Merry Christmas, Cyclones fans. While this should be a day spent with family and Iowa State basketball — the Cyclones face Boise State later for the Diamond Head Championship — we hope you'll enjoy our doling out gifts for some key 2014 Cyclones football figures.
For head coach Paul Rhoads...
... A quarterback-savvy offensive coordinator or position coach.Rhoads has been at the helm in Ames for five seasons and has yet to coax inspiring play out of his signal-callers.
The Big 12 is a league that cannot be won without an exceptional quarterback. Rhoads is on the hunt for an offensive coordinator after firing Courtney Messingham, and it's clear he needs somebody to run either a QB-friendly system or somebody with experience tutoring successful arms.
Rhoads' Iowa State tenure may depend on it.
It could be line coach Chris Klenakis, whose pistol is already in place at Iowa State. If so, the Cyclones need a proven quarterback coach to help develop and then choose a franchise guy out of four scholarship players and an incoming freshman in Darius Lee-Campbell, who was born to run the pistol.
Whoever's hired will be under pressure to quickly produce results. Sure, the Cyclones lost plenty of close games in 2013, but they did finish No. 97 in total offense, so their 3-9 final record was deserved.
For quarterback Sam Richardson...
... A clean slate.The junior-to-be was beaten down mentally by the end of 2013. He began the campaign as a franchise building block with three likely years as the starter and finished hobbled and benched behind freshman Grant Rohach.
What Richardson really needs is a fresh start in Ames. Under a new offensive coordinator, he should get it. Iowa State needs to pump Richardson's confidence and help him forget a mostly-bad 2013. A healthy Richardson is a top-5 half Big 12 quarterback and his legs, when they're really working, can keep the Cyclones in any game.
If Richardson finishes the summer or fall camp as anything but the starting quarterback, you wouldn't blame him if he wanted to leave the program for a fresh start elsewhere.
For running back DeVondrick Nealy...
... More touches.The electric running back had his moments as a sophomore, showing off his scoring ability in a variety of ways.
Nealy is one of Iowa State's best weapons, averaing 4.5 yards per play from scrimmage, but he'll need the ball more in 2014. Little over four rushing attempts per game, and less than one reception — his marks in 2013 — won't cut it for a team that was starved for an explosive play.
For defensive coordinator Wally Burnham...
...JUCO help.Burnham's got his gift here, three JUCO defensive players having signed last week and two more committed prospects — Dale Pierson and Qujuan Floyd — in the pipeline.
The Cyclones are also looking for a JUCO cornerback and a defensive tackle, and if they get one there's a good chance the 2014 defense would be stocked with six new JUCO starters: an end, a tackle, a middle linebacker, a cornerback and two safeties.
Bear with us, but Iowa State's defensive struggles weren't totally the fault of the defense. Rarely did the Cyclones start with good defensive field position and rarely were they without heavy psychological burden that: Give up a score, and the game might be over.
So even though things weren't as bad as they appear on the surface, the Cyclones can still use upgrades at a few positions and have holes to fill with the graduations of three secondary members, a defensive end and a middle linebacker.