Iowa State eager to rebound after disappointing season
The next step for the Cyclones is to start winning. If Paul Rhoads can't make that happen this year, his seventh season in Ames might be his last.
Iowa State has paired the $20 million football-only complex it dedicated in 2012 with a $60 million overhaul of one of its end zones. The renovations, which should be done by the end of August, includes two-story club space and about 5,000 new seats - making Jack Trice Stadium (61,000) the third-largest in the Big 12.
All of Iowa State's bells and whistles haven't translated onto the field.
The Cyclones are just 5-19 over their past two seasons, and in 2014 they went 0-9 in the Big 12. Iowa State has been picked to finish ninth in the league this year. If that happens, it'll likely mean a third straight season without a bowl bid.
''Every step of the way, I've seen tangible improvement,'' Rhoads said. ''It's a team that has closeness and great team chemistry.''
Here are some of the key story lines for the Cyclones heading into 2015:
THROW IT UP: Iowa State has the pieces in place for a strong passing attack. Senior Sam Richardson is entering his third season as the starter, and last year he was 25th nationally in total offense. Wide receiver D'Vario Montgomery caught 41 passes in the last seven games of 2014, and sophomore Allen Lazard lived up to the hype surrounding his arrival with 45 receptions. Quenton Bundrage, who caught nine touchdown passes in 2013, is also back after a knee injury cost his almost all of last season.
''It just made me look at life differently. Anything can be taken from you at any moment,'' Bundrage said.
RUNNING ON EMPTY: The Cyclones might have to throw the ball a lot because they're about as inexperienced at running back as any team in the country. Sophomore Tyler Brown's 109 career yards are the most of any back on the roster. Redshirt freshman Mike Warren is expected to have a chance to be the starter, and true freshman Joshua Thomas will also be in the mix.
''It's thin. They're inexperienced. But they're capable. They're talented,'' Rhoads said.
LINED UP: Iowa State's perpetual struggles can often be traced to an inability to recruit top defensive lineman to Ames. But the Cyclones think they've found a good one in transfer nose guard Demond Tucker. He won national defensive player of the year honors at the junior college level in 2013 and quickly assumed a starting role upon arriving in Ames. Tucker will anchor a line that has a lot of depth but just as many question marks.
SECONDARY: The strength of Iowa State's defense is its secondary, which is a key in the pass-happy Big 12. The Cyclones return three starters, including promising sophomore safety Kamari Cotton-Moya. But Iowa State will need to do a much better job after allowing nearly 283 yards passing per game in 2014, worst in the conference.
FAST START: Iowa State's last two seasons felt like they ended as soon as they began after the Cyclones dropped their openers to FCS opponents. But if Iowa State can gain some early momentum with some home wins, a bowl-eligible season isn't completely out of the question. The Cyclones host Northern Iowa, Iowa and Kansas before getting into the heart of the Big 12 schedule.