The SB Nation 2009 Big 12 Preview will post Friday, at Ralphie Report. This is a high level preview of Iowa State, and my conference predictions. If you have been reading my more detailed Iowa State and Big 12 previews, this will provide a summary of what you've been reading.If you are new to the site, welcome and enjoy your stay at Clone Chronicles!
Offense (9 Returning Starters):
The offense should be a strength for the Cyclones. The Cyclones have an entirely new coaching staff, with Tom Herman (formerly of Rice) as the new OC. The Cyclones are going to be running a no-huddle spread offense, and having seen Herman's track record, many believe (or at least hope) that the Cyclones will be able to put up some serious points. The one thing we learned about the Big 12 last year, is that you have to score if you want to win.
Passing: The Cyclones offense will be lead by returning starting QB, Austen Arnaud, a junior from Ames, IA. In 2008 Arnaud completed 61% of his passes, threw for for 2792 yards, 15 TDs, and 10 INTs. Arnaud also ran for 400 yards and scored 5 TDs on the ground. Arnaud will be joined by a young, but talented receiving corps., lead by Sophomore WR Darius Darks (2nd on the team last year as a True Freshmen with 49 Catches), JUCO-Transfer Darius Reynolds, Sophomore Sedrick Johnson, and Senior Marquis Hamilton. One can expect to see the Cyclones run 3 and 4 WR sets, as WR is the deepest position on the offense. Not to be forgotten is Senior TE, Derrick Catlett who caught 20 passes for 230 yards in 2008.
Running: The running game has been a somewhat hot topic for Cyclones fans this offseason. Returning starter Alexander Robinson, a Junior from Minneapolis, is believed to be the starting RB. Herman likes to use the RB as a receiver, and Robinson has the hands as he caught 17 passes for 160 yards in 2008, slightly down from 20 he caught in 2007. The running back corps also has Bo Williams a transfer from Florida, and Jeremiah Schwartz, a Redshirt Freshmen entering his first season. Williams has a bruising running style, but it is not clear if he has the hands to catch the ball out of the backfield. Schwartz is a change-of-pace back who is quick and can elude tacklers. True Freshmen Beau Blankenship has reportedly done well in camp, but I would not be suprised to see him redshirt.
Offensive Line: The Cyclones offensive line was the achillies heel of the offense. This is obviously not the spot you want to have your major weakness. It's also not surprising when you have the skill position talent the Cyclones have, but only win 2 games the year before. The big move on the offensive line is All-Big 12 Caliber Senior OG Reggie Stephens has moved to C, and Junior C Alex Alvarez will move to OG. The good news about this group is there is a lot of experience, as 4 of the starters return from last year. The 5th starter is an uncertainty at this point (at least to me). There appears to be a hole at OT, and I've heard names such as Keleichi Osemele, Hayworth Hicks, Zack Spears, and others. The unit is looking to be one of the largest in College Football, averaging 320+lbs. Bottom line is this: the OL was weak last year, and there is a lot of returning experience coming back. The hope is that these guys can improve and stay healthy, as there isn't a lot of depth. If the OL can just get to below-average, instead of bad, the Cyclones could have a nice season offensively.
Key Additions: JUCO WR Darius Reynolds, RB Schwartz (redshirt off), RB Bo Williams (transfer from Florida)
What you can expect to see from the Cyclones is 75-80% passing, and lots of short dump passes. With a weaker OL, there won't be many running lanes, and Arnaud won't have a lot of time to make deep throws. The Big 12 can put up points, and the defenses will be questionable. If the Cyclones are going to win games, it will have to be done by putting up a lot of points through the air.Defense (6 Returning Starters)
The Cyclones defense was a disaster last year, allowing almost 36 points per game, 453 yards of offense (277 passing, 176 rushing), and I wouldn't be surprised if they lead the nation in missed tackles. New DC Wally Burnham is a czar at stopping spread offenses, and he will have his work cut out for him with this group.
Defensive Line: Last year the Defensive Line was a weak link for the Cyclones, as evidenced by the rushing yards allowed. The guys got pushed around on running plays, and on passing plays could not put pressure on the QB. This year's group is led by Seniors DE Rashawn Parker and DT Nate Frere. Numerous names have been thrown out there for the other DE and DT spot, and I will not even try to speculate. Frere and Parker are good players, but if the other 2 guys aren't as productive, it will be easy for opposing linemen to double these guys, and run the ball away from them.
Linebackers: The linebacking group had it's fair share of problems as well. There were a lot of missed tackles in the open field, which attributed for longer gains on the ground and after the catch. Seniors MLB Jesse Smith and OLB Fred Garrin will lead the group. Adding JUCO OLB Matt Taufoou will hopefully improve the unit drastically.
Secondary: By looking at the stats last year, one would make the conclusion that ISU's secondary was horrible, but that wasn't necessarily the case. The DL not being able to put pressure on the QB, gave opposing QBs plenty of time to find holes in the zone. Sophomore CB Leonard Johnson has the potential to be a shutdown corner in the Big 12, while Senior CB Kennard Banks (who was injured a lot of last year) is a solid player. DC Wally Burnham has even said that these two guys will allow for the Cyclones to be able to mix up coverages and even blitz. The rest of the unit will include JUCO SS David Sims, and Senior FS James Smith.
Overall, I'd expect to see the Cyclones defense find creative ways to put pressure on the QB. Last year, the staff was all about staying in a base defense, and hoping the DL would somehow get good over the course of the season, as we saw very little blitzing. I think Burnham understands that you have to find a way to pressure the QB, especially in the Big 12. You take a risk when you blitz, but if the DL can't put on pressure, you have to find other ways to do it. If the Cyclones can find ways to put pressure, and the team can improve their tackling, this could be an average defense (instead of a defense ranked in the triple digits).
Key Additions: JUCO LB Matt Taufoou, JUCO SS David Sims
Special Teams (4 Returning Starters)
To avoid being confusing, I am not including the FG protection, Punt protection, Kickoff Coverage, etc. When I talk Special Teams in this section, I am talking about K, P, KR, and PR.
Once an area that haunted the 'Clones under McCarney, Special Teams was a bright spot for ISU last year. All Big 12 Caliber P Mike Brandtner returns for his Senior Year, and strong legged K Grant Mahoney comes back for his Sophomore Year. Mahoney has the range (48 was his longest FG), but needs to improve on his 68% accuracy.
Last year Leonard Johnson has a great year returning kicks, averaging a little over 26 yards per return. It is unclear whether Johnson will be returning Kicks and/or Punts this season, and from the reports from camp, WR Darius Reynolds could be seeing some action as a return man as well. Regardless of who's returning, it's going to be an explosive and talented group.
Overall, I look for ISU to have one of the best Special Teams Units in All of the Big 12, and that is something I didn't think I'd ever say about ISU a few years ago.
Big 12 North:
- Nebraska: 6-2 (9-3 overall)
- Kansas: 5-3 (9-3 overall)
- Missouri: 4-4 (7-5 overall)
- Kansas State: 3-5 (6-6 overall)
- ISU: 2-6 (6-6 overall)
- Colorado: 1-7 (4-8 overall)
Big 12 South:
- Oklahoma: 8-0 (12-0 overall)
- Texas: 7-1 (11-1 overall)
- Texas Tech: 5-3 (8-4 overall)
- Oklahoma State: 5-3 (8-4 overall)
- Baylor: 1-7 (4-8 overall)
- Texas A&M: 1-7 (4-8 overall)
Big 12 Championship: Oklahoma over Nebraska
National Championship Game: Oklahoma over Alabama
For more reading on my ISU Projections:
For more reading on my Big 12 Projections: