AMES, Iowa (AP) Opening day losses have all but doomed Iowa State in each of the last two seasons.

This year's schedule should give the Cyclones a chance for a better start.

Iowa State opens its seventh season under coach Paul Rhoads with an immediate must-win game on Saturday against Northern Iowa.

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The Cyclones have dropped back-to-back home openers against FCS schools, starting with a defeat to Northern Iowa in 2013. If Iowa State can get past the Panthers this weekend, it has a shot at a winning streak with Iowa, Toledo, Kansas and Texas Tech on deck.

''We need to play better and, when adversity comes - which it will - we need to be able to handle it and respond to it,'' Rhoads said.

The Cyclones emerged from fall camp without suffering any significant health concerns, which was crucial for a team that's been devastated by injuries in recent years. Perhaps the only hit they took was the sudden departure of backup defensive lineman Devlyn Cousin last week.

Iowa State still has no idea what it has at running back.

The starter, according to a depth chart released Monday, will be sophomore Tyler Brown, the only back with any collegiate experience. Brown rushed for 109 yards last season on 24 carries.

Iowa State will also give freshmen Mike Warren and Joshua Thomas a look against the Panthers. Warren averaged 9.3 yards a carry while rushing for over 2,500 yards as a high school senior, and at 224 pounds, Thomas gives the Cyclones a big back for short-yardage situations.

Rhoads also announced Monday that wide receiver Trever Ryen, who emerged as a potential contributor with a strong offseason, has been moved to running back.

''The plan will be to see a lot of bodies carrying the ball out there and carrying it well. Do I have an, `Oh, he's going to get the first carry and those guys are going to get the next three plays?' No. It's not that specific. We'll play one back, we'll play two backs,'' Rhoads said. ''As the game goes along, who's playing well and what the situations are, we'll be able to go from there.''

Iowa State's coaching staff insisted throughout August that the Cyclones are a much more cohesive unit than they've been in recent seasons.

But another loss to an FCS opponent - on a night when Iowa State should draw over 60,000 for the first time at remodeled Jack Trice Stadium - could really hurt.

''It's the start of everything. It really builds confidence and sets the tone for the rest of the season,'' quarterback Sam Richardson said.