Season openers are always a major chess match with adjustments made on the fly


There is always great anticipation in the week of the season opener. It’s always one of the most unpredictable games of the season as well.

Taking your game from training camp to game day is tricky. There are so many variables. The most obvious one is gauging how first-year players will perform before a crowd.

Equally daunting, according to Coach Paul Rhoads, is preparing for the opponent.

“You’ll spend game week and a decent part of last week preparing for this team,” Rhoads said, “and if it all changes you get on the field you are scrambling.”

Rhoads and staff have prepared for Tulsa largely with the aid of film from last season.

”But, you don’t know the wrinkles they’ve put in, so everything is potentially a sideline adjustment,” Rhoads explained, knowing full well his club has made alterations during the off-season as well.

Making adjustments is the real chess match between staffs, especially in a season opener.

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Rhoads is familiar with Tulsa’s QB, but the Cyclones game planned for the offense


Tulsa’s starting quarterback has played in Jack Trice Stadium previously. As a Nebraska Cornhusker, Cody Green completed 7-12 throws and rushed for 10 yards in a 31-30 victory over the Cyclones.

Green is a dual threat QB. The most passes he has thrown in a college game were 21 at Baylor in 2009. He had 12, 11, 13 and 12 throws in the final four games of his sophomore season. Then, he transferred to Tulsa and sat out last season.

In recent years, Tulsa has employed a dynamic passing attack. The Golden Hurricanes have averaged 33 throws and 308 yards passing per game the last five years.

Coach Paul Rhoads is familiar with Green and impressed with his skill set. The preparation, however, isn’t skewed because of that knowledge.

How will Coach Bill Blankenship feature Green on Saturday? Does it matter?

“You don’t prepare for Cody Green as much as you prepare for the offense and what the quarterback position brings to the offense,” Rhoads said. “Obviously, he is 1-0 in this stadium and anytime you lead a team to victory anywhere you gain confidence.”

Let’s just hope the Cyclones can even Green’s career won-loss record in Ames this weekend.

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The fortunes for the Tulsa football have changed dramatically since the ink dried on its contract with ISU


Seven years ago, ISU Athletics Director Bruce VandeVelde and Coach Dan McCarney signed a contract to play a non-conference football game with Tulsa. That game is Saturday.

The Golden Hurricanes were coming off a 4-8 season in the Western Athletic Conference. Their wins had come against Missouri State, Rice, San Jose State and UTEP. Tulsa was 8-5 in 2003 but that followed consecutive one-win seasons in 2002 and 2001.

At that time (2005), Tulsa was also moving into Conference USA.

Since the conference change, the Hurricanes have won at least eight games six times in seven years. Tulsa’s 8-5 record last fall included losses to Oklahoma (ranked #1 at the time), Oklahoma State (#8), Boise State (#4), Houston (#8) and BYU.

It’s a quality program and Tulsa is favored to win in Ames Saturday.

“I’d like to have an opponent that I know we should be able to line up against and defeat,” Coach Paul Rhoads said at his Monday news conference. “Tulsa is not that opponent. This is a scary football game for our program.”

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In a throwing league, there is still a place for mobility at quarterback and the Cyclones have it


As Paul Rhoads talked about his grading system for choosing a quarterback this year, he repeatedly listed decision making, throwing accuracy and running as the factors. The last factor is intriguing when consideration is given to the Big 12’s reputation for great passers.

In the last four years, 11 conference quarterbacks have averaged more than 300 yards passing per game. Of that group, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III was a great runner and Missouri’s Chase Daniel was fairly productive on the ground.

However, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden (twice), Oklahoma’s Landry Jones (twice) and Sam Bradford, Tech’s Seth Doege, Graham Harrell and Tyler Potts and Kansas’ Todd Reesing all failed to rush for 120 net yards in the seasons they passed for 300+ per game.

Iowa State likes to run its quarterbacks. Jared Barnett gained 437 yards on the ground a year ago and Steele Jantz added 216. Jantz was slowed in the run game after an injury at UConn and Rhoads feels Jantz improved his running ability significantly during the off-season.

The top returning QBs in the conference according to most are OU’s Jones and K-State’s Collin Klein.  Jones hasn’t run much, but the Sooners did employ back-up Blake Bell for 13 rushing TDs a year ago and Klein rushed for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns last year.

In a league known for passing, it’s interesting there is a place for running QBs, too. The Cyclones have two capable ones and are eager to employ them.

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Hybrid defenders becoming a must for college defenses today


If you asked Deon Broomfield or C.J. Morgan what position they play, I wonder how they would respond. Broomfield is actually on the depth chart as both a safety and linebacker.

Really, they are hybrids in that they must show excellent pass coverage skills and be able to slide into the tackle box, too. Coach Paul Rhoads recently described the need for these athletes based upon the offenses being used today.

Finding these guys, Rhoads explained, forced a change in his recruiting game plan, too.

“It used to be standard to recruit your allotment of three linebackers and recruit your allotment of four secondary guys,” Rhoads said. “(And then) try to figure out who can be a nickel (back).”

Rhoads explained that finding the Broomfield(s) and Morgan(s) required a philosophy change.

“Now, we’re recruiting 2½ linebackers and 4½ secondary guys to try and get those extra nickel (back) body types,” Rhoads said.

My guess is that if you tried to pin Rhoads down and the position these men play, he’d shrug his shoulders and just say they’re football players. He’d also likely state that you can’t have too many of these guys with the unique skill sets.

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Pollard family story to be featured on America’s Family Coaches Saturday


As Director of Athletics at Iowa State, Jamie Pollard’s life is very public. So, too, are the lives of his immediate family. That includes 10-year-old son, James.

Many Cyclone fans know some parts of James’ story. As a 10-pound baby at birth, 3½ pounds comprised James and the remainder was a tumor (size of a basketball).

Over the last several years – as he has faced recurrences of the tumor and endured multiple chemo treatments – James’ story is one of courage, perseverance and family love and support.

The Pollard’s tale – which frequently swings toward James – is being shared Saturday on WHO-Radio (1040 AM) at 2 p.m.

Dr. Gary and Barb Rosberg, known as America’s Family Coaches, are award-winning authors and marriage conference speakers. On Des Moines radio, they highlight Iowans and their remarkable stories.

Tomorrow, the radio hosts will share the Pollard’s story. It’s not a Cyclone story necessarily, but with this sports-crazed family Iowa State Athletics is never far from the conversation.

James’ story has touched the hearts of many. On Saturday, you can hear how a courageous little guy continues to inspire through words shared by his dad and mom.

Go Cyclones, and more importantly, go James!

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ISU volleyball in nation’s Top 10, but it wasn’t long ago they weren’t in the Big 12’s Top 10


The Iowa State volleyball team is ranked among the nation’s Top 10 teams for 2012. It wasn’t long ago that the Cyclones didn’t rank among the best 10 within their conference.

Times have changed.

Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch and her team didn’t blink at the preseason accolades. Handling the notoriety is part of the process.

“We are really happy but still want more,” Johnson-Lynch said at media day. “We have knocked on the door of the Final Four a couple of times and the next step is to get there. We have knocked on the door of the Big 12 championship and the next step is to get there.”

Several of Johnson-Lynch’s colleagues have told her it’s easier to get there (becoming a premiere program) than stay there.

“One thing we’ve learned is to not take anything for granted after we lost in the first round (of the NCAA Tournament) two years ago,” Johnson-Lynch said.

The 2012 club is deep, as deep as it’s ever been.

“We are carrying 16 players because so many great players wanted to be here,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We can go 3-4 deep at every position.”

This Cyclone team seems poised to show it has some staying power at the top of the college volleyball world. Let the games begin.

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Offensive line’s experience trumps all of the other measurables


Football is a game which is won in the trenches. How many times have you heard that one?

It’s easier to focus on leaping catches, bone-jarring tackles, nifty cuts and zig-zagging kick returns. In the trenches, there is pushing, shoving and snarling.

Iowa State’s 2012 offensive fortunes appear to have a strong foundation up front. It’s still a young unit after the graduation losses of Kelechi Osemele and Hayworth Hicks. But, position coach Bill Bleil loves the depth and experience he is working with.

“Last season, we entered the first game with three starters that hadn’t had one (college) snap,” Bleil said. “Right now, I’m sitting with seven or eight guys that have had at least 150 snaps (in college).”

More often than not, observers get optimistic about the size of a line. Bleil likes experience, camaraderie and communication even more.

“How well they play together and the communication aspect is great,” Bleil said. “They’re good football IQ guys, too.”

Coach Paul Rhoads said he wants to be a run-first offense. That goal can only be accomplished if Bleil’s men handle things on the front wall.

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Varner was an underrated and understated Gold Medalist in London


Some people do their work in solitude and shun the spotlight. Others like the glare and bask in it. Jake Varner is the former.

He is also an Olympic Gold Medalist.

Since departing Iowa State after his college career, Varner trained out of the spotlight in Pennsylvania with Cael Sanderson.

Upon arrival in London for the Olympics, Varner and his U.S. teammates went to Belarus for a week of preparation away from the games’ glare.

Varner earned gold with wins over wrestlers from Uzbekistan (1-0, 0-1, 1-0), Canada (1-0, 1-0), Georgia (0-2, 1-0, 1-0) and Ukraine (1-0, 1-0).

Not much scoring. Not much hoopla. Just wins. That’s the Varner way.

A singular focus on preparation was a key according to his coach. He wasn’t the favorite for gold.

“He’s been dedicated (to the task),” Sanderson said. “(After putting the practice time in) he sat in his room, resting and focusing on what it takes to win. That’s why he won.”

There’s a certain charm to an understated champion. You know you are the best, but you don’t have to say so.

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Rhoads see improved QB play as a key to Big 12 success


Over time, the most successful passing teams in the Big 12 have won the most games. It’s an area that Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads is seeking the biggest improvement for his club.

“We most definitely need better play from the quarterback position if we’re going to become a better football team,” Rhoads said.

In the last five Big 12 seasons, 14 schools have completed at least two-thirds of their passes (in conference play) and only one (K-State in 2010) had a losing league record. Nine of the 14 schools either won or shared the league or division championship. Those schools won more than 71 percent of their league games.

Iowa State has completed 50.4% (10th-best), 58.4% (10th-best) and 59.2% (7th-best) of its attempts in league play during Rhoads’ tenure.

“If we are going to become a better offensive football team – which is very important in this league to be a better football team – it’s going to take better quarterback play.”

That means completing more passes. It’s a pretty simple and dependable formula in the Big 12.

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