Ames on a Thursday the week before the Cyclones come to Lubbock. Iowa State will then play Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU in succession before relief comes in the form of Kansas.
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