Read what Phil Steele's preseason mag has to say about the Cyclones' chances in 2014. Warning: Brace yourself
Improving Iowa State's defense has been a focal point of the offseason, as Wally Burnham's unit finished No. 106 in total D a year ago — along with No. 76 in passing, No. 114 in rushing and No. 109 in scoring, which for the most part represented deviations from the Cyclones' results in the Paul Rhoads era.
ISU loses a pair of safeties, along with leading tackler Jeremiah George, and has to plug the vacancies left by defensive tackles Rodney Coe and David Irving, who were each booted from the team in the spring.
Phil Steele, who's been writing a college football preseason magazine for 20 years and is generally regarded as the best in the business as predicting results and exhaustively researching trends, is not high on ISU's chances.
In a projected units portion of his magazine (pages 42 and 43 on the iPad version), Steele predicts the Cyclones to finish No. 126 in pass defense, No. 127 in scoring defense and No. 127 in total defense, taking into account ISU's strength of schedule, which he says is sixth-toughest nationally (page 27).
Steele does write of the Cyclones: "[Paul] Rhoads usually gets the most out of his teams" (page 187).
Other ISU tidbits
Steele has E.J. Bibbs as the No. 5 best tight end, taking into account draft eligibility, and does not include Quenton Bundrage in his top 40 WRs or Tom Farniok in his top 20 centers. Steele does note that Bundrage had just two games with over 100 yards receiving, although the sophomore came close against West Virginia with 93 yards and two scores.
TE E.J. Bibbs
ISU doesn't appear in any of Steele's "top individual units." Notably, Kansas is No. 13.
The Cyclones had the ninth-toughest winning percentage in 2013, per Steele's formula, and are facing in 2014 a schedule against opponents that won 63 percent of their games cumulatively in 2013, the seventh-highest mark.
Steele tabs the Cyclones to finish tied for ninth place with Kansas in the Big 12, writing: "Rhoads has done a phenomenal job getting them to three bowls in his five years but he does lose 26 lettermen and his team was -128.4 yards per game (second worst) in Big 12 play last year."
Bibbs makes the conference's first team, while Tom Farniok and Quenton Bundrage make the third team and Aaron Wimberly and Cory Morrissey make the fourth team. Morrissey is the only defensive player to be honored there. Jarvis West is on the fourth team as a punt returner.
The biggest brow-raiser: Steele says ISU has the No. 10 receiving unit in the conference. In fact, the Cyclones finish in the bottom half of the Big 12 in each of the unit rankings: QB (9), RB (9), OL (6), DL (10), LB (10), DB (10) and ST (6).
On the offensive line, Steele writes, "I'll call it one of the most improved O-lines in the country."