Day after Monday Musings: Football expectations

Within a matter of weeks, preseason college football magazines will hit newsstands across America. With this time of year inevitably comes the release of national expectations for every program in the country. 

The drama surrounding June in college football isn’t exactly what it used to be say, 15 years ago. For instance, Athlon has already released its preseason top 25 (other publications have too) with conference and national projections for each of those teams (they like Florida State to win another title if you’re interested)

The whole summer expectation game isn’t what it once was (thanks to the Internet) but I did have a conversation at a Memorial Day picnic this weekend that made me think more deeply about Iowa State in 2014.

I was with a few former players and we got to talking Clones. We discussed Mark Mangino and what he might bring to a program that desperately needs a shot in the arm on the offensive side of the ball. We hashed out Grant Rohach and his future as a Big 12 quarterback. Then, we pulled out Iowa State’s schedule (which I will list below for the ease of the reader) and this is when things got interesting. 

Aug. 30 – North Dakota State
Sept. 6 – Kansas State
Sept. 13 – @ Iowa
Sept. 27 – Baylor
Oct. 4 – @ Oklahoma State
Oct. 11 – Toledo
Oct. 18 – @ Texas
Nov. 1 – Oklahoma
Nov. 8 – @ Kansas
Nov. 22 – Texas Tech
Nov. 29 – West Virginia
Dec. 6 – @ TCU 

And around the table we went… 

“Man, that’s brutal,” a dejected former Clone said. “Hope we can get to four wins.”

More banter followed about questions on defense and potential on offense. 

“I think we’ll go at least 5-7,” another former Cyclone jumped in and said.

“Interesting,” I immediately thought.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Iowa State achieving a 5-7 record (or even better) is very realistic if a few things go the way of the good guys, especially early on in 2014. But to hear a man with this much knowledge of the game (a guy I really respect) say that Iowa State will “at least” go 5-7 really got me thinking, which is exactly what I have been doing since this conversation occurred mid-afternoon Sunday. While attempting to help my wife with gardening work on Monday, I was hashing out the 2014 Iowa State football schedule in my head like an old George Strait album. 

A few points on this…

Playing Kansas State at home on week two is a significant break for Paul Rhoads’ squad. The Wildcats will still be favorites but if you’re going to play Bill Snyder’s team that traditionally has a wealth of junior college prospects to break in (nine this year to be exact), you’d rather see them on your roster at the beginning of the season. (This is in my opinion, a big reason why Snyder has historically scheduled as easily as he has for the non-con during the course of his career. Full disclosure: I’m not a hater. I think Snyder’s way of doing business in Manhattan, Kan. is nothing short of brilliant.) While the Wildcats return plenty of pieces to the puzzle from a program that was actually pretty good at the end of 2013, still, seeing them at home on Sept. 6 is a much better scenario for Iowa State (while you still might have a few secrets stashed away from the fresh Mark Mangino scheme) and traditionally, the Wildcats are like fine wine and only get better with age. Kansas State will be picked to win this game but with a home bout against Auburn next on their schedule in two weeks (with a bye sandwiched in between) and the reasons described above, this one might be closer than the experts think.

North Dakota State (Iowa State’s opener) is now a three-time defending FCS champion. Of course the Cyclone Nation is nervous about this one and by all means, you should be. But don’t forget that the Bison have a new head coach and well over a dozen starters to replace off of last year’s team. This is a game that Iowa State should win. 

A home game (homecoming) against Toledo in the middle of October is a bit odd. We’ve got all summer long to break these teams down but for those wondering, Toledo went 7-5 last year and will return a good chunk of its two-deep in 2014. Still, it is a game that Iowa State should win.

I have the following games chalked up as wins: North Dakota State, Toledo, @ Kansas.

I have the following games chalked up as losses: Baylor, @ Oklahoma State, @ Texas, Oklahoma.

I have the following games chalked up as likely losses but games the Cyclones could win: Kansas State, @ Iowa (only because weird things happen in this rivalry, but Iowa should be at least a two-touchdown favorite I’d say), @ TCU.

I have the following games chalked up as toss-up wins: Texas Tech and West Virginia.

A few more musings…

I’m not high on what Kliff Kingsbury is doing at Texas Tech. Why are all of these players leaving? My spider sense is telling me that Nov. 22 is a very winnable game for the Cyclones. I’ll probably outright pick Iowa State to beat West Virginia on Nov. 29 too. Obviously, those are huge games when it comes to the Cyclones possibly sneaking into bowl eligibility. 

Pretty much every Iowa State fan will have the Cyclones beating Kansas in Lawrence on Nov. 8. On the flip-side, pretty much every Kansas fan will have the Jayhawks beating the Cyclones. 

Iowa State always plays TCU tough. The Horned Frogs don’t play that style of offense that has been impossible for the Cyclones to keep up with in the past. Because of this, don’t write Dec. 6 in Fort Worth off as an automatic loss. And as we have seen the past couple of years, Gary Patterson’s teams haven’t exactly been juggernauts in the Big 12. If a few things go wrong early, how focused will TCU be during its last game of the season?

Are you an optimist or a pessimist?

That’s what it all comes down to when talking expectations in late-May.

If you look at the 2014 schedule (and consider what Iowa State will have for a roster) with a glass half-full attitude right now, a 5-7 or 6-6 mark is not crazy at all for a team returning 16 starters (more than any other in the Big 12). However if last year’s 3-9 campaign mixed with the offseason attrition of David Irving and Rodney Coe are what you’re focused on, another long fall is likely your expectation (and that too is understandable). 

Regardless, I think that the summer months are setting up well for Paul Rhoads. When it comes to expectations, the lower, the better is how Iowa State should be approaching June through August. If I’m Rhoads, I’m hoping that every preseason publication picks my team dead last in the Big 12, even behind Kansas. A football team with a chip on their shoulders is better than the alternative. 

As for the fans, it is best to simply under promise and over deliver.