Northern Iowa vs. Iowa State Preview, Staff Picks

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AMES, Iowa – A record-breaking crowd of 61,500 fans is expected to attend Iowa State’s season opener against Northern Iowa on Saturday night.

Even though the Cyclones are coming off a 2-10 record (0-9 in the Big 12) last year, excitement surrounds the program heading into the 2015 season. The university added several improvements to Jack Trice Stadium, most notably the south end zone.

However, it remains to be seen whether the excitement will translate to on-field production from the team. The Cyclones have lost the last two season openers to FCS teams. Saturday’s opponent, Northern Iowa, was one of those FCS teams who beat them, as the Panthers pulled off the upset in Ames in 2013.

“We need to play better, it’s a simple answer,” ISU head coach Paul Rhoads said on Monday. “We need to play better and when adversity comes – which it will – we need to be able to handle it and respond to it."

This season will be Rhoads’ seventh in Ames, and the possibility of dropping a third-straight game to an FCS team at home in the season opener is on everyone’s mind. The Panthers come into the matchup ranked No. 10 in the FCS poll, which is higher than they were ranked when they defeated the Cyclones in 2013.

In order to avoid that Saturday, Iowa State will likely lean on quarterback Sam Richardson and the passing game. Richardson is entering his third season under center, and his weapons on the outside -- D'Vario Montgomery, Allen Lazard and Quenton Bundrage -- are the team’s best in recent memory.

“We are going to throw the ball a lot, we are going to spread it out and give those guys the ball as much as we can," Richardson said in August. "It's just about making the plays that are out in front of me and seeing those guys go to work. It’ll be fun and easy on me.”

Northern Iowa has yet to reveal who their starting quarterback will be to battle against Richardson. Whoever is eventually named starter among Sawyer Kollmorgen, Aaron Bailey, Dalton Demos and Eli Dunne, they will certainly have their eyes on new Cyclones starting nose guard Desmond Tucker. The JUCO transfer from Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi, was named the 2013 National Junior College Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year.

Staff Picks

Keith Murphy: Iowa State

John Sears: Iowa State

Michael Admire: Iowa State

Andy Fales: Iowa State

Game Information

Location: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa

Time: 7 p.m.

Television: Cyclones.tv

All-Time Series Record: ISU is 20-5-3 against UNI