Quarterback Cris Love, tailback Hiawatha Rutland, right guard Aaron Brant and tight end Brett Kellogg will start for the Cardinal squad Saturday, but the ISU coach says not to look too much into Saturday's lineup.
A three-horse race to replace Seneca Wallace turned into a dual between Love and redshirt freshman Austin Flynn midway through the spring after Waye Terry went down with a broken right thumb. While Love has been prone to untimely interceptions this fall and Flynn is starting to come of his own, the two-year backup still clings to a slight lead due to experience.
"We are not about to make a decision based on these next couple of workouts, because it's been too close," said McCarney to a host of reporters Tuesday. "All of the practices that Waye was here, we were rolling all three of them among the ones and twos. There is no way we could make a decision right now, but we've got to come out of spring with who has the edge. Is it Cris or Austin? Then we'll go into two-a-days knowing that there's three guys really vying for the job.
"Cris has picked those things up a little better, because he's had experience at that and has done it. When you've got arrows and torpedoes coming at you from all over the field, and defenses blitzing all over, it's not easy. But Austin's a sharp kid and coaches son. He'll have a real good career here."
Although he got little opportunity to prove himself as a viable candidate before going down with an untimely injury, Terry is still very much in the mix and will not get passed over in fall two-a-days.
"No question he's in the hunt," McCarney said. "We may come out of this thing and one of those two may be a lot better than the other Saturday and he'll come out of spring with a number one spot. But the tight end, right guard, running back and quarterback positions are real close."
Three more freshman starters possible
The lone freshman starter in ISU's lineup heading into Saturday is also the youngest. Brant, who enrolled at ISU in mid-term after graduating early from Dubuque Wahlert, has beaten out redshirt freshman Seth Zehr for the right to start on the Cardinal squad.
McCarney could not say enough positive things about the 6-foot-7 gem of his 2003 recruiting class that weighed in at 307 pounds.
"Brant has been an amazing story," McCarney said. "He's only been here four months and is starting in the Big 12 ahead of guy that's only been here eight months. Both of those guys are two of the best offensive line prospects we've brought in here. They'll both play a lot next year, but as of today Aaron Brant is our starting right guard. I love his maturity and toughness. He's going to have a great career here, barring any major injuries."
The offensive coaches made a decision on their starter at right guard coming out of scrimmages Saturday and Monday in which Brant played a big role in some big rushing days for running backs.
"It was out of the last couple times we've scrimmages," McCarney said. "It's real close and Seth is a real good prospect that will play a lot of football. But Aaron has a little bit of an edge, plus he's 30 pounds bigger right now and a little more physical in there."
What's next for Zehr if he is unable to beat out Brant between now and August? A move to either center or tackle is a possibility.
"He's smart enough to swing and has the athleticism to do that," McCarney said. "He can play center and tackle. The race is on with these last couple of workouts before the spring game to make sure we've got the right guys at number one. Seth sure doesn't want to be a backup and is playing with a lot of passion right now. I'm real pleased with both of them."
The other remaining freshmen bidding for top spots are Hicks and fullback Ryan Kock, who each redshirted in 2002 Hicks now finds himself in a fierce battle with Rutland and Michael Wagner, a pair of fifth-year seniors. Like Brant, Hicks has also started coming into his own during the past week.
"If we played tomorrow, there'd be two and maybe three backs that could play," McCarney said. "We have that much confidence, and it's not because we can't make a decision. We like all of them. Hiawatha and Mike Wagner are seniors that have had a lot to do with us winning around here.
"They don't want to give up their playing time, but there's number 27 right in the thick of everything. He's learning and getting better every day. The last two scrimmages, Stevie hasn't had one mental error. It will be fun competition among all of those backs."
The 242-pound Kock, meanwhile, took hold of the top spot at fullback early in spring and hasn't looked back.
"He's an outstanding football player and we knew that when we recruited him," McCarney said of the fullback. "He's learned a lot this spring and made a lot of improvement. He was on the scout team all of last year, but is now playing on our offense within our system. He has done a good job of improving his fundamentals. He played way too high early in the spring and when you do that you're going to get rejected back."