Iowa State Cyclones (2000: 9-3)
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Coach and programConsider:
• Iowa State's nine victories last year matched a school record and were the most by the program since 1906.
• Its 5-1 record away from Ames was a school record. Iowa State was 6-43-1 on the road in the 1990s.
• The Cyclones are 14-10 over their last 24 games, the best record over such a stretch since 1976-1977.
Iowa State had arrived. A football season had started in late July and progressed through the holidays and the Cyclones got to play the entire time. After years of preaching patience and progress, coach Dan McCarney got it done. And he was rewarded handsomely with a new $600,000-a-year deal that raised a few eyebrows after the school was forced to drop its baseball and men’s swimming programs.
Season ticket sales are up, and Iowa State might even fill the place for an opponent besides Iowa this season. A winning spirit permeates the football program. Players walk around campus in their bowl jackets, talk confidently of building on what’s been accomplished.
“There’s an air of confidence that comes from going 9-3 and winning a bowl game,” McCarney said. “What we’re not going to lose is our work ethic.”
The losses are steep with quarterback Sage Rosenfels and defensive end Reggie Hayward gone. The top returning player is running back Ennis Haywood, who led the Big 12 with 1,237 yards last season. Plenty of shoring up on defense will be necessary with seven departed starters.
This isn’t one of those deals where folks are thinking the Cyclones will be better this year than last. But the program clearly is better off in so many areas heading into a new season than at any other time. Recruiting went better, fans are interested and no opponent is looking at Iowa State as an easy mark.
OffenseMaybe the Cyclones won’t be hurting at quarterback as much as initially thought. Rosenfels was one of the best ever in Ames. Last season, he completed 52 percent for 2,298 yards and eight touchdowns in a nearly perfectly balanced offense. He rushed for 10 touchdowns and 381 yards.
McCarney isn’t looking for drastic changes at the position, but in junior Seneca Wallace (6-1, 185), he has a better runner with a strong arm. Wallace is originally from Sacramento and played last season at Sac City Junior College, where he passed for 3,675 yards with 22 touchdowns. He also rushed for 550 yards on 49 tries and nine touchdowns. His two junior college teams finished 9-2.
As bad as Iowa State football has been, there’s no arguing its recent history of talent at running back. Troy Davis became the first player in college history to post consecutive 2,000-yard seasons. His brother, Darren, posted three 1,000-yard seasons.
Last season, Haywood (5-11, 218) joined the circle. He led the Big 12 with 1,273 yards in only 10 regular-season games. He ran for more than 190 yards three times and also caught 25 passes for 211 yards. Haywood’s goals for his senior season are to improve those numbers and become more of a big-play back.
Gone are Chris Anthony and J.J. Moses, two of the best pass catchers in the program’s history. But the Cyclones aren’t scrounging for replacements. Unless somebody else steps up, senior Craig Campbell (5-11, 185) will be the go-to receiver. He caught 20 balls for 353 yards and showed his big-game ability with three receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska and five catches for 62 yards in the bowl game.
Defense and special teamsRebuilding on the line begins around the lone returning starter, senior end Kevin DeRonde (6-5, 257). He had a breakout season in 2000, recording 60 tackles and seven behind the line.
The Cyclones can feel pretty good about their linebackers. Three with starting experience are back and there’s enough in reserve to keep the unit strong.
Junior middle linebacker Chris Whitaker (6-0, 227) came up big toward the end of the season after struggling with an ankle injury early. He recorded 14 of his 39 tackles against Colorado and Kansas.
The Cyclones have made great strides in recent years in the secondary. And it’s a measure of progress that despite the loss of three starters, Iowa State shouldn’t drop off much from last season.
Strong safety Adam Runk (6-2, 183) is a three-year letter winner who will move into the starting role as a senior. Runk came up with 10 tackles against Missouri and Kansas State and five against Pittsburgh in the bowl game.
A pair of sophomores, JaMaine Billups and Michael Wagner, figure to handle all the return action. Wagner was the only player besides Moses to return more than one punt last season. Wagner’s two returns went for four yards.
Bottom lineHaywood must stay healthy for Iowa State to succeed. There can be no major malfunctions in the defense. The defensive line must find an identity and it would help the Cyclones to find a go-to wide receiver.
“These kids know how to win, they've got a great attitude, they know how to practice," said McCarney. "There's no doubt about that. I think you’ll see as many play makers on our offense as you saw last year. Hopefully by kickoff there’ll be more. Defensively we’re not as good right now as we were last year, but we just lost nine starters and a lot of seniors, so I'm not saying we can’t be by fall.”
The schedule is favorable. Iowa State should jump out of the box 4-0. After a trip to Nebraska come swing games against teams with a revenge motive, Missouri and Oklahoma State. If Iowa State can win those, the Cyclones can be back in the bowling lane and not be remembered as a one-year wonder.