Coach: Paul Rhoads
Coach Year at school: 5th
2011 record: 6-7, 3-6 Big 12
Last year vs. KU: Zach Guyer’s 42-yard field goal with 4:30 left in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference, as the Cyclones snuck away with a 13-10 victory over the Jayhawks in Ames, Iowa.
Returning starters: 13
Impact newcomers: Cliff Stokes, 6-1, 175, CB; Ben Durbin, 6-3, 256, DL.
Key games: Sept. 8 at Iowa; Oct. 13 vs. Kansas State; Nov. 3 vs. Oklahoma.
Vs. Kansas: Nov. 17 in Lawrence.
Note: This story is a part of the 2012 KU football preview section that appears in Sunday's Journal-World.
The highlight of Iowa State’s 2011 season was a 37-31 double-overtime victory over Oklahoma State — one that more than likely kept the Cowboys out of the BCS championship game.
ISU coach Paul Rhoads says that game alone could end up providing a huge boost for an ISU football program that is still trying to move into the upper half of the Big 12 Conference.
“You play that game on a Friday night at a point late in the season that affected the BCS race, and you got the whole nation talking about it all weekend long,” Rhoads said. “Now, that spills over, most importantly for us, into recruiting. And you go into living rooms and you go into schools and on the practice fields this spring, and the Iowa State brand is recognized on a national level probably more so than it’s ever been.”
ISU made its second bowl game in three years under Rhoads last season, but getting to six victories this year will be a monumental challenge because of a tough Big 12 and non-conference schedule.
“I haven’t seen one prognosticator say anything lower than five as far as where they’d rate our schedule again this season,” Rhoads said. “It’s something we’ve gotten to know. It’s a challenge that our players embrace, one they better or they’re not going to survive.”
Not only do the Cyclones face the other nine teams in the revamped Big 12, they also host Iowa on Sept. 8 in the annual Cy-Hawk Series.
ISU’s strength should be a defense that features established returners.
That starts with the linebacking corps, where Big 12 co-defensive player of the year A.J. Klein (116 tackles in 2011) and first-team All-Big 12 player Jake Knott (115 tackles) provide the Cyclones with two of the top LBs in the country.
“They’re prototype. They’re 6-2, 6-3, 245 pounds,” Rhoads said. “They can run and they’re intelligent and they are tough, and the expectations are high for good reason.”
Offensively, ISU returns two quarterbacks that struggled in 2011.
Senior Steele Jantz and sophomore Jared Barnett were scheduled to compete for the job in fall camp, with both bringing a different skill set.
Jantz is more of an improvisational QB and one who is able to make plays on the fly with his legs.
Barnett, meanwhile, is more of a game manager.
Neither was particularly effective in 2011, when they combined to complete just 52 percent of their passes with more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (16).
“We threw too many to the wrong‑colored jersey,” Rhoads said. “If we’re going to be a better offensive football team — which is very important in this league to be a better football team — it’s going to take better quarterback play.”
ISU also has a big hole to fill on the offensive line, as left tackle Kelechi Osemele departs after being selected in the second round of the NFL draft.
The Cyclones do have some returning talent at running back. Junior James White is a speedster who led ISU in rushing a year ago, while junior Jeff Woody gives ISU both a physical runner and capable blocker.