Those who think new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino can fix Iowa State's offense point to the depth at wide receiver as a major reason for their optimism.
The Cyclones look as though they have a lot of potential targets in the passing game this season.
Iowa State's receiving corps could be as deep as it's been in years — and the presence of tight end E.J. Bibbs, a first-team preseason All-Big 12 selection, can only help.
Iowa State, which was 3-9 and just 2-7 in the Big 12 in 2013, opens the season on Aug. 30 against North Dakota State.
"Mark's not bashful about throwing the ball. The ball is going to be in the air," coach Paul Rhoads said. "We've got some guys that we've got to get the ball to."
It all starts with junior Quenton Bundrage, who ranks among the best returning wideouts in the Big 12. Bundrage led the program with 48 catches for 676 yards and nine touchdowns last season despite struggling with drops.
Bundrage caught more than one TD pass in three games and gained more than half of his yards after the catch — an encouraging sign for an offense that has often struggled to generate explosive plays.
"I've been here longer than the other guys and I've been on the field a lot longer than some of the other guys," Bundrage said. "It will help me be more confident in my play knowing that I have to do something right because other players are looking up to me."
Iowa State is also hoping for a breakout season from senior Jarvis West, whose playmaking ability could be a perfect fit for the short passing game Mangino often used while the head coach at Kansas. West is among the quickest players on the Cyclones roster. He caught 15 passes in 2013 before a knee injury ended his season in late October, and had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
"This is a guy that has really grown up," Rhoads said. "He's practicing hard. He's practicing at the front of the line ... we're going to need Jarvis to be as healthy as we can keep him all year long."
The Cyclones have three experienced but unproven receivers competing for a starting spot in P.J. Harris, Tad Ecby and Dondre Daley. But there has also been a lot of buzz about a pair of 6-foot-5 newcomers; transfer D'Vario Montgomery and freshman Allen Lazard.
Montgomery was among the nation's top receiving prospects coming out of high school in Winter Lake, Florida. But Montgomery left South Florida after just one season, and he is still finding his way with the Cyclones after redshirting a year ago.
"He's had some struggles. Any time you leave a program, there's a reason — whatever it is. I think there's some maturing that has to take place and some growing and some development, and I think he's still in the middle of it," Rhoads said. "He's got to continue to build practice habits."
Though Lazard is barely months removed from attending his senior prom, Iowa State fans have known about him for years.
Lazard grew in nearby Urbandale, Iowa, and was one of the country's most sought-after receivers. But even though Lazard turned down the likes of Notre Dame, Nebraska and Stanford to play for his struggling hometown program, the coaching staff doesn't yet know if he'll be ready to contribute by the end of the month.
Iowa State should still have enough options to allow Lazard to develop at his own pace.
"Having a lot of guys is a good thing. There's competition in the group. Guys are excited," said Tommy Mangino, Mark's son and the first-year wide receivers coach for the Cyclones. "Even the guys that have done stuff in games at Iowa State, they're competing as well. They know no position is given to them."