Best depth Jackson has ever had and here’s why it’s important

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Kevin Jackson begins his sixth year as Iowa State’s wrestling coach with three returning All-Americans.

A pair of them – seniors Kyven Gadson and Michael Moreno – have accomplished nearly everything college wrestling has to offer.

“There’s only one more step to take,” Jackson said in reference to winning an NCAA title. “They’re ready to take it.”

Beyond those two, Jackson can also point to five other wrestlers who have qualified for the NCAA Championship.

But, what excites Jackson more than anything is team depth from 125 pounds through heavyweight. He has never had this type of depth at Iowa State.

Former Olympic champion Ed Banach once told me that the practice room provided the best competition he faced during his undergraduate career. When the lights came on, Banach knew he had prepared better than his opponent because of the people he wrestled daily.

That, in reality, was because of depth.

Jackson, I’ll repeat, likes his team’s depth.

“You’ve got to have that challenge, each and every day by a high-level, high-caliber athlete in your weight class” Jackson said at media day this week. “You’ve got to be challenged each and every day so that depth is definitely allowing us to take that next step.”

Depth in the workout room can’t be overlooked. It’s a basic ingredient in top-shelf performance.

Hard to pin down transitions, but Saturday may have been it

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Teams have identities and reputations based upon their results over an extended period of time.

Then things change and, all-of-a-sudden, a new reputation emerges.

You seldom recognize the transition, however, while it’s happening.

Any coach whose team has made dramatic improvement could probably point to an event (play, game, season) when things clicked, when cultures changed or when confidence in the plan grew.

Could Fred Hoiberg point to a game early in his tenure when his floor spacing principles took hold? Does Bill Fennelly remember when his team really felt empowered to let the three pointers fly?

When Mark Mangino was hired as ISU’s offensive coordinator, I told a friend that he’d be really good. But, I also added that the timeline for the improvement was up-in-the-air.

At the start of fall camp, people would have listed Quenton Bundrage, E.J. Bibbs, Aaron Wimberly, DeVondrick Nealy and Jarvis West as Mangino’s biggest potential playmakers. The Cyclones, experts noted, didn’t have a QB named yet.

Of that list, only Nealy hasn’t missed time due to injury. ISU has also lost three linemen to season-ending injuries.

With that as the backdrop, Mangino carved up the nation’s third-best defense Saturday night. Sam Richardson, a healthier Bibbs, Wimberly, Allen Lazard and D’Vario Montgomery had leading roles.

Is a transition occurring? When we look back some day, will a hard-fought 48-45 game in Austin be a game singled out for its significance?

Stay tuned, but things are trending upwards.

From publicity machine to storytellers

SID Roundtable (2)

You may not recognize their names.

Tom Starr, Butch Henry, Kirk Hendrix, Dave Starr and Tom Kroeschell.

If you are a Cyclone athletics fan, however, you would recognize the individuals they worked behind the scenes for.

Earle Bruce, Jeff Hornacek, Johnny Orr, Dan McCarney, Jeff Grayer, Troy Davis, Dr. Harold Nichols, Dwayne Crutchfield, Danny Harris, Max Urick and many, many others.

Starr, Henry, Hendrix, Starr and Kroeschell were Directors of Sports Information at Iowa State in the last 30-plus years. That quintet – along with current director Mike Green – have filled the key department role since the retirement of the legendary Harry Burrell, the school’s SID for 41 years.

At ISU, these men’s duties centered on keeping stats, maintaining records, writing releases, staging news conferences and setting up interviews. They led the publicity arm for athletics.

In recent years – with the emergence of shows like ESPN’s 30:30 series – these SIDs are taking on a new role. Today, they are storytellers for documentary features like those on 30:30 or Cyclones.tv.

After all, who better knew the people like Barry Stevens, Dan Gable, Pete Taylor or George Amundson than their PR guys?

The Cyclones’ five SIDs were on campus last week to renew friendships, see the campus again, attend the Toledo game and tell stories.

Cyclones.tv had the cameras running for more than two hours as host John Walters threw out topic after topic to the group. The conversation was pure gold.

It was an honor to have these men back at ISU for a weekend.

The beneficiary of their visit will be you.

In the coming weeks, the stories they told will be coming your way, via Cyclones.tv. Stay tuned. It will be worth your time.

“Pollspeak”: coaches & media agree the Big 12 is strong

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It is a rare day when college football coaches and the news media covering them are in full agreement.

That was nearly the case this week when the Associated Press (media) and USA Today (coaches) released their college football polls.

The Top 15 schools in each poll mirror one another at every slot but two. The media says Auburn is No. 6 and Michigan State eighth. The coaches flip-flopped those schools. That is the only difference.

What that also means is that the news media and coaches agree that the Big 12 is very strong.

Half of the 10 schools in the Big 12 are included in the To 15 of both national polls. The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC have a combined four schools in the Top 15. Like the Big 12, the SEC checks in with five (36% of its membership) schools in the Top 15 and each of them is in the Top 10.

“Every game in this league (the Big 12) is on a national stage and a great opportunity,” Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads said. “You’re talking about a league that has half of its football teams in the Top 15 in the country. That’s a pretty impressive number.”

The College Football Playoff committee, however, has repeatedly stated that it would rank teams according to performance against their own schedules.

Overall conference strength isn’t a major factor since every conference (except for the Big 12 and its round-robin schedule) has unbalanced scheduling. Some of the elite teams don’t face one another.

When everybody plays everybody (the Big 12’s tagline) and the quality of the conference is good (the Big 12’s reality this season), it’s very likely that whoever emerges from the league as its champion will have a strong case for playoff inclusion.

Who knows, a couple of Big 12 teams may get a serious look?

“Competitive” Cyclones just keep battling

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Coach Paul Rhoads said Monday that he continues to discover things about his 2014 team.

When asked to share the biggest things he has learned – without hesitation – Rhoads said “They’re competitive.”

They keep working at it. There is a “we-can-get-it-done” mentality.

Indicative of that attitude is that three of the Cyclones’ best offensive drives this fall came after significant adversity.

  • Against 20th-ranked Kansas State, the Cyclones fell behind 13-0 early. What followed was a nine-play, 85-yard scoring drive that got ISU back in the game. Sam Richardson hit 5-5 passes and the run game averaged nearly seven yards per attempt on the drive.
  • At 21st-ranked Oklahoma State, the Cowboys opened the second half with a kickoff return for a TD, widening their lead to 14 points. Iowa State responded with an 11-play, 71-yard scoring march to make it a seven-point game.
  • Against No. 7 Baylor, the Bears built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. ISU’s response was an 11-play, 92-yard scoring drive that cut the lead in half. It was the first time BU had allowed points in the opening quarter all season.

Rhoads also noted this team’s desire to be coached and the fact they’ve continued to improve each week. He said the credit goes to the players.

“I told them that ‘coaches yell and scream and do all that to motivate you, but it rarely works,’” Rhoads explained. “It has to come from the players.”

Saturday vs. Toledo, the Cyclones showed a resiliency in the second half and this time it was rewarded with a win.

“It was a lot of fun to watch them in the second half (vs. Toledo) as they drew a line in the sand,” Rhoads said.

Bouncing back has been a season-long storyline and it’s one worth savoring.

Tempo turns tables on Toledo

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Iowa State beat Toledo Saturday because of its speed.

Not physical speed, but rather quick execution of its offensive game play.

The Cyclones quickened the tempo in the second half and ISU took control of the game with that proactive approach.

“We were getting in places where we were waiting for them to set up on defense,” record-setting QB Sam Richardson said. “I told the coaches we needed to go and not let them set up. (I am) very proud that we put the game in our own hands.”

The Cyclones scored 28 points in the second half after tallying nine in the opening 30 minutes. Inside those numbers are more telling tid-bits.

In one fewer minute of offensive possession, the Cyclones…

  • Ran eight more plays (51-43) in the second half
  • Gained in excess of 100 extra yards (296-195) in the second half
  • Converted on 49% more of its third-down plays (89% to 50%) in the second half

“We were allowing them to control things with their defense,” Head Coach Paul Rhoads said.

Richardson, as everyone noted, broke a school record for completions (37).

His biggest contribution, however, was suggesting the offense use its speed (execution-wise).

Fifth? Ok, let’s get to work.

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Big 12 men’s basketball coaches Tubby Smith, Bruce Weber, Scott Drew, Bob Huggins, Trent Johnson, Bill Self, Travis Ford, Lon Kruger, Fred Hoiberg and Rick Barnes have combined to win 3,926 games as college coaches.

That’s a whole lot of hoops wisdom.

Those 10 men – through independent projections – picked Hoiberg’s 2014-15 Cyclones to finish fifth in the upcoming Big 12 standings.

The collective wisdom of those coaches and their assessment that ISU will barely make the first division of this winter’s league race underlines the challenge the challenge that Hoiberg faces in replacing Melvin Ejim (17.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and DeAndre Kane (17.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.9 apg).

For those choosing to question Hoiberg’s ability to rebuild on the fly, consider the senior departures he has dealt with in prior seasons:

  • 2011: Diante Garrett (17.3 ppg), Jake Anderson (12.8) and Jamie Vanderbeken (11.1)
  • 2012: Royce White (13.4 ppg), Scott Christopherson (12.6) and Chris Allen (12.2)
  • 2013: Will Clyburn (14.9), Tyrus McGee (13.1) and Korey Lucious (10.1)

Hoiberg rebuilt each time with returnees assuming bigger roles or transfer players getting their shots.

To some, the fifth-place guess seems to be cause for anger.

Rather than be upset, I’ll rely on the competitive nature and skill set of the players that ISU will have on its roster this season.

And, of course, the steady hand of Hoiberg directing the action.

Watch the play again and note #5

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Thousands of people have watched the replay of last Saturday’s goal line play at the end of the first half in Iowa State’s game at Oklahoma State.

What many folks seem to have missed was the sensational hit by Cyclone freshman safety Kamari Cotton-Moya. The 6-1, 194 pounder crashed from the outside to slow the Cowboys’ running back before Big 12 tackle leader Jevohn Miller finished the tackle.

“What a play by Jevohn Miller,” Joey Harrington, the TV analyst yelled in real time.

“As you watch here, Miller slides around (and) gets back in the play for a last-ditch effort to keep him out of the end zone,” Harrington said during replay. “Cotton-Moya with the initial stop.”

Miller has had a great season and leads the Big 12 in tackles. Cotton-Moya is only tied for 42nd in the league in stops. He is, however, No. 1 in league tackles among freshmen.

Cotton-Moya first burst on the scene a couple of weeks back. Kansas State had just scored a fourth-quarter TD and was lining up for a two-point conversion to tie the game.

The Wildcats’ Jake Waters kept the ball and tried to reach the goal line.

“He gets stuffed,” FOX play-by-play man Justin Kutcher hollered. “Kamari Cotton-Moya with a big play. Cotton-Moya meets him head on. How big was that play?”

It was big. And, those big plays are starting to add up for this emerging Cyclone rookie.

It’s time to start watching #5 when the chips are on the table. He has a knack for being around the ball in big situations.

Rhoads hoping tough slate toughened team

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Among the Power Five conferences, five football teams have faced opponents with cumulative winning percentages above 70%.

Two are from the ACC (Syracuse, .750 and Clemson, .703) and there is one each from the SEC (Tennessee, .708), the Pac-12 (Washington State, .710) and the Big 12 (Iowa State, .880). No school from the Big Ten has faced a schedule with a cumulative winning rate above 70%.

The Orange, Tigers, Volunteers, Cougars and Cyclones have combined to win 10 of 26 games against their formidable competition. That isn’t surprising.

For comparison, the teams in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 have a cumulative opponent winning percentage of 51%.

By season’s end, schedule strength will balance out for most schools. And, that just emphasizes you can’t make too many concrete judgments on teams at this juncture. There is too much football yet to be played.

Cyclone opponents have won 22 games this fall (tied with Washington State, whose foes have lost nine times), the most in the nation. The losses were to the top two rated teams – Florida State and Auburn– as well as Iowa State (which beat Iowa).

In Iowa State’s case, Coach Paul Rhoads believes the early season challenges have built resolve.

“We’re hoping that it’s toughened us up and thickened our skin,” Rhoads said. “I’m very hopeful that (for) the next seven games it is going to pay off.”

Rhoads believes his team has kept its focus so far.

“We have played good people and hung in there,” Rhoads said. “And, we have to continue that fight.”

After further reflection…

The indisputable statistical evidence suggests that Iowa State’s football team continues to takes positive strides even though it has not been rewarded on the won-loss ledger.

Three teams – Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State – currently sit atop the Big 12 standings with 2-0 records. The Cyclones have played all three to open their league season.

No excuses. You play who is on the schedule and do your best.

On a weekly basis, gains are being made. The indisputable statistical evidence …

  • is that Iowa State rushed for a season-best 137 yards Saturday. Not good enough, but an improvement. Three of Iowa State’s six longest runs of the season came vs. Okie State.
  • is that the Cyclones intercepted two passes in the opening half in Stillwater – and have picked off at least one throw in four straight games – and also recorded three sacks in the first half vs. the Cowboys, before the game’s tone shifted at halftime.
  • is that ISU won the turnover (for the second time in ’14) and time of possession (first time this fall) comparisons against Oklahoma State.

Granted, there is disappointment in the Cyclone football camp from both fans and the team. That is the hard reality.

But, after further review, progress is being made and there are good opportunities ahead as the mid-point of the season is Saturday.

Time to move forward.