Last season was a rough one for the Cyclones, starting 2-0 then losing the final ten games of the season. Seemingly everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Clones. In the conference opener, Iowa State struck early and took a 20-0 lead over Kansas into the locker room. Kansas stormed back in the 2nd half to avert the upset, winning 35-33. A month later, Iowa State traveled to Colorado and came up three yards short of the end zone as time expired in a 28-24 loss.
The 2-10 finish no doubt frustrated fans who started to second guess the hiring of Gene Chizik. Chizik demoted his offensive and defensive coordinators to shake things up at the end of the season, then shocked the college football world by becoming the head coach at Auburn. So with the two year Chizik experiment coming to an abrupt end, Iowa State completed the trade with Auburn by hiring the Tigers' former defensive coordinator, Paul Rhoads.
Rhoads has hired former South Florida defensive coordinator Wally Burnham for the same role at Ames. On offense, former Rice offensive coordinator Tom Herman will try and implement the spread at Iowa State.
The Cyclone offense will feature junior quarterback Austin Arnaud calling the signals. Arnaud, who hurt his shoulder prior to facing the Huskers, completed 61.6% of his passes for 2792 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. His performance against the Huskers was his worst of the season: 10 yards rushing, 113 yards passing. With his mobility, the spread offense could become a great match for his skills. At running back, returning starter Alexander Robinson (703 yards, 6 touchdowns) will be joined by Florida transfer Bo Williams.
At receiver, three receivers with some starting experience return: sophomore Darius Darks (477 yards as a true freshman), senior Houston Jones (384 yards in 2008), and senior Marquis Hamilton (301 yards). Senior tight end Derrick Catlett also returns. All told, eight of Iowa State's nine top receivers return from last season. None put up particularly strong numbers, but the depth is there.
The defense was one of the worst in the Big XII last season, and the change to a more aggressive defense with new coaches and a defensive-minded head coach couldn't hurt. Up front, only senior defensive end Rashawn Parker returns. At linebacker, middle linebacker Jesse Smith was the leading tackler for the Cyclones last season. Fred Garrin also returns at weakside linebacker.
The secondary is the returning strength of the Cyclone defense, led by sophomore Leonard Johnson who showed signs of being a shutdown corner once he took over the starting slot midway through his true freshman season. Johnson made waves returning kickoffs last season, averaging 26.4 yards on 41 returns before teams started kicking away from him.
On specicial teams, senior punter Mike Brandtner deserves note; he's never had a punt blocked in his career. He averaged 41.6 yards per kick last season.
Iowa State fans hope that the new coaching staff can build on 15 returning starters in 2009. It's safe to say that the "home run" hire of Chizik never materialized, and his departure could very well turn out to be a blessing in disguise down the line. For 2009, it's back to the basics. Start with winning a conference game, and build from there.