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2015 MAC football non-conference previews: Iowa State Cyclones

Can Toledo down the the Cyclones in the Glass Bowl in the Week 3 match-up and avenge its 2014 loss to the Cyclones?

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Following its road meeting with Arkansas, Toledo returns home for a night game on September 19 against Iowa State, a team that beat the Rockets 37-20 last season and finished last in the Big 12 in 2014. The Cyclones face a couple in-state tests before taking on the Rockets as they host Northern Iowa and Iowa in the previous two weeks.

The offense has a lot of room for improvement as the team tries to build off of the third-worst offense in the league last season. Something that Iowa State can hang their hat on in 2015 is the quarterback play, as senior Sam B. Richardson  led the way a year ago with his 2,669 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and nine interceptions in addition to his 421 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Two big targets from 2014 will also be making an impact this season with the 6'5" Allen Lazard and the 6'6" D'Vario Montgomery each returning 40+ catches and nearly 1,200 yards between them. However, the Cyclones also lost a pair of receivers each with 40+ catches, including E.J. Bibbs who was tops on the team with eight touchdown receptions.

The rushing attack for Iowa State is a bigger issue as the top returner with the most rushes and yards is the quarterback, with Tyler Brown being the only returning back with his 24 rushes for 109 yards and his three receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown. Despite his inexperience as a starter, Brown did lead the team with 4.5 yards per carry but that phase of the offense has work to do as it was sixth in the Big 12 in rushing in 2014.

Despite the team's woes running the ball, the offensive line's size isn't an issue as returning starters Daniel Burton, Brock Dagel, and Jamison Lalk are all 6'6" or taller and 300+ pounds. Burton leads the group with 20 starts as well as a selection on Phil Steele's Preseason All-Big 12 Fourth Team as Lalk has 19 starts and the senior Dagel looks to come back from a season-ending knee injury.

The defense of the Cyclones, despite having some playmakers, wasn't very good in 2014 as it was 126th in the nation in yards allowed. Sam E. Richardson tied for third in the conference with four interceptions a season ago while fellow defensive back Nigel Tribune was named Second-Team All-Big 12 for his 64 tackles, 13 passes broken up and three picks. Luke Knott was third on the team with 74 total tackles from his linebacker spot, with career highs with 15 tackles against Baylor and 2.5 tackles for loss versus Toledo.

Special teams is also a concern for the team as it lost both its top punt returner and kickoff returner while Cole Netten was 2-for-4 on 40+ yard field goals. Despite this, Netten did well on kickoffs as he had a net of 42.8 yards while Colin Downing was a rock-solid punter during his freshman season, allowing only 18 punts to be returned for 69 yards.

For Toledo to rectify its 2014 loss to Iowa State, the Rockets need to test a rush defense that allowed 246.3 yards per game a season ago while taking quality shots against a talented secondary. Defensively, they need to contain Richardson's running game and force him to be a one-dimensional player. UT will have to be patient playing against ISU as the team tied for the eighth fewest penalties in the country in 2014. It's frustrating to play a team that doesn't beat itself, but Toledo has the talent and the ability to chase the Cyclones out of the Glass Bowl for a big non-conference victory.