AMES, Iowa – Playing one of the toughest schedules in college football is a topic that brings a smile to the faces of Iowa State’s players. They relish the fact that the Cyclones don’t back down from a challenge.
“If you can go out there to compete against the best and beat the best, you can puff your chest out and say you’re one of the best,” senior linebacker Jeremiah George said.
“That’s why I came to this school,” senior running back James White said. “I came here to play the best. “I know everybody wants to talk about the SEC being the best. I look at the Big 12 as being the best.”
White is from Texas and George is from Florida – two states known for producing hundreds of FBS-caliber players each year. Both appreciate the fact that Iowa State’s schedule routinely provides 12 challenging games.
Phil Steele, who publishes a respected and highly detailed preseason magazine, ranks the Cyclones as having the nation’s sixth-toughest schedule in 2013. It’s the fourth consecutive year that Steele has ranked Iowa State in the top 10 is schedule difficulty. Steele ranked Iowa State No. 1 in 2010, No. 3 last year and No. 6 in 2011.
This season, the Cyclones will face nine teams that went to bowl games last season. In addition to nine Big 12 games, Iowa State’s nonconference schedule features non-conference games with Northern Iowa, Iowa and at Tulsa. The first two games are in-state rivals. Northern Iowa, a Football Championship Subdivision foe, is never a pushover when it takes on an in-state Big Brother. And UNI is ranked No. 17 nationally in the FCS preseason poll.
The Cyclones start Big 12 play at home against Texas on Oct. 3, a Thursday night prime-time game. That starts a five-game stretch that includes three road games and closes out with games against the last two regular-season champions (Oklahoma State at home and at Kansas State).
“Being in the Big 12 Conference, the best conference in the nation, there’s nothing better,” George said. “The competition, every week you know you’re gonna see the best, you’re going against guys who are gonna get drafted by the NFL, guys who are gonna be All-Americans.
“It brings fuel to the fire. Those moments in camp that are grueling, that are painful, you realize you’re investing the effort to beat somebody on a grand stage that you’re not supposed to beat. That’s what I look forward to and those are motivating factors for the team.”
What you hear at Iowa State practice are words like “speed,” “fast,” “faster” and “quick.” Like most teams in the Big 12, playing at a fast pace on both sides of the ball is a main objective.
The Cyclones’ roster is better equipped to play fast. Last season, Iowa State had just four offensive plays that stretched 50 yards or more. That plodding style put pressure on the defense to hold explosive opponents to as few points as possible.
“Night and day difference,” coach Paul Rhoads said of his team’s overall speed. “On both sides of the ball, it’s completely improved. We have a lot of youth and inexperience everywhere, but I’d rather start with athleticism and speed, and then try to bring along that inexperience as we go, instead of plodding our way there.”
* Iowa State home football is sold out. More than 43,000 football season ticket packages have been sold. The season ticket sellout is unprecedented in school history. “For the third straight year, we’ve set season ticket marks,” coach Paul Rhoads said. “The loyal Cyclone fan base is becoming recognized around the country for the support they give us at Jack Trice Stadium.”
* Jake Rhoads was a three-time letter winner in football and a state qualifier in wrestling at Gilbert (Iowa) High School. He’s a freshman walk on with the Cyclones as a deep snapper and playing for his father. “It’s been a lot of fun, quit honestly,” Paul Rhoads said. “He’s done a very nice job and I think he’s tried to blend in to the team well. It’s probably hard on him (being the coach’s son).”
* Iowa State’s defensive line has major questions in terms of depth, talent and the ability to make plays. The coaching staff recently moved David Irving from defensive end to defensive tackle. That move was made possible by the play of defensive ends Cory Morrissey and Willie Scott. Defensive ends coach Curtis Bray said Wednesday that Irving provides flexibility because he could also see snaps at his original position.
Senior running back Jeff Woody on what determines success:
“The difference between (No.) 1 and 10 in the Big 12 is about as small as you can possibly get. Those guys that execute so well are very important to getting success in those games. There’s no telling what play will be the one that will make the difference. … “We know what we’re capable of and we know everybody else doesn’t think we’re capable of much.”
Defensive tackle Rodney Coe, a junior-college transfer, originally signed with Iowa … as a fullback. He now weighs 305 pounds:
“I went from 230 my senior year of high school, 260 at junior college, and 296 the next. Everyone said I had a big frame, but it was nothing I tried to make happen. It just happened to me. Everyone asks do I miss running back. On offense, you get more of the fame. Everyone knows you, but I like to hit people. I don’t miss running the ball.”
Linebacker Jeremiah George on being voted as a team captain:
“It was a dream come true. It’s a big honor because it is voted on by my peers and teammates. That means a lot to me, because I am doing something right in the eyes of them. I am trying to lead by example and doing things that hopefully inspires them to continue to do the things they need to do in order for us to win.”