IRVING, Texas - After finishing the 2009 season with a 7-6 record highlighted by wins over Nebraska in Lincoln and Minnesota in the Insight.com Bowl, Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads faces a much tougher road in 2010.
The Cyclones have arguably one of the toughest schedules in the country with games against Utah, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Nebraska. Last year the Cyclones had a Big 12 South schedule that featured Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor.
However, even with such a tough road ahead of them in 2010, the second-year ISU head coach still feels the Cyclones can be better this fall.
"Our expectations are continuous improvement," Rhoads said. "I know that sounds simple. A year ago, our objective was to improve. This program has a long way to go. You remember a year ago, we were coming off a ten-game losing streak. We didn't win a Big 12 football game. We had the longest road losing streak in the country. If we were going to put an end to some of those things, we had to improve. We wanted to improve what we did in the classroom. We wanted to improve how we tackled. We wanted to improve winning football games. I think we did that.
"We've got so far to go, that we've tweaked it only in that small response. Continuous improvement is the objective of this football team. We'll be improved. I've stated that already. But the schedule, as I've stated, is very challenging. Does that mean we can win more or less? I don't know. But I've got a roster that's going to prepare to win every game and play to win every game. That I can promise you."
Does Nebraska leaving open the door for A&M?
There is no question that Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman and his players are striving to put the program back on the national stage.
Both Sherman and players at the event like quarterback Jerrod Johnson and Von Miller referenced being that "marquee type of team" as they were in the mid to late 1980's and early 1990's. With Nebraska leaving the league, Sherman and his players were asked if that means there is even more room to ascend to the top of the Big 12.
"I think the Big 12 needs A&M to step up to the plate, to answer your question, and be that type of team," Sherman explained. "We're ready to accept that challenge."
Having the Big 12 preseason Offensive Player of the Year in Johnson and the Defensive Player of the Year in Miller is a good way to go into the 2010 season. Miller echoed the sentiment of his head coach.
"With Nebraska leaving, it only leaves us some room to go up," Miller said. "I think the sky is the limit for us. We were a powerhouse school back in the golden days and I think we can get back to that. I think we're on the right track to being that type of school."
Texas A&M will also be the second-to-last conference opponent that Nebraska will play before heading to the Big Ten in 2011. Johnson says he's not looking at it any differently than he was before - with excitement.
"I mean the thing about Nebraska, I've got so much respect for that tradition and that program, and as a football fan, you respect Nebraska," Johnson said. "It's one of those programs in college football that is historic and unique. I'm glad we get one more crack at them [to see] if we can get the bragging rights."
Griffin back on track after injury
Baylor head coach Art Briles tried his best to keep the focus of his interview during Big 12 Media Days on his team as a whole, but it took only two questions before it became all about Robert Griffin.
To be fair, the Bears' electric sophomore quarterback is widely regarded as their only hope of earning a bid to their first bowl game since 1994. So it's easy to see why there was so much interest regarding how Griffin has rehabbed from the ACL injury that ended his season after three games last year.
"He's really done exactly what we thought he would do," Briles said. "When you get something taken away from you, you respond two different ways. You pout, complain, sulk, cry, and fall into a shell, or you fight, you grind, you have vision, you have hope, and you work harder than you've ever worked in your life.
"That's what Robert has done, and that's what we knew he would do. Because you don't become an elite athlete or an accomplished person without having something inside of you that that makes you want to be better than anybody else, and Robert has a competitive spirit that prevails and leads him in the right direction."
Briles said Griffin is up to 217 pounds, which is nine pounds heavier that where he was a year ago. While Griffin has seen significant gains in his rehab and in the weight room, Briles said the final verdict on his recovery wouldn't be known until he can get on the field and see live action.
One of the things that made Griffin so good as a freshman was his instinctive running in the open field. How well he's able to get back to that level will likely play a huge role in how close the Bears get to finally earning a bowl berth once again.
"I think time will tell," Briles said. "I think he's where he needs to be right now. I think he's healthy. I think he's ready. But I'm not lining up and growling at him and trying to, you know, cut him in half either. I'm sitting back there looking at him with a smile on my face.
"So I think when he gets in the heat of competition, I think that stuff will take care of itself.sure not doing - I'm doing a lot of discredit to a lot of people that love Baylor University, myself included."