The Iowa State football team opens fall camp Aug. 5 on the heels of a bowl victory on the final day of 2009 and a winning season.
Going 7-6 last year is, well, only one game away from a losing season. Remember, however, ISU was 2-10 in 2008 under Gene Chizek, who is now at Auburn. So 7 wins is like 45 degree temps after an ice age. You'll take it.
Whether the Cyclones can reach another post-season game depends on several factors within their control (improved play and maturity under second year head coach Paul Rhodes) and outside their control (perhaps the toughest schedule in the nation.
The team could improve, but will the record show it?
On the plus side, ISU returns the core of its offense and has another year of experience under Rhodes. On the negative side, ISU has to retool its defense, and then there's that schedule.
Here are 10 ingredients the Cyclones must throw in the mix if they are to cook up another winning season:
1. QB play -- Senior quarterback Austen Arnaud needs an outstanding season. The 6-foot-3, 226-pounder from Ames is capable of a big year if he can cut down on interceptions, run the ball like he did last season and control the clock to keep the other offenses off the field.
2. O-line play -- The Cyclones return three of five interior linemen from last year in a unit that could produce more points than last year. Could. The loss of Scott Haughton, who was dismissed from the team, won't help.
3. A-Rob--A healthy Alex Robinson at running back will give the Cyclones one of the league's best backs. The Minnesotan rushed for 1,195 yards and six TDs last year in an injury-plagued season.
4. Stickier fingers--The receiving corps needs to improve, and it looks like there is talent to do so. A healthy Darius Reynolds (who had a season-ending injury during in the fourth game in '09) will be a good start. Good seasons by Sedrick Johnson and Darius Darks also are needed.
5. Defensive line--Lots of losses here in what already was a sometimes undermanned area. The return of injured Rashawn Parker at end will bolster the d-line, but others will need to step up bigtime.
6. LB growth--ISU lost tough middle linebacker Jesse Smith to graduation and must replace its three-man group. The Clones need a strong season from Matt Tau’fo’ou (probably playing in the middle). He backed up Smith last year and will have to lead the group that will probably include youngsters A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. Should the unit meld and mature, it could be a strength.
7. DBs--A step forward by corner Leonard Johnson will help immensely. Johnson was a freshman all-American in 2008 and needs to play that way again. Keeping safety David Sims on the field is also key.
8. Schedule--Ugh. It's tough. Texas Tech, Utah and Nebraska come to JT Stadium...plus UNI and a good Northern Illinois team. Road games include Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma. Missouri at home ain't no slouch, either. In fact, there's no slouches in sight.
9. Injuries--It would be nice to avoid them.
10. Coach Paul Rhodes--"I'm so proud to be your football coach." It seems his players will run through a brick wall for him. ISU fans are glad they've got him and the foes don't. How much is he worth to ISU's W-L mark?