CJL: “We embrace this week”

Johnson-Lynch, Christy_Baylor13-10

Georgia’s Mark Richt, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, LSU’s Les Miles, Wisconsin’s Gary Anderson and Iowa State volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch share something in common.

They have no fears as it relates to scheduling.

The Tigers – Clemson’s version (ranked 16th) – meet the Bulldogs (#12) and the Tigers – LSU’s version (13th) – play the Badgers (#14) Saturday in college football season openers.

Johnson-Lynch will guide her volleyball squad into matches against third-ranked Stanford and 13th-rated Florida State to open the regular season this weekend as part of the AVCA Showcase.

“The theme is that ‘we embrace this week,’” Johnson-Lynch said. “These are the types of teams we’ll need to beat to get to the Final Four and win a Big 12 championship.”

Johnson-Lynch has voluntarily chosen to play 15 nationally ranked teams – in the non-conference part of the year – in her tenure. She likes the competition.

The Cyclones have won seven matches against ranked competition outside of its conference or NCAA Tournament schedule. Those victories – LSU (2007), Kentucky (2010), UNI (2010), Florida (2011), Illinois (2012), UNI (2012) and Nebraska (2012) – enhanced the Cyclones’ tourney resume and boosted confidence.

“It’s great for our fans (too),” Johnson-Lynch said. “This is what we want to be… the type of program that is ready to embrace great competition right off the bat.”

Certainly, there is a touch of apprehension when playing the best of the best.

“It causes me a bit of anxiety,” Johnson-Lynch said. “You would prefer to ease into it, but at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for our team.”


Receiving corps includes familiar names, the potentially special and some to keep an eye on

Daley, Dondre-KSU 13

There is some excitement about the 2014 Iowa State passing game.

Part of the fever is due to the addition of Mark Mangino as offensive coordinator. He has directed a number of productive passing attacks in his career.

Part of the enthusiasm is tied to the returning depth. Six returning players are back after double-figure catches a year ago. E.J. Bibbs and Quenton Bundrage headline the group.

Part of the excitement is because touted recruits Allen Lazard and D’Vario Montgomery join the position group. Each earned four stars from recruiting services as preps.

Head Coach Paul Rhoads, too, has expressed excitement about the receivers.

“We have some depth, we have some speed, we have some talent,” Rhoads said.

Bundrage had nine TDs last year. Bibbs has been called the best TE in the league by ISU coaches. Lazard and Montgomery ooze potential and have great size. Jarvis West is shifty and led the Big 12 in punt returns before getting hurt last year. Aaron Wimberly had 18 catches from the backfield, and Tad Ecby registered 22 catches in ‘13.

Monday, though, Rhoads talked about a receiver who seldom gets talked about.

“Dondre Daley has good body control,” Rhoads began. “Dondre Daley can run. He’s got good length, catches the ball and goes at it aggressively. He’s been extremely coachable through camp and has really risen from a production standpoint.”

Bundrage, Bibbs, West, Wimberly and even Ecby are the familiar names based upon prior production. Lazard and Montgomery have stirred fans’ imaginations. But, don’t sleep on Daley.

“A good problem to have is finding where to put all of those guys,” Rhoads said smiling.

I don’t think the head coach is too worried. He’s thrilled to have so many options.

Rhoads looking to repeat a script

Bundrage & BibbsWVU13

Paul Rhoads feels that Saturday’s game has special importance.

“I probably place more emphasis on it (the opener) than most coaches,” Rhoads said. “A lot of guys don’t want to do that (because) there are 11 more games to play.”

Rhoads said that losing in the first game a year ago had an impact the following two weeks. Part of that fallout, of course, was due to first-game injuries to Sam Richardson and Tom Farniok.

The head coach feels his team is intent on getting off to a good start Saturday night, but that desire emerged months ago.

“That (attitude) hasn’t been building for just a few days,” Rhoads said of his club’s excitement. “That’s been building for a long time. I’d go back and say it was developing in November and December as we finished off the season (with two wins) and went into off-season.”

In his career, Rhoads has been on college coaching staffs that went to eight bowl games. Each of those bowl teams won its first game of the year. That underlines the importance of the opener for a team with bowl aspirations.

Rhoads’ first game as a college head coach came against North Dakota State. The Cyclones defeated the Bison and advanced to a bowl. The sixth-year head coach is looking to repeat that script.

D: All of the above


Iowa State’s 2014 football schedule is …
a) Challenging
b) Sort of unusual
c) Pleasing to Coach Paul Rhoads
d) All of the above

The answer is d).

The challenging part is that two-thirds of the opponents are either ranked or receiving votes in the preseason coaches’ and news media’s polls.

The sort of unusual part is that the Cyclones will play a conference game in the second week. That hasn’t happened at ISU since it played Kansas the week after the Eddie Robinson Classic season opener in 2002.

This year’s slate is also unusual in that there are three bye weeks. That has never happened in the modern era. Rhoads’ first two teams had no byes, the ’11 and ’13 squads had two each and the ’12 club had one.

The “pleasing to Coach Paul Rhoads” sentiment is largely based upon the placement of the bye weeks. Off weeks can be disturbing to continuity or perfectly placed to aid performance and preparation.

Rhoads feels this schedule lines up nicely with the approach he has for team conditioning throughout the year. It is based upon balancing rest with heavier workloads in order to “peak” his players at the right time.

The 2014 Cyclones will play three games then get a break. They’ll come back for four games and then have an off week. The team will play two more contests and then have a bye. Iowa State will end the year with three straight games.

“I like our schedule,” Rhoads told an enthusiastic group of supporters at “Meet the Coaches” Night in Des Moines last night.

He also said to the group, “I like this team.” He emphasized that feeling by repeating it as he described every facet of the team.

There has been a lot of excitement generated this fall camp and I’m guessing the Cyclones will, indeed, be peaking on the evening of Aug. 30 at Jack Trice Stadium. The schedule is set up for that.

Big 12 positioned well for football playoffs despite what some say

big 12 logo

To stir up debate, some college football analysts have suggested the lack of a Big 12 Championship game will hurt the league’s prospects for an invite to the College Football Playoff.

In the 16-year history of the Bowl Championship Series, nearly half (15) of the 32 schools that played in the national championship game did not win/have a league title game.

Only seven of the championship game participants – six from the SEC – defeated an opponent ranked in the nation’s Top Ten in their conference title game to get a significant victory right before national title teams were picked.

Of the seven Big 12 schools that participated in a BCS title game, only one defeated a Top Ten opponent in the conference championship game.

• 2000: Oklahoma defeated #8 Kansas State
• 2001: Nebraska did not play in a league title game
• 2003: Oklahoma lost to #15 Kansas State
• 2004: Oklahoma defeated unranked Colorado
• 2005: Texas defeated unranked Colorado
• 2008: Oklahoma defeated #19 Missouri
• 2009: Texas defeated #21 Nebraska

It’s sort of hard to make the argument that a conference championship game is the springboard to the national title game. History doesn’t support that theory.

Twice in the last three years, one of the schools in the national title game made it there without a league championship game. I also wonder how much…

• Tennessee’s win over 23rd-rated Mississippi State in the 1998 SEC Championship Game strengthened its resume for the first BCS championship game.
• Florida State’s win over 20th-ranked Duke in the 2013 ACC Championship Game pushed them into last year’s title match-up.

The point is that league championship games aren’t the end all, be all for playoff consideration.

The BCS (between its voters/polls and computers) chose who they considered to be the top two teams for the title game. Most years, in most people’s opinions, they got it right. The new College Football Playoff Committee will do the same.

The 13-person committee charged with picking the participants for the College Football Playoff should be looking at total resumes. There shouldn’t be concern that the Big 12 won’t receive the proper consideration.

Richardson all the better from competition; Rohach, too

Richardson, Sam B_Texas_2013-14_4

Competition can be a great teacher.

When Coach Paul Rhoads announced Monday that Sam Richardson would be the Cyclones’ starting QB, it was the second season in a row he was tabbed the starter.

His climb to No. 1 this year was much different than his path to the top of the depth chart in 2013.

When spring camp opened in ’13, Richardson was coming off three games as the primary quarterback at the end of his freshman season.

And when Jared Barnett decided to transfer in January that year, it left Richardson as the only QB on the depth chart with any playing experience. Chance Creekmur, Trevor Hodge, Brandon Horbach, Joel Lanning and Grant Rohach were the other QBs on the roster.

Although Richardson had played well to close his rookie season, there was no experienced competition.

Fast forward to this spring.

Richardson and Rohach were coming off a season in which they shared playing time. Toss in a new coordinator (Mark Mangino) and a different QB coach (Todd Sturdy) and the table was set for a true competition to earn the starting slot in 2014.

There was a month-long audition between the two – along with Lanning – for the position. Richardson’s daily performance in the last couple of weeks nudged him ahead of Rohach.

Rhoads cited a list of things that Richardson improved upon since last year. He also pointed out that Rohach is a much better player, too, than he was in his freshman season.

Iowa State has two QBs with Big 12 wins on their resumes. That’s a good thing.

Beyond being battle tested and proven winners, they’ve also competed for playing time. That competition accelerated development and that means ISU’s quarterback position is in better shape now that any point in Rhoads’ tenure.

Burnham’s “spirited” group playing aggressively

Burnham, Wally_Rutgers2011-1
Most of the words being written and said about Iowa State’s 2014 defensive football team are terms like young and inexperienced.

Each is true. But Coach Paul Rhoads is thinking something different.

“People are going to get sick of me saying it, but spirited is what they are,” Rhoads said. “They’re young, but they work. They’re young, but they fly around the field. They’re young, but they’re anxious to learn what it is that will make them better.”

Teaching and coaching is what will make them more successful.

“There’s no one better than the veteran Wally Burnham to get things taught,” Rhoads said of his defensive coordinator.

Burnham hinted that an attitude has emerged with this group.

“These kids read what’s been said about the defense,” Burnham said. “And, they’ve taken it as a challenge.”

The result has been a more aggressive approach.

“We’ve been an aggressive, hard-charging defense,” Burnham said. “It might be the most aggressive defense we’ve had (at Iowa State).”

Maybe by year’s end the descriptors of the defense will change from young and inexperienced to aggressive and successful.
Burnham is the kind of guy to help usher that type of transformation.

50:50 run/pass? Mangino’s track record says yes.

Mangino, Mark2_SpringGame14

Mark Mangino will be calling the offensive plays at Iowa State this fall. There is a lot of interest and intrigue as to what the script of plays might look like.

Will the Cyclones be pass heavy? Will ISU feature the run?

In Coach Paul Rhoads’ tenure, the Cyclones have run the ball nearly 54% of the time.

What will the mix be for the 2014 Cyclones?

At media day, Mangino said his team can’t “be throwing the ball all of the time.”

Like most coaches, he said he’s seeking balance.

“It’s really a 50:50 ratio,” Mangino said. “That’s our challenge here.”

Is that coach-speak or is that the true goal?

Perhaps, the best indicator of the future is the past. As the head coach at Kansas for eight years, the Jayhawks ran the ball 3,541 times. KU passed the ball 3,504 times.

The run-pass ratio was 50.2% (runs) to 49.8% (throws). In other words, 50:50 give or take a fraction of a percentage point.

Five times the Jayhawks ran the ball more in a season and three times (including the final two years), they threw it more.

So much is dependent upon the skills of the players, the opponents’ defenses and other variables.

If Mangino’s personal history is any indicator, the ISU offense will be fairly balanced. If Mangino’s personal history is a good predictor of the future, it will be a productive attack, too.

Big 12 well positioned: league games influence schedule strength the most

When the new College Football Playoff was unveiled last year, much of the talk centered on how the selection committee would pick the participants.

Schedule strength became a frequently discussed topic.

Some of the sport’s heavyweights started scheduling one another for future non-league games. That is part of the equation for schedule strength.

But, conference play (especially the round-robin variety) is also part of the equation. And, realistically it is a bigger part.

Because conference schedules include eight or nine games in a year rather than one (such as a non-conference battle with a strong foe or a league title game), it’s obvious that a strong division / league schedule influences strength of schedule the most.

With all of that as a backdrop, the most pertinent question may be, “what conference / division is the strongest?”

That will be decided on the field, but – for fun – here is a list of the best Power 5 leagues in order of winning percentages (data from Stassenfootball.com) in the last five years:

• SEC West (.662) – Alabama, LSU, Auburn, A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
• Big 12 (.608) – Baylor, ISU, KU, K-State, Oklahoma, Okie St., Texas, TCU, Tech, West Virginia
• SEC East (.567) – South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Vandy, Kentucky
• ACC Atlantic (.563) – FSU, Clemson, Louisville, N.C. State, Syracuse, BC, Wake Forest
• Pac-12 North (.562) – Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Oregon State, Cal, Washington State

Seven (of the 10) programs in the Big 12 have won more than 60% of their games since ’09. The SEC West and East (4-of-7) and ACC Atlantic (3-of-7) have the next most teams with 60-percent or higher win rates in the last five campaigns.

Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher summarized it well on Sirius XM Radio last week when he concluded an interview by saying the Big 12 probably does it the right way.

In the Big 12 if Oklahoma and Baylor were the top two teams (and didn’t have a championship game), you can still look back to their match-up during the regular season as a tie-breaker.

In the SEC, say that Alabama and South Carolina qualify for their championship game. There is a decent chance those schools didn’t face each other in a cross division match-up so the title game merely fixes what didn’t happen in the regular season. And, if the title game is a second meeting between the schools there will be all sorts of grumbling about having to beat a team a second time.

You’ll get no disagreement in Big 12 country, Jimbo, that the Big 12 has positioned itself well for its champion to get proper playoff consideration.