The debate's getting serious.
AllCyclones.com began listing ISU's best 50 players for 2014 earlier, Nos. 50-26 — using production, potential, positional value and a little bit of by-the-gut reasoning.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty, beginning our one-by-one countdown of No. 25 to No. 1, a task that'll run through Spring Football.
The envelope, please ...
No. 9: Sam Richardson, Quarterback, JR
A fully-healthy, fully-confident Sam Richardson is a top-five quarterback in the Big 12.
Unfortunately for Richardson and the Cyclones, that level of optimization has rarely been on display. Of the seven games Richardson started in 2013, only the first four were anything to write home about, and even then those games included erratic play as ISU got out to a 1-3 start.
The player who eviscerated a Texas pass-rush that included two future NFL defensive ends for 83 yards rushing was the exception, not the standard, and as the season wore on and the injuries began to pile up, Richardson became a shell of himself.
A new coordinator should have recharged him and that was the thinking behind this lofty ranking, which was finalized before spring practice began. Richardson got the slight edge in the advanced metrics over Grant Rohach and his speed and ability to create is a useful skill in this conference.
Richardson looked like ISU's clear No. 3 quarterback in the spring game, although head coach Paul Rhoads said the junior worked with the third-teamers because that's how the reps fell that particular day. But still, you think a QB really in this battle would be given such short shrift in public?
The next day will be key for Richardson's future. ISU wants to choose two QBs by the time it wraps up spring ball — the Cyclones might not announce those two candidates, but all involved parties will know where they stand.
If Richardson exits as the clear No. 3 QB, he'd be inclined to split. Few talented, experienced quarterbacks choose to toil as the backup's backup. Rhoads could choose to tab Richardson as the No. 2 starter, enticing him to stick around for a continued competition in August.
Or, if he wanted to, Richardson could remain in Ames no matter what, see how this fall plays out while working to graduate in December, then leave for greener pastures and be immediately eligible for a final season.
After a 2013 season that saw Richardson and Rohach be tugged about, each deserves nothing but transparency from the coaching staff.
It is with caution that I dip my toe into what will likely be choppy waters. Ranking Iowa State's 50 best players is an arduous task. With a number that allows for the two-deep (22 on each side) plus a few, any omission might be construed as an insult. That's not at all what I set out to do here. I wanted to locate and then rank the most valuable Cyclones for the 2014 football season. Read that again. For the 2014 football season. Not from last season. Or for 2017. How'd I do this? I looked at production, sure, and of course I looked at short-term potential — can this player contribute in 2014, and at what level?
Phone calls were made, brains were picked, contributions considered. I tried to think like an NFL executive: Quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback are by many accounts the most important positions in football, but I didn't always obey that rule, not unless the talent stacked up. I went back to my notes for the first and second watches of all the 2013 games, but those were last season's schemes, at least on offense, and I project the change to Mark Mangino's scheme will shake things up.