MEMPHIS — So, was this season progress?
More importantly, how does Iowa State’s football team go from bowls that are forced to take 6-6 teams to a higher postseason plane?
The Cyclones lost 31-17 to Tulsa in Monday’s Liberty Bowl for their second-consecutive 6-7 season. Are they treading water or building on solid ground? Paul Rhoads, the architect and head coach of the program, insists it’s the latter.
“Tonight wasn’t a success,” Rhoads said. “We lost a football game.” But ... “December 31, we’re talking football, playing football, we’re in uniform. There’s a lot of folks that aren’t.
“Is success 6-7? No. Is what we’ve accomplished in four years when you look at where our program was and you look at the history of Iowa State football? Yeah, this is another successful season that we’ve got to continue to build on.”
There’s nothing magical or obtuse about it. For ISU to be better than 3-6 and ninth-place in the Big 12 as it was this season, it needs better players and more of them. And in a conference that seems to have an endless supply of top-shelf quarterbacks, the Cyclones need one of their own.
They haven’t had consistently strong quarterback play in Rhoads’ 4-year tenure, and haven’t really had that since Sage Rosenfels and Seneca Wallace from 1999 to 2002.. Is Sam Richardson, the red-shirt freshman who started Monday’s game, the answer? It’s too soon to tell, based on just his three games
Asked after the Liberty loss if Richardson enters next season the team’s No. 1 quarterback, Rhoads tersely responded “I’m not starting 2013’s quarterback conversation yet.”
But no matter if the QB is Richardson, junior-to-be Jared Barnett, or even red-shirted freshman Grant Rohach of Moorpark, Calif., that player will need support from running backs, receivers and offensive linemen that is on a par to the many talented ones in the Big 12.
And, obviously, Iowa State’s defense needs to improve on being ranked 98th nationally with 444 yards allowed per game.
“We got a lot of great work in (from their 15 bowl practices),” Rhoads said, “from the juniors on down to a number of true freshmen and red-shirt freshmen that aren’t playing right now.
“Then, when we put the pads back on in March and April, we’re ahead of where we were in ‘09 and ‘10 and ‘11 and so forth as we add to our recruiting classes, as we had to our strength and explosiveness and development.”
Rhoads has had the big upset wins, and he has had the surprising 6-win regular-seasons of 2009 and this season. Now, we’ll see if the program can start to play with the Big 12’s big boys a bit more consistently.
“We just go right back to work,” said Rhoads. “We have an outstanding work-ethic in our program. Motivation comes in several ways “The taste that’s in our mouths right now will be plenty of motivation right now to get back to the weight room on January 14 and attack the off-season program.”