Cyclones’ football schedule is sixth-toughest in nation

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College football analyst Phil Steele ranks everything. It’s almost dizzying.

 Equally remarkable to the number of things he rates is the fact that he is one of the better prognosticators out there.

 So, when Steele says something you take notice.

 For the fourth year in a row, Steele ranks the Iowa State football schedule in his Top 10 toughest in the nation. This fall, the Cyclones’ slate is sixth hardest.

 That follows pre-season schedule ranks of third (2012), sixth (2011) and first (2010) for the Cyclones. Coach Paul Rhoads’ first team at ISU in 2009 had a schedule rating of No. 61.

 Rhoads and the Cyclones will tackle this fall’s schedule head on. That’s the only way he knows.

 Although the challenge is significant for ISU, so are the opportunities to distinguish itself.

 The round-robin Big 12 slate is preceded by home match-ups with UNI and Iowa and a road trip to Tulsa.

 There are nine bowl teams from last season plus two in-state territorial battles on the ’13 schedule.

 Rhoads has been able to spring a surprise or two each year against tough opponents. The Cyclones upset ranked teams in 2010 (Texas), 2011 (Texas Tech and Oklahoma State) and 2012 (TCU).

 It might not be wise to bet against him this year either.

Every Big 12 football player will visit every league venue in their careers. Some leagues can’t make the same claim.

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Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby was amused about the lack of conference re-alignment questions tossed his way at the league’s football media day recently.

 “We’re intentionally at 10 members,” Bowlsy said. “We think there are advantages of 10.”

 Admitting that membership is a fluid landscape, Bowlsby reiterated that his league has purposely chosen the 10-team membership model.

 One of the side benefits of a smaller league is games against each other member every season.

 Alabama Coach Nick Saban recently suggested that every SEC player should have the chance to play every league school at least once in their careers.

 I’ll take it a step further. All players should get to visit each conference school’s venue at least once, too.

 Four-year players in the Big 12 will play on every league school’s campus twice in their careers.

 You can’t test Saban’s idea in his league yet, since the SEC hasn’t finalized its future football schedules.

 But, the Big Ten has. Applying Saban’s idea to Iowa’s future schedules, for example, is somewhat thought-provoking.

 A Hawkeye freshman this fall, who redshirts and doesn’t travel, will not play in either Michigan Stadium or Ohio Stadium during their careers.

 According to a Bleacher Report article called “Most Hallowed Grounds”, the top two college football venues were at Michigan and Ohio State.

 It seems wrong that a group of players within their own conference won’t play at either site.

 Meanwhile, Cyclone players will get two chances to play in every Big 12 facility (and that includes Oklahoma and Texas, which both made Bleacher Report’s list).

 I like Saban’s idea and the fact that the Big 12 delivers on that concept.

Smith is latest national collegiate champion to join Cyclone roster

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Reaching the top of a mountain is something some people talk about but not many actually make it.

 In the athletics world, it’s like earning a spot on the top podium. Iowa State’s current staff roster is getting stocked with people who have reached the summit.

 Last month, the Cyclones added another such staff member to its head coaching team photo with the hiring of Martin Smith as Director of Women’s and Men’s Track & Field / Cross Country.

 Smith has coached five national championship teams. He’s earned a ring for every finger and the thumb on one hand.

 His teams have won national titles on both the men’s and women’s sides, in both indoor track & field and cross country and in two different major (ACC and Big Ten) conferences.

 The staff that Smith joins also includes the following Cyclones, who made it to the peak as competitors or coaches earlier in their careers:

 Kevin Jackson:  the head wrestling coach was a member of the Cyclones’ 1987 NCAA Championship wrestling team and then added a 1992 Olympic Gold Medal in Barcelona, Spain;

 Christy Johnson-Lynch: the former setter at Nebraska led the Cornhuskers to their first NCAA Volleyball Championship in 1995;

 Andrew Tank: the Cyclone men’s golf coach was on the roster of Minnesota’s 2002 NCAA Championship team and served as that team’s student assistant coach; and

 Jamie Pollard: ISU’s Director of Athletics was a national champion (5,000 meters) as a student-athlete at Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1987.

 There are numerous formulas for winning.

 With folks like Smith, Jackson, Johnson-Lynch, Tank and Pollard leading their respective programs and units, there is some pretty good experience to learn from in Ames these days.