It is entirely possible that I apply my anecdotal thinking selectively to suit my own needs – actually, it’s a guarantee – but I have often thought that people in general tend to over-complicate simple situations and oversimplify the complicated situations. I have no track record or trends analysis to prove anything, that’s just a general thought that I have.
One of the situations that I believe people often over-complicate is projecting wins and losses prior to a season. Think about how little we really know at the start of the year. How different things are by week two or three than we would’ve projected prior to any games played.
Each preseason projection for a given team is largely based on three things; the previous year’s success, returning talent (and slightly less so incoming talent because it still isn’t proven), and the upcoming schedule difficulty. Try as you may to nail down an exact formula for any of those categories on its own, let alone a random combo of the three, you just can’t do it with any bit of proven accuracy. So let’s not over-complicate this projection.
How does this specifically relate to the 2014 Iowa State football season?
Last year Iowa State was 3-9 and it was a bad season, but the taste of it still lingering in our mouths is much worse than it actually was. In part because of the 1-9 start, the single home win against Kansas, and a loss to an FCS opponent.
Throw in some irrationally bad offensive statistics that have been mentioned lately…49 percent of drives didn’t earn a first down…82 percent of drives that ended in the first period were capped with a punt or turnover…or that the offense was 100th in scoring efficiency by amassing 1.68 points per possession…and of course that thing that happened in Waco.
But here’s the other side of the story form last season: Iowa State lost to Texas by one, lost at Texas Tech by seven, and lost on a final minute touchdown to TCU by four in Ames. On top of that the Cyclones lost to an FCS team in a very subpar performance (not to take anything away from UNI – a great FCS team last season until their injuries crippled them) by eight and Iowa by six.
The games with Iowa and Texas Tech may have been closer on the scoreboard than on the field but they found a way to keep close even if the games rarely seemed possible to win. Even with limiting the sample to UNI, TCU, and Texas finding two additional wins wouldn’t have been difficult. While all of those close losses were a reality, the Cyclones were victorious in just one close game. The point being they were awfully close to 5-7 and a different perspective.
Granted, 5-7 isn’t blowing anyone away but given the program and the circumstances it would’ve been a patch work year that kept the program moving in the right direction.
But dat offense tho? They were forced to deal with injuries across the board on the offensive line throughout the season. Their quarterback was hurt in week one and then prior to the Iowa game and throughout the rest of the season (Sam Richardson). His backup was a green redshirt freshman that took a few games to get his feet underneath him (Grant Rohach). It took three games to find a feature running back that then got hurt (Aaron Wimberly). The returning tight end stud was hurt (Ernst Brun), but thankfully backed up by perhaps a bigger stud (E.J. Bibbs).
And not to throw Courtney Messingham under the bus, I’ll now throw him under the bus…the offensive game plan largely seemed to go down incomplete dirt roads, roundabouts, and cul-de-sacs to nowhere. Never letting on that it was building up to something bigger, instead, just a random assortment of called plays like a ten year old playing Madden.
Then, consider the adverse effects all of that had on the defense. The defense was often over-matched across the board even with the guidance of Wally Burnham from the sidelines. A collection of mostly new components that late in the season battled to keep the team in games only to be backed into corners and between rocks and hard places.
That explanation of last season surely sounds like excuses to many people reading. Honestly, you can categorize them as excuses or reasons all you want but the fact of the matter is that all of them are true. The offense was bad, injuries were decimating, and yet still wins were to be had. Those games are not moral victories but they are indicators that more success in 2013 wasn’t the distant illusion that many made it out to be and still make it out to be when all of that is translated to 2014.
On top of that, a proven offensive coach in Mark Mangino is now on our side. Whether his philosophies and teachings can immediately take hold may not be known but we do know that we have a competent coach that can game plan with the weapons that he has been given.
And my personal add-on around what seems like a renewed program is the ability for PaulRhoads to adapt and change, to switch courses when previous methods did not pan out. Whether that be the hiring of new coaches, the use of GPS systems to optimize player conditioning, or the ability to pause and back off strenuous activity for his players en route to a more fresh and healthy team.
None of that guarantees victories or promises a bounce back season. But in the macro sense of how 2013 played out and what is to come in 2014 I am far more positive than negative. Even if my positive vibes are held with extreme caution.