Dan McCarney would like to forget Iowa State's dreadful 2003 season, but he doesn't want to forget why his Cyclones stumbled to a 2-10 record.
"There are a lot of lessons to be learned to make sure we don't get back to those things, but the 2004 season started a long time ago as far as I'm concerned," McCarney said.
Iowa State is a year older and wiser and will have a bit of a different look this fall, at least offensively. Former Nebraska assistant Barney Cotton has been hired to re-tool the offense and toughen up the offensive line.
The schedule remains difficult even without Oklahoma and Texas.
As good as it would feel to reclaim the upper hand against Iowa after seeing a five-game winning streak over the Hawkeyes end in 2003, any victory would be a confidence boost for a team that hasn't had much to smile about the past 18 months.
"We want to get back to the winning ways that this program was at," senior linebacker Erik Anderson said.
OffenseThe quarterback of the future appears to be Iowa State's quarterback of the present as well. While the Cyclones didn't have very good luck with talented, inexperienced signal-callers during last season's 2-10 embarrassment, Bret Meyer may be the player who is immune to the typical freshman pitfalls.
"If he's the best and has the most talent and is the most consistent then I don't worry about [starting Meyer] at all," McCarney said.
What's of more concern is finding Meyer suitable targets.
ISU's top two receivers could be redshirt freshmen Todd Blythe and Milan Moses, and the rest have about as much combined experience. Running back will be a strong point with powerful sophomore Stevie Hicks ready to break out. True freshman Jason Scales also will play a big role.
DefenseThe Cyclones will be improved defensively. How much will depend on how quickly junior college transfers can contribute in all three areas.
Up front, Iowa State is strong, with Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Jason Berryman at one end spot. Historically, the middle of ISU's line has been soft, but sophomore Brent Curvey and former Iowa tackle Fabian Dodd will be hard to move.
"[The defensive line] should be one of the strengths of our team. I like the way they are working," McCarney said.
Brandon Brown anchors the middle of the defense, and Tyson Smith is back from injury at a new spot, outside linebacker.
Transfers Josh Hargis, LaMarcus Hicks and Jerry Gair are being counted on to provide immediate help in the secondary, which returns only one starter.
An undersized linebacker last season, Nik Moser has moved back to a more comfortable spot at strong safety.
SpecialistsThere will be one man to love or hate with Iowa State's kicking game. Senior Tony Yelk will handle all field goal, PAT, kickoff and punting duties -- a rare feat in college football. Yelk has a very strong leg and can handle the workload. His consistency, however, has been a problem over the years and must improve.
Iowa State was poor in the return game last season. Scales will be back on kickoffs and could get a look on punts if senior Todd Miller isn't more productive.
Final AnalysisConventional wisdom -- and a young team with a difficult, but not killer schedule -- says Iowa State will have a hard time making the climb up the Big 12 ladder this season.
But there is plenty of reason for optimism when the depth chart is half-full of either freshmen or sophomores. If Meyer can avoid the pitfalls that doomed Cyclone signal-callers last year, and the youth around him responds to a new offensive system, 2004 can be productive year to build for the future.