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.

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