AMES, Iowa — It's become a late summer tradition that Iowa State would like to break.
If it's the middle of August, the Cyclones are in the middle of yet another quarterback controversy.
Iowa State is again unsettled at the game's most important position. The Cyclones have narrowed their choices down to junior Sam Richardson and sophomore Grant Rohach, and coach Paul Rhoads said Thursday that he'll name a starter by Monday.
Iowa State opens the season at home on Aug. 30 against FCS power North Dakota State.
"I've seen great improvement from them, and that's the fun thing," Rhoads said. "Not only is it a true competition, we've seen an elevated level of play
When the Cyclones left a chilly Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia at the end of November, there didn't seem to be a controversy at all.
Rohach had just led the biggest comeback in school history, throwing for 331 yards and four TDs to help the Cyclones overcome a 24-point deficit and beat West Virginia 52-44.
Then Mark Mangino showed up.
The former Kansas State and Oklahoma coordinator and Kansas head coach was put in charge of yet another Big 12 offense in the offseason, and one of his first priorities was to open the quarterback job to all comers.
Though Rohach ended last season as the starter, he believes that an intrasquad scrimmage set for Saturday could go a long way in determining who wins the job for 2014.
Rohach threw for eight touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2013, with a completion rate of 57.6 percent.
"It's not like a day-by-day update of who's in the lead or anything like that. I think they just want us going out there and playing hard," Rohach said.
The events of last season — when Iowa State lost seven straight and finished 3-9 — made it easy to forget just how highly the coaching staff thought of Richardson last August.
The Cyclones thought he had all the makings of a three-year starter.
But Richardson injured his ankle in an opening-day loss to FCS rival Northern Iowa and was never quite the same quarterback who completed 23 of 27 passes with four TDs in his 2012 debut.
Richardson then hurt this thumb, and an offensive line decimated by injuries didn't help matters.
Still, the coaching staff has seen Richardson improve his strength, accuracy and grasp of the offense in past nine months — perhaps even enough to leap past Rohach on the depth chart.
Despite his struggles in 2013, Richardson has 19 career TD passes against just seven picks.
"He's got a firm grasp on (the offense)...he's growing with it every day," Iowa State quarterbacks coach Todd Sturdy said of Richardson. "He's played in games. He has won games. That's a lot of experience for him going into a new system and competing for a job this fall. He's sitting right where he wants to be. I'm real pleased with his growth."
The instability Iowa State has suffered through at quarterback in recent years has kept the program from making a serious push up the Big 12 standings. But the Cyclones appear to have plenty of talent at both running back and wide receiver, so whoever is named the starter should have a chance to succeed.
The winner of this summer's annual quarterback competition shouldn't get too comfortable though.
Redshirt freshman Joel Lanning might be third-string for now. But anyone who has watched Iowa State knows that, a year from now, Lanning could be in the mix as well.
"Joel's a strong kid," Sturdy said. "He's got a lively arm. I think he's very, very talented. His skill set as a quarterback is really good. I've been really impressed so far."