AMES, Iowa (AP) — The local excitement for Iowa State appears to be peaking, even if national expectations are modest at best.
The Cyclones could see much of that hometown buzz dissipate with a poor showing against Northern Iowa.
Iowa State will open its fifth season under fan favorite Paul Rhoads on Saturday at a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium. The matchup against the FCS Panthers is expected to be the first of four consecutive packed houses for the Cyclones — even though they're picked to finish ninth in the Big 12 yet again.
Rhoads knows the rest of the country won't start buying into his program the way the folks in Ames have until they crack the three-win plateau in conference play.
"That starts and probably ends with more victories in the league. I think we're recognized by most as a team that plays smart, a team that probably overachieves. But you've got to go beyond overachieving. You've got to start increasing your level of play, your talent base and so forth and win more games than you're losing in league play," Rhoads said. "When that happens, I think the vision of our program will change from a nation standpoint."
The Cyclones and their fans also know better than to overlook Northern Iowa. The Panthers beat Iowa State in 2007 and nearly did it again in 2011.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch out for as the Cyclones and Panthers renew acquaintances:
SAM THE MAN: Iowa State's Sam Richardson will get his third career start — and his first after a full offseason working as the No. 1 quarterback. Richardson threw eight TDs against just one interception in 2012 and also ran for nearly six yards a carry. The coaching staff and his teammates are high on Richardson's potential after a promising end to 2012. "The biggest area of improvement is in his leadership," Rhoads said.