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Iowa State Holds Its Media Day

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AMES Nine.

That's the number of Iowa State football players currently atop the fall depth chart with zero starts in their careers.

"We have the least amount of returning starters in the Big 12 Conference," Cyclone Coach Paul Rhoads said during Sunday's media day. "I think that's showing a little bit right now."

Thus, youth and inexperience became the operative and inseparable words as ISU coaches and players gathered inside Jack Trice Stadium.

Given that, unquestioned No. 1 quarterback Sam Richardson qualified as a seasoned veteran. He started the last two games of 2012 after guiding the Cyclones to bowl eligibility off the bench in a 51-23 win at Kansas.

"I don't think it makes a difference, honestly, if I think I'm inexperienced or not," said Richardson, who compiled eight touchdown passes to one interception last season. "It's just being ready for a situation and maybe having more experience than some of the guys that are going to play this year, it's definitely something I have to show them give them a feel for what it's going to be like so they're ready to go."

So who's next? And more important, what's in store for the Cyclone football team in 2013?

Don't expect the answers to those questions to be tempered by a youth and inexperience clause. The baseline goals remain the same: Advance to and win a bowl game, and ascend into the top flight of the conference standings.

ISU went 6-7 last season, including a 31-17 Liberty Bowl loss to Tulsa.

"We actually bumped our goals up," said safety Jacques Washington, who shares the team lead in career starts with Tom Farniok at 26. "The top half of the conference is where we need to get and if it's four, five or six wins, that's what we need to get."

To bump that up, the expansive youth and inexperience group needs to progress extra rapidly, especially at defensive tackle, where there is depth, but only Brandon Jensen and Walter Woods III have played much, if at all.

"They're open-minded," said Jensen, who's widely regarded as the "meanest" player on the defensive interior. "They can pick up quicker and it's only going to help them throughout more years, too."

The clock's ticking, though, and the youth and inexperience guys let alone the coaches have them finely tuned.

"We've got a lot of work to do," said red-shirt freshman defensive tackle Pierre Aka, one of up to four players Rhoads expects to see plenty of snaps behind Jensen and Woods. "Me and a lot of the other guys. We don't have a lot of time. So I think that's kind of a wake-up call. We've got to get going fast and we've got to pick it up."

As usual, the outside world's skeptical of ISU's ability to reach its goals. They're again tabbed to win a handful of games and fail to reach a bowl game, even though Rhoads has led them to postseason play in three of his four seasons.

In that sense, nothing's changed, too.

"We know what we're capable of and we know everybody else doesn't think we're capable of much," running back Jeffy Woody said.

Tick-tock, tick-tock. No ceilings. No clauses, either.

"Heck, let's get in the top half the league," Rhoads said. "Let's be better than half the league as we continue to make this climb and do things that this program has never done."

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