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OF THE MANY QUESTIONS FACING IOWA STATE THIS SEASON—among them finding a successor to three-year starting running back Alexander Robinson and searching for a starting free safety—the query that Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads gets the most is about the uncertainty under center. At this point Rhoads can tell you one thing: There will be no quarterback-by-committee. "We will have a quarterback named for the start of the season," says Rhoads.
Junior Jerome Tiller (three career starts) is slightly ahead of classmate Steele Jantz because of his familiarity with the offense, but this spring, as Rhoads says, "nobody showed our football team, 'I'm the guy.' "There is less concern at running back—Rhoads calls his backfield "dynamic"—but the receivers showed little big-play ability last season and had too many drops this spring.
The defense is a mixed bag. The linebackers and cornerbacks are terrific: Junior linebackers Jake Knott (he broke his arm in practice two days before the spring game but is expected to be ready for fall camp) and A.J. Klein are back. Senior middle linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou broke his leg in last September's Iowa game but is healthy and primed for a big season. But there are holes on the defensive line and at safety. The line has not been effective the past two years, especially against the run. (Iowa State allowed 186.33 yards per game on the ground in 2010.) And although half of the Cyclones' secondary is strong—Rhoads can't say enough about senior cornerback Leonard Johnson and junior strong safety Ter'Ran Benton—there's that free safety position that scares Rhoads. "We have nobody back there with any kind of playing experience," he says.
Given the schedule—Big 12 schools now play nine conference games, meaning Iowa State will play four teams that finished in the Top 25—qualifying for a bowl is going to be an uphill climb. Still, there is excitement in Ames because of the new $4 million video scoreboard and sound system at Jack Trice Stadium. "I think people recognize we're a blue-collar program that is a fun group to watch," says Rhoads. "They know we're going to give everything we have."
That much at least, Rhoads hopes, is not in question.
COACH Paul Rhoads (3rd year) 12--13 (6--10 in Big 12)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Tom Herman
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Wally Burnham