Cy Degrees of Difficulty

We take stock of each of Iowa State's 12 regular season games — the easiest, the most difficult, the in-between

Iowa State has made a habit of exceeding expectations since Paul Rhoads got to campus. To reach a bowl game in 2014, the Cyclones will have to do it again. The schedule is among the toughest in the nation and, to boot, is more front-loaded than Kate Upton: Iowa State kicks things off against the three-time defending FCS champs, welcomes Kansas State the next week (a team Rhoads hasn't beaten since his ISU tenure began in 2009) and heads to Iowa City the following Saturday. By the time the first bye rolls around, the Cyclones could be 0-3 just as easily as they could be 3-0.

We've taken a quick glance at every game and provided degrees of difficulty for each, on a scale of 1 through 10, 1 being a bet-the-house gimme and 10 being a bet-the-house-the-other-team-covers blowout. You won't find any 1s, but the 2012 game against Western Illinois would've been an example of it. You won't find any 10s, either, because the two toughest games on the calendar are at least in Ames. At Oklahoma or at Baylor in 2013 would've garnered 10s.

  • North Dakota State, Home, Aug. 30

    There's no way Rhoads isn't getting sick of playing quality FCS teams — especially teams full of players who were overlooked by ISU in the recruiting process and have something to prove — for season-openers.

    Thing is, the Bison is way better than "quality." NDSU has won three consecutive FCS championships and since 2010 is 3-0 against BCS-conference schools, not including a 22-7 win over Colorado State in Fort Collins two seasons ago.

    Head coach Craig Bohl is gone and the Bison must replace quarterback Brock Jensen and running back Sam Ojuri, but Bohl's scheme remains mostly intact thanks to the Bison promoting from within, and the winning fabric is in the roster's DNA.

    Iowa State better be awake for the 11 a.m. kick.

    Degree of Difficulty: 4

  • Kansas State, Home, Sept. 13

    For all of Bill Snyder's sorcery, it's usually best to face the Wildcats early in the season, before they've been allowed to mesh. Snyder is 15-4 in August/September games since his 2009 return to the sidelines, including a 2-2 record last season.

    There's also the fact that the Wildcats, since 2009, have been scratched up after their first two conference games: 1-1 in '09, 1-1 in 2010, 2-0 in '11 and '12, 0-2 in '13.

    The game's at home, Kansas State can't throw the Daniel Sams changeup, Nigel Tribune has gotten a look at Tyler Lockett and the Wildcats won't have much film of Mark Mangino's new Cyclones offense.

    Still, this is a team that's had Rhoads' number and is fresh off a 41-7 thrashing of ISU in 2013.

    Degree of Difficulty: 6

  • Iowa, Away, Sept. 13

    The Hawkeyes' schedule sets up nicely in 2014, especially if it can get by rival Iowa State in this early game, which figures to be the toughest one for a while, before either a road game at Maryland on Oct. 18 or a home contest against Wisconsin on Nov. 22, depending on your Terrapin outlook.

    Iowa will get improved play from quarterback Jake Rudock in his junior campaign and has another great offensive line paving the way for running backs Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri.

    The Cyclones are confident about the matchup, though, because they're dubious the Hawkeyes can keep up with the skill players, if Mangino utilizes them correctly in the passing game — Quenton Bundrage, Jarvis West, D'Vario Montgomery and Allen Lazard on the outside, tight end E.J. Bibbs up the seam and backs Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy in the flats. The Hawkeyes return two starters in the secondary but replace all three linebackers. ISU has to be more aggressive than it was last season, when it didn't score until the third quarter.

    Degree of Difficulty: 6

  • BYE

  • Baylor, Home, Sept. 27

    The Cyclones have an extra week to prepare for Baylor, which humiliated them last season in Waco. Bad news: The Bears have even more time off, playing a Friday game the week before the bye, and will get to catch their breath after whatever damage they inflicted upon the scoreboard in prior contests against Northwestern State and Buffalo.

    Ever since Baylor lost by two touchdowns to Iowa State in October of 2012, it's gone on a run: five wins in six games to close that campaign, then a 11-2 showing in 2013.

    Iowa State can recapture some of that 2012 magic, sure, because Wally Burnham has proven before he can do something to stop Art Briles' offense, and it'll naturally have a better chance at home than on the road.

    Baylor is 1-2 in conference openers since 2011, despite putting up some crooked numbers: 35 points, 63 points, 73 points. Whoever's playing quarterback for the Cyclones at this point must be ready for a shootout against Bryce Petty, the conference's best passer. Can ISU win such a game?

    Degree of Difficulty: 9

  •     Baylor SR Bryce Petty


  • Oklahoma State, Away, Oct. 4

    Not a bad time to play at Stillwater, not a bad time at all, with Oklahoma State facing a rebuilding year. You get the feeling this could be a sloppy game against a half-full stadium at (probably) 11 a.m. The Cowboys get two extra days to recover, having faced Texas Tech on a Thursday the game before. It'll depend on how much progress J.W. Walsh has made — and where the team's collective confidence is after what could be a 2-2 start and an opener against the juggernaut Florida State.

    Degree of Difficulty: 5

  • Toledo, Home, Oct. 11

    If there's a shoo-in win on the schedule, it's a home date against Toledo, which must replace its offensive trinity in QB Terrance Owens, running back David Fluellen and receiver Bernard Reedy. Iowa State got a bit lucky with that turnover as well as the Rockets' downward trend, albeit a very small sample size: Toledo went 8-5 in 2010, 9-4 in 2011, 9-4 again in 2012 and 7-5 last season, in part because of a non-conference schedule that included Florida and Missouri and a strong season in the MAC Conference.

    Cyclones fans will be hoping for a blowout here, but that's not the Rockets way. Their two worst losses of 2013 were against ranked teams in Florida (24-6) and NIU (35-17); plus, while Toledo loses its offensive headliners, it does return 16 starters from a year ago.

    The storyline of the week might be new ISU running backs coach Louis Ayeni, who cut his teeth at Toledo, and whether he's privy to the Rockets' tricks.

    Degree of Difficulty: 2

  • Texas, Away, Oct. 18

    The Longhorns are going to be stout on defense, especially along the front-seven. Last year, Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson was successful against Texas' over-pursuit on third down, stepping up in the pocket and scampering for an easy 10 yards. Don't expect such disorganization under new UT coach Charlie Strong.

    If David Ash (concussion history, broken foot this spring) is healthy, Texas wins big. If he's not, and sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and frosh Jerrod Heard aren't yet up to the task, the Cyclones have a very nice shot. There hasn't been a truly raucous home environment for Texas since October of 2012.

    Degree of Difficulty: 6

  • Bye

  • Oklahoma, Home, Nov. 1

    The Sooners are also coming off a bye! Here's the best chance to beat the preseason conference favorites, Cyclones fans: Licking its chops for the next week's grudge match against Baylor, Oklahoma isn't totally zeroed in on Iowa State.

    Degree of Difficulty: 9

  • Kansas, Away, Nov. 8

    The schedule sets up nicely after the brutal NDSU-OU stretch, beginning with a road date at Kansas. The 34-0 win last season over Kansas was a bit fluky, as the Jayhawks' cleats weren't sufficient to keep them from sliding around the ice. Assuming the game is played somewhere other than Hoth, the two teams are symmetrical — promising/unproven quarterbacks, versatile running backs, lots of weapons at wide receiver.

    It'll be Mark Mangino's homecoming — and Brandon Blaney's and Tommy Mangino's, for that matter. Both teams will probably still be bowl-eligible. Should be a good game.

    Degree of Difficulty: 3

  • Bye

  • Texas Tech, Home, Nov. 22

    This is where Rhoads can earn his money. Iowa State could be anywhere from 1-8 to 7-2 at this point, contingent on your disposition. Neither end of the spectrum is likely but there is a nice chance Iowa State is still alive in the race for a bowl game, barely. The team will be bruised, but it can be rallied.

    Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb looks like the next star Big 12 quarterback after his four-touchdown showing against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl to end the season. That 37-23 win on Dec. 30 gave the Red Raiders their first W since Oct. 19, snapping a five-game losing streak.

    Iowa State is sandwiched between Oklahoma and Baylor in Texas Tech's schedule, so there's trap-game potential. And it's at home, and it'll be cold, so there are a lot of things to like here.

    Degree of Difficulty: 5

  • West Virginia, Home, Nov. 29

    Should be the second-easiest home game for Iowa State, behind Toledo. The weather was horrible the last time the Mountaineers trekked to Ames. The Cyclones lost 31-24 as Tavon Austin did Tavon Austin things. West Virginia didn't enjoy that kind of playmaking in 2013, the holes left by Austin, fellow wideout Stedman Bailey and QB Geno Smith proving impossible to fill.

    Senior wideout Mario Alford is the Mountaineers' star, but as Quenton Bundrage can sympathize, needs somebody to consistently get him the ball. The law of averages suggests West Virginia will get better play (and better health) from its quarterbacks this season. There are plenty of serviceable options in Clint Trickett, Paul Milliard and promising JUCO signee Skyler Howard.

    Dana Holgorsen's bunch returns seven starters from a defense that surreally surrendered 38 second-half/overtime points to ISU last season.

    Degree of Difficulty: 3

  • TCU, Away, Dec. 6

    The Horned Frogs are bound to bounce back, right? They landed a good quarterback this spring in Texas A&M transfer Matt Joeckel, who'll be eligible immediately and allow Trevone Boykin to play receiver, where he remains most dangerous.

    It's an away game, but I'm skeptical of TCU benefiting from much of a homefield advantage at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The Horned Frogs are 1-7 against conference foes at home since it joined the Big 12 in 2012.

    Degree of Difficulty: 4

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