The debate's getting serious.
AllCyclones.com began listing ISU's best 50 players for 2014 earlier, Nos. 50-26 — using production, potential, positional value and a little bit of by-the-gut reasoning.
Now we get to the nitty-gritty, beginning our one-by-one countdown of No. 25 to No. 1, a task that'll run through Spring Football.
The envelope, please ...
No. 3: Nigel Tribune, Cornerback, SO
Nigel Tribune would prefer that we not bring up the Texas game, when he subbed in for an injured Jansen Watson and found himself matched up against Mike Davis. Freshman versus senior. All-Conference player versus 18-year-old.
Tribune battled, but it went as you'd expect. And then a little worse.
Davis induced two pass-interference calls and caught two passes, the product of the coaches playing Tribune far off the line of scrimmage to try to prevent the big play.
Rare is it for a freshman cornerback to play much. Tribune ended up starting seven games, recording 30 tackles and one interception, and tying for third on the team with six pass breakups. He got better as the year wore on: four tackles, a pick and a PBU vs. Oklahoma State, six tackles vs. TCU, three tackles and two PBU vs. Kansas.
He needed to get beat.
"It helped me a lot," Tribune said.
Development was visible almost at a per-game clip. Check out Tribune's lone interception, in late October against Oklahoma State.
We're lacking a full-field shot, but it looks like Tribune is in man coverage on the outside, when the receiver chops his feet and squats on the 26-yard-line. Tribune needs to be in position to do two things: Make the tackle if it's a short hitch and stick with the receiver if it's a double-move, route combinations he admits to struggling with.
By the look of the goldilocks distance between Tribune and the receiver — not too close, for the double-move, and not too far, for the hitch — we bet he'd make the play.
However, that's not where Clint Chelf is going, and Tribune knows it. Tribune's got his eye on the quarterback and the ball and in this screenshot, sees Chelf is already locked into a deep pass down the seam.
The ball in the air, Tribune leaves his man and assumes the role of free safety, providing help over the top. He tracks the ball down and makes an easy catch. Tribune then tries to spin out pick up big yardage but ends up being tackled at the one-yard-line.
"A rookie mistake," he said afterward.
As a sophomore, Tribune will look to weed those mistakes out of his game while continuing along a promising path of progression. If he can do that, he's got the physical tools to grow into one of the Big 12's top cornerbacks.
Is Tribune a better player than No. 5 on this list, Quenton Bundrage? Not yet, but he is ranked better because of the positional value of a cornerback in this conference as well as economic basics. As I said on Twitter: Tribune's a cornerback on a team that doesn't have any and Bundrage is a wide receiver on a team with a ton of them. As good as Bundrage is, there are some issues (drops, mostly) in his game that still haven't been corrected and he's at the point in his career where you almost throw potential out the window and just accept that that's who Bundrage is, warts and all. I think Tribune has a higher ceiling, one he can scrape this season. He's a lockdown cornerback in the most pass-happy league in college football.
It is with caution that I dip my toe into what will likely be choppy waters. Ranking Iowa State's 50 best players is an arduous task. With a number that allows for the two-deep (22 on each side) plus a few, any omission might be construed as an insult. That's not at all what I set out to do here. I wanted to locate and then rank the most valuable Cyclones for the 2014 football season. Read that again. For the 2014 football season. Not from last season. Or for 2017. How'd I do this? I looked at production, sure, and of course I looked at short-term potential — can this player contribute in 2014, and at what level?
Phone calls were made, brains were picked, contributions considered. I tried to think like an NFL executive: Quarterback, offensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback are by many accounts the most important positions in football, but I didn't always obey that rule, not unless the talent stacked up. I went back to my notes for the first and second watches of all the 2013 games, but those were last season's schemes, at least on offense, and I project the change to Mark Mangino's scheme will shake things up.