Preceded by 10 straight losses to end the previous season and with no expectations, Paul Rhoads stepped onto the field at Jack Trice Stadium to make his Iowa State coaching debut on a Thursday night in September 2009.
Everything that could go wrong had the season before as the Cyclones rattled off two early wins against non-conference opponents before finishing 2-10. This was a new start with Rhoads at the helm. And then…
“[I remember] that our headsets didn’t work,” Rhoads said.
Iowa State coaches battled the non-functional equipment through the first half before eventually beating North Dakota State to collect the first win in the Rhoads era. The Cyclones would win five more in the regular season before winning the Insight Bowl against Minnesota, trumping the non-existent expectations.
Five seasons later, Rhoads will face North Dakota State again to kickstart his sixth season at Iowa State on Saturday. Coming off a 3-9 season, the expectations again have been tempered.
“I think there are similarities between that 2009 squad and this squad right here,” Rhoads said. “There’s not a lot of expectations for the 2014 group [and] there were certainly not a lot of expectations for the 2009 group.”
The Cyclones know the importance of winning this first game. Just last season it was a 28-20 loss against in-state rival and FCS opponent Northern Iowa that sent Iowa State quickly in the wrong direction.
“It’s everything,” center Tom Farniok said of getting out of the gate fast. “You either set the tone for a winning season or a losing season and you’ve got to get it started the right way.”
“I probably place more emphasis on it than most,” Rhoads added. “A lot of guys don’t want to do that — there’s 11 more games to play. I would argue that the start of our season beyond the opener and the first two games [last season] was affected by that opening-game loss.”
Sam Richardson was quickly injured last season and never the same while the offense struggled to get going. That’s what rests on the player’s minds as a new season with a fresh start begins.
“We want to be 1-0 and that’s pretty much the only thing on our mind right now,” Richardson said. “We want to start fast and come out and see what we can do on offense and get some points on the board.”