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March 22, 2009
Long-suffering Iowa State fans are hopeful a new coach can bring new results.
The Cyclones' victory total has declined by one in each of the past three seasons, leading to a disappointing 2-10 finish in '08.
Old coach Gene Chizik was hired by Auburn, and the arrival of coach Paul Rhoads ? who, coincidentally, had been defensive coordinator at Auburn ? and a new offensive coordinator provides some encouragement. So does the return of seven offensive starters, including quarterback Austen Arnaud.
Plugging a leaky secondary should be the top priority this spring. As defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh in '07 and Auburn in '08, Rhodes supervised units that ranked among the nation's top 30 in total defense both seasons. That has to be encouraging, too.
Here's a look at the Cyclones as they enter spring drills.
Positions of strength
The Cyclones have an abundance of depth at cornerback, which is imperative in the pass-oriented Big 12. Five players have starting experience, including Leonard Johnson and Ter'ran Benton - who were part-time starters as true freshmen last season. There is so much depth there that at least one cornerback may shift to safety. Benton and junior Devin McDowell are the candidates most likely to make the move.
Help is needed
Safety play was poor and a big reason the Cyclones ranked 116th in pass defense and allowed 31 touchdown passes in 2008. Upgrading that area will be vital. Injuries forced James Smith to move from strong safety ? his best position ? to free safety last season and he struggled there. The aforementioned likely switch of a cornerback to safety and the arrival of junior college transfer David Sims likely will allow Smith to go back to his natural spot. But depth remains an issue. The offense as a whole needs an upgrade, and a go-to receiver must be found. Two new starters are needed on the defensive line.
Keep an eye on
TE Collin Franklin: He caught just 15 passes in 2008 and had more than two catches in just one game. But Franklin, a junior, averaged more yards per catch (17.2) than any other Cyclone and had the second-longest reception (53 yards) on the team. A big target at 6 feet 6 and 247 pounds, he figures to have a bigger role in the passing game with a new coaching staff.
OT Scott Haughton: He won a starting role in the last third of the season and should become a fixture for the next three seasons. The offensive line returns three full-time starters and two others, including Haughton, who were part-time starters last season.
DE Chris Lyle: Although a backup last season, Lyle tied for the team lead with five sacks and was second with eight tackles for loss. Lyle, a senior, likely will move into the starting lineup and have a chance to improve those numbers.
His time is now
A three-star prospect when he arrived in 2006, linebacker Fred Garrin has played well enough to get into the starting lineup but not to distinguish himself. Last season, he posted 63 tackles and has 85 for his career. Iowa State has had solid linebacker play in recent seasons. Garrin needs a good spring to show that he can be more than an adequate player on a questionable defense.
Under the direction of Tom Herman, Rice had the fifth-ranked passing offense in the nation last season. Herman now will install his version of the spread offense at Iowa State, which desperately needs an infusion of offensive excitement to keep up in the high-scoring Big 12. The Cyclones were held to 20 or fewer points in five games last season. Arnaud is a smart quarterback and passed for nearly 2,800 yards in '08, so he gives Herman a solid option at QB. A word of warning, though: This will be the third offense Arnaud has had to learn at Iowa State.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.