In my estimation the league was heading for a Big 12 championship game in Stillwater next Saturday between Oklahoma and the 'Pokes, but Baylor had other ideas as they ripped apart the Cowboy defense. We'll talk more about that in the week.
Glenn Spencer was known for producing good, sound defenses under Bill Young as the OSU linebacker coach and he turned the fantastic upperclassmen he inherited in 2013 into a fantastic defense. But since then, OSU just hasn't looked as good on D and you wonder if Mike Gundy will be looking around this offseason for a replacement.
One obvious option would be Paul Rhoads, who was just fired from Iowa State.
As for the Cyclones, I've got a few tips for Rhoad's successor that I think will help spare him from also enduring repeated losing seasons until he's unceremoniously dumped.
Tip 1: Don't hire a complete jerk to be your offensive coordinator
When Iowa State blew their game against Kansas State, who I suspect will also soon begin a search for a new head coach (probably with the assistance of the current head coach), Mark Mangino taunted the program with a tweet.
You might recall that I was skeptical in this space of Rhoads firing Mangino, even when the result was a crushing 23-0 win over Texas and solid offensive showing from replacement Joel Lanning. I just knew Mangino knew more about QB development than Paul Rhoads and was also less worried about trying to save his own job like Rhoads was.
Sure enough, Lanning has been iffy when not scrambling or running, and the Cyclones have fallen apart since their big win over Texas.
But while Mangino had the Cyclone OL playing better than I've seen them in some time while trying to rebuild their passing game, he's just a jerk. Plain and simple. Rhoads entrusted him the role of trying to preserve his job and it's no surprise that it didn't work out for anyone.
I wouldn't hire either of them to be a head coach and I'd think long and hard before hiring Mangino at all, even though he's a fantastic, detail-oriented coordinator. I would be interested to hire Rhoads as a DC and would be curious to see what he could do with better players.
I bet he could be an option at KSU or OSU within the Big 12, and a dozen other spots outside the league.
Tip 2: Don't try to compete with the 2/3 stars from California and Florida that no one else in the country wanted
Recruiting is dictated FAR more by staff connections than the average fan realizes. It's more than plain that Rhoads and his staff relied on connections to the big programs in California and Florida (and Texas somewhat) to guide them to players. From there, they tried to build them through a good S&C program and effective coaching into a unit that could take down more talented teams.
There were just a few problems with that strategy. First of all, the Florida and Cali kids from the big high schools that every other college program knows about aren't going to make Iowa State their top choice. The Cyclones were the last to a very crowded bowl every year and that meant that when they found talented kids they were often ones with baggage that would later get them kicked out of school anyways.
Secondly, that talent pool of well-coached high schoolers wasn't a good one to execute the plan of building up players once they arrived on campus. Rhoads needed a talent pool of players with much more upside.
Finally, they totally ignored the advantage of recruiting in a small mid-western state like Iowa. Namely, there are tons of kids all around that just need a closer look and maybe a greyshirt and they could be built up into much, much better players than anyone would expect. Iowa State in the Paul Rhoads era didn't have nearly enough local kids that turned out to be excellent because he wasn't looking locally.
The local Iowa Hawkeyes represent a better model for the next coach, as does Kansas State. Beef up that walk-on program, take the hard working local kids and milk them for all their worth, and find dog bowls that aren't crowded with much bigger breeds.
Tip 3: Don't give up on building from the trenches
As the only real midwestern program in the Big 12, unless you count Kansas, the Cyclones should look to build from the inside out with tough, physical DLs and OLs. We've seen flashes of this working in the Paul Rhoads era. The current team has a good, physical interior OL and a RB that keeps his legs churning and isn't fun to tackle.
They've also fielded some stout fronts in the past, especially when they had guys like Stephen Ruempolhamer or Jake McDonough at nose tackle and guys like Jake Knott or AJ Klein at inside linebacker. Those are the kinds of players that are available locally, so the next head coach should probably aim to build around strategies that involve stout, hard-nosed players up front on both sides of the ball.
They could also hire Bob Stitt, who seems to be capable of making a dynamic Air Raid team just about anywhere in the country, but my choice would be North Dakota State's Chris Klieman, who fields a team better than Iowa State just about every year with players that Rhoads has ignored.
Good luck, Cyclones.