As a die-hard fan of the Chicago Cubs, I have spent the last few days wondering how this team is going to stay in the pennant race after losing Corey Patterson for the season last weekend.
Patterson was having a breakout year in Chicago, hitting around .300, stealing bases, driving in runs and covering enough ground in centerfield to make up for the lack of range of Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa.
Then…BAM! It's over. Patterson's season is over. A torn ACL takes away a very valuable player. It's amazing how quickly something like that can change a team's entire outlook on its season.
This got me thinking. Considering how many injuries there are in college football, there is a pretty strong likelihood that a starter or two is going to get hurt this season for Iowa State. There isn't much you can do about it. It happens to every team almost every year.
So, my question is this: Who could ISU least afford to lose?
I've come up with five players who I believe the Cyclones need to remain healthy. In no particular order, here they are…
- Jordan Carstens. Iowa State's defensive line could be the best it has been under Coach McCarney. And Carstens is a big reason for that. At 6-5 and 300 pounds, the Bagley native had 103 tackles last season, including eight for losses and five sacks. He regularly takes up a couple of blockers. If the Cyclones are going to be successful this fall, they'll have to be able to limit their Big 12 opponents' rushing attacks. In order to do that, ISU needs a strong senior season from Carstens.
- Brandon Brown. Another key player for the Cyclones' defense, Brown is moving to middle linebacker this season. Last year, as a sophomore, Brown had 137 tackles, six sacks and an interception. Talk about productivity. Beyond the numbers, Brown has the most experience at linebacker for ISU. Nike Moser and Joe Woodley could be the new starters, replacing Matt Word and Jeremy Loyd. Big shoes to fill. As a result, Brown will need to provide leadership as well as plenty of big hits.
- Bob Montgomery. A two-year starter, Montgomery is the anchor of the offensive line. In fact, I could have simply listed "offensive line" in this spot. With an inexperienced quarterback, nothing is more important than a solid group up front. Not only will a strong line give the new QB more time to pick out the right receiver, but it will also go a long way toward establishing an effective ground game. For Iowa State to make it to a fourth straight bowl game, the Cyclones will need to run the ball consistently.
- JaMaine Billups. In his first season as a strong safety last year, Billups was very good. As a junior, he recorded 97 tackles and an interception. I look for the former tailback to continue to improve in 2003. If he does, the senior from Omaha could be an All-Big 12 type of player for the Cyclones this season.
- Lane Danielsen. Last year, the former walk-on from Dike broke ISU's single-season receiving record with 1,073 yards on 63 catches. Three of those receptions were for touchdowns. Plus, Danielsen ran 15 times for 148 yards and three more scores. ISU is going to be looking for consistent play-makers on offense and Danielsen has shown the ability to do just that.
Like I said, there really isn't much you can do about the "injury bug." Some seasons, your team gets lucky and isn't affected very much. In other years, injuries can completely take away a team's goals and dreams.
Let's hope that Iowa State avoids any major injuries this fall. There can be little question that Cyclone fans are due for a few breaks to go their way.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)