Cyclones could lead the Big 12 again

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During the Packers’ Sunday night dismantling of the Eagles, the TV announcers said Green Bay had largely avoided the injury bug this season. Fourteen Packers have started every game and three others missed just one each.

That goes a long way in explaining Green Bay’s six wins in the last seven games and outscoring the opposition by 172 points during that timeframe.

That also got me thinking.

Des Moines Register columnist Randy Peterson wrote the following about the Cyclones on a recent live chat: “I’ve said many times that Iowa State’s top 22 players can play with most everyone in the Big 12. Once injuries start happening, then that’s no longer the situation. The Cyclones need more Big 12-caliber depth.”

Fair point. ISU has suffered 10 season-ending injuries to players who have been listed in the two-deep. Five freshmen have started at least one game in ’14. This wasn’t the blueprint the Cyclones had in mind when they broke camp.

With three games remaining, Paul Rhoads’ team could lead the Big 12 in a category for the second year in a row… fewest players to start every game.

The Cyclones have a bit of ground to make up, but they are in the mix.

Texas Tech – this week’s opponent – has seven players who have started each week in 2014. The Cyclones have just eight.

A year ago, Iowa State had six players start every week. That was the fewest in the Big 12.

Peterson’s point is that ISU needs more Big 12-caliber depth. And, for the second year in a row that has been especially true. Rhoads isn’t using it an excuse, and that’s commendable. But, it is reality.

Cyclones score at least 90 (again) but do so in a different way

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In its season opener vs. Oakland, Iowa State scored at least 90 points for the 22nd time since Fred Hoiberg became coach. The way it happened, however, was a tad different than normal.

The Cyclones made 7-16 shots from three-point territory, the fewest makes and attempts from that distance in any of the 90-point games under Hoiberg.

“We felt there were some match-ups we could expose,” Hoiberg said on his post-game radio show. “It was our ‘bigs’ (Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue). There were so many isolation opportunities that we wanted to take advantage of.”

The result was that Niang tallied a career-high 30 points and Hogue repeatedly found himself at the free throw line.

In the other 21 games that Iowa State scored at least 90 points for Hoiberg, the team attempted nearly 27 shots from long range and made just more than 11.

“I really thought we took what the defense gave us,” Hoiberg summarized.

Interestingly, in the six games that Iowa State has scored 90 or more points and attempted less than 20 three pointers, they’ve made 52% from distance.

What’s most exciting is that Iowa State’s high-scoring offense isn’t dependent solely on three-point shooting. That was evident again Friday night.

A special signing day for Pollard and Sanders’ families

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Jamie Pollard and Calli Sanders are two of the three (David Harris is the other) sports administrators at Iowa State University.

As such, national signing day is an exciting time to monitor as a sport administrators. Signing day is when the future for each of the Cyclones’ 18 intercollegiate sports begins to take shape. It’s when rosters are replenished.

Pollard has ultimate authority over all of the school’s teams and Sanders has direct oversight of 15 sports. But, signing day yesterday had a different feel for two of ISU’s senior administrators.

Pollard’s son, Thomas, signed an NLI to become a Cyclone. One of the nation’s top prep distance runners, the Gilbert (Iowa) prep had all of the nation’s top programs seeking his talents. But, Thomas chose Iowa State.

It’s probably not a stretch that Jamie, wife Ellen and siblings Annie, Maggie and James were smiling ear-to-ear.

In the Sanders’ household, Ames High School senior Molly Sanders announced she will play college basketball at Navy. Although Molly’s collegiate career will take place more than a 1,000 miles from home, Calli, husband Rick and their kids (T and Jack) were thrilled, too.

The road to earning a Division 1 scholarship is long and has lots of traffic. It is highly competitive. There is a small percentage of prep athletes, who get the chance.

For two children of Cyclone administrators to get that opportunity is rare, I’d think.

What isn’t debatable is that Wednesday’s announcements were a bit different and even more exciting for Pollard and Sanders.

Committee doing more than ranking by losses… thankfully

The College Football Playoff committee spoke again Tuesday night.

It was enlightening (more data to sift through) and uplifting (more hints were provided as to what the committee truly values).

One thing jumped out to me.

Oregon passing Florida State demonstrated that this committee is NOT simply listing teams in order of fewest losses. Thank you!

For years, the coaches’ and media polls have basically ranked most teams that way. An undefeated team is not necessarily better than a one-loss team. It’s so refreshing to see the committee really assess the teams and rank them (beyond just record) with the data available today.

A couple years back, ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit said that he looks at teams and tries to pick who the best one is. He didn’t share the specifics of what he weighed or valued. But, there weren’t hard-and-fast rules for him (including simply listing by teams by the number in the loss column).

Another hot topic this week has been the TCU vs. Baylor discussion. Same record, same league (and eventually) same conference opponents. The Bears, or course, won the head-to-head matchup.

For purposes of filling the six major bowls (playoff match-ups in the Rose and Sugar plus the Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton Bowls), the Big 12 has to have a definitive champ. If those two schools do tie, Baylor is the champ. But, that doesn’t mean the CFP committee has to pick the Bears for the four-team playoff. It could choose TCU and move Baylor to one of the other major games.

Some people are having a hard time with that. But, every league could face the same thing.

Think of it this way. Let’s say Missouri goes on to win the SEC East Division and has 2-3 losses. Say Mississippi State runs the table to finish 12-0. Then, say the Tigers take the SEC title game beating MSU.

Then, it’s the same dilemma as the Big 12 scenario. Mizzou is guaranteed a spot in one of the six big bowls (as SEC champ), but the CFP committee could still pick a one-loss SEC team (M-State in this case) for the four-team playoff.

As has been said for weeks, let it all play out and enjoy that process.

The difference between “needs” and “wants”

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Paul Rhoads told the post-game radio audience Saturday that he visited with his team about “needs” and “wants”.

The coach emphasized there was a significant difference between those terms. And, that difference was on full display at Kansas.

The Jayhawks, who entered the contest with a seven-game Big 12 losing streak, played as though they “needed” a victory.

In contrast, Rhoads said his team traveled to Lawrence in “hope” of a victory.

For teams like the Cyclones and Jayhawks this year, there is a slim margin between wins and losses.

That margin is frequently tied to attitude and emotion. In other terms, “needing” a win versus “wanting” a win.

Iowa State gets it final bye week of the season now. The rest will help some of those ailing physically. That list is pretty long, too.

Most important, however, is for the Cyclones to hit the mental re-set.

With Texas Tech on deck next on Nov. 22, the Cyclones have to flip the mindset script from last week. They’ve got nearly two weeks to do it.

Will “6-2″ be the spark for Cyclones?

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In the week leading up to Iowa State’s volleyball match vs. Kansas State, the Cyclones were installing a new system.

They were preparing to implement a “6-2” attack, which features two setters and a lot substitutions. The 22nd-ranked Wildcats had no idea of the change.

“K-State didn’t know what expect,” Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “But, neither did we.”

The coach wasn’t certain if the “6-2” system would work.

“I felt we would look really smart or really stupid,” Johnson-Lynch admitted.

After a three-set sweep of the nationally ranked Wildcats, she was quite pleased.

“We found a lineup, finally,” Johnson-Lynch said. “It allows us to use our personnel the best way.”

As the regular season winds down, the change sparked an excitement.

“It’s November and (the offense) is something new,” Johnson-Lynch said. “That doesn’t happen and it got us fired up because it’s something different. I feel like it gave us a shot of adrenalin.”

More than 75% of the regular-season schedule is already in the books. It’s a unique time to make the switch.

“But, it won’t be a ‘we fixed it’ and we’re good to go,” Johnson-Lynch suggested. “We have some things we need to get better at.”

With a half-dozen regular-season games left, it will interesting to monitor the team’s progress.

Cyclone have second-fewest every game starters in league

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Four of the first five questions at Paul Rhoads’ Monday news conference were about injuries.

How serious was Jevohn Miller injured? What is Devlyn Cousins’ status? How do injuries affect a team and how do you work through them? What is QB Sam Richardson’s availability?

It has been that kind of year for Rhoads and his staff.

The number of season-ending injuries is closing in on double figures. And, that includes only guys that spent time in the two-deep.

Ten of the 22 every-down positions had a different starter Saturday than what ISU used in the season opener eight games ago.

It has been that kind of year for Rhoads and his staff.

The Cyclones have 10 players, who have started every game so far. That number will drop to nine this week as Miller has already been ruled out for Kansas.

Texas Tech (seven) and ISU have the fewest number of players who have started each week. TCU (16), Oklahoma (16) and Kansas State (15) have the most. They also sit towards the top of the league standings.

It has been that kind of year for Rhoads and his staff.

Last week, the Cyclones were unable to slow the Sooners’ rushing attack. That’s a fact. Going into spring practice, Iowa State probably would have listed Rodney Coe, David Irving, Brandon Jensen and Cousins as their top interior linemen. Only Jensen (couple of plays) saw action vs. OU.

“The injuries have placed a heavy load on us,” Rhoads said.

It has been that kind of year for Rhoads and his staff.

But, you keep your head up and compete. Rhoads’ teams have done that pretty consistently. That is the expectation for Saturday in Lawrence, too.

Precedence setting: cross country runners win 4th straight title!

“It’s really cool to say that every year you’ve been to Big 12’s, it’s been a championship,” Iowa State women’s cross country runner Katy Moen said matter-of-factly on Saturday the Cyclones won the league championship for the fourth time in a row.

It may, indeed, be cool. But, it’s also never been done previously at Iowa State (dating back to the formation of the Big 12 in 1996).

The Cyclone wrestlers won three straight conference titles (2007-09) for Cael Sanderson. The women’s runners surpassed that streak and now have won more Big 12 titles than any other ISU program.

Iowa State’s victory was its 12th team championship since the league started. That moved the Cyclones past Texas Tech (11) and into a tie with Kansas State for number of championships.

With all five of its scorers in the Top 15 and four in the Top 10, Iowa State was dominant. Its point total (29) was the best in a Big 12 Meet since 2004.

Iowa State’s Crystal Nelson won the race and Moen was runner-up. They were the only runners to break 20:00.

Transfer Margaret Connelly was fourth, freshman Erin Hooker ninth and Perez Rotich 13th. Returning All-American Bethanie Brown missed the meet with an injury but should return to competition soon.

The Cyclone women’s runners are in pretty select company. They are the 20th program to win at least four league championships in succession. The only current streaks that are longer belong to Texas men’s swimming & diving (18), Kansas men’s basketball (10) and Oklahoma State men’s cross country (seven).

“This is legacy (-building) for us,” Head Coach Andrea Grove-McDonough said.

Moen called the accomplishment cool.

I’d classify it as significant and very special.

Some of Sam’s confidence tied to familiarity with the line

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For an offensive line, continuity and familiarity is the foundation for success.

At Iowa State this fall, that continuity has been fundamental to the line’s season-long improvement.

Injuries ravaged last year’s line and there was a weekly personnel shuffle.

ISU has started Jake Campos, Jamison Lalk, Tom Farniok, Daniel Burton and Jacob Gannon across its front wall the last three weeks. The Cyclones have improved on offense in each of those outings.

Coach Paul Rhoads suggested Monday that continuity in practice is as important as continuity in games.

“The practice continuity is awfully important and that was the biggest thing we talked about in-house,” Rhoads said. “It’s (been) the same five guys who have practiced together.”

Who has the continuity benefitted the most? How about QB Sam Richardson?

“Sam know who he’s working with,” Rhoads said of the o-line. “Sam knows how he’s being protected and that checks are being made.”

That leads to confidence for the signal caller.

“A confident quarterback is important to your offense,” Rhoads suggested.

The recent results sure support that contention.

Too many key games upcoming to engage in debate today

The College Football Playoff (CFP) Committee has spoken. Unfortunately, it’s just the first of multiple declarations they’ll make this season.

The men’s and women’s basketball tournament committee model – letting members watch games as they see fit all year long – and then gathering for extended talks and announcing the fields after deliberation is preferred. The worth of these mid-season rankings is up for debate.

With that said, here are some items to ponder (for discussion purposes the committee’s Top 25 is the ultimate measuring stick)…

  • 24 Duke has not faced anyone in the committee’s Top 25 and won’t during the regular season. The same is true for 23rd-rated East Carolina.
  • Ohio State (16th) has not played one team in the Top 25 yet. It will face Michigan State.
  • Notre Dame is the highest ranked (10th) school, which has not beaten any anyone else in the committee’s Top 25.
  • Here are conference records for schools in the current Top 25 vs. fellow Top 25 schools: SEC (8-5), Big 12 (5-7), Pac-12 (5-4), ACC (3-3) and Big Ten (1-2).
  • There’s lots of action still ahead as Auburn, Alabama, Kansas State, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah still have three games each vs. Top 25 schools to end the regular season.
  • Here are the number of games remaining in the regular season for current Top 25 members vs. fellow Top 25 teams: SEC (12), Pac-12 (11), Big 12 (10), ACC (3) and Big Ten (2).

Tuesday night’s announcement sparked all sorts of excitement and hand wringing. Each week, the committee will get a little closer to its final decisions.

In the meantime, take it in. Discuss, deliberate, debate. Enjoy.

Then, get our your remotes and take your pick of Florida State vs. Louisville, TCU vs. West Virginia, Auburn vs. Ole Miss, Arizona vs. UCLA or Utah vs. Arizona State. Those are the match-ups between Top 25 schools this week.

If that’s not enough, consider Kansas State vs. TCU, Baylor vs. Oklahoma, Notre Dame vs. Arizona State, Alabama vs. LSU, Ohio State vs. Michigan State and Oregon vs. Utah. That’s on tap the next week.

In reality, the playoffs have already begun. We’re halfway through the playoffs. It’s called the regular season.

The arguing, too, has begun and it didn’t need to be that way.