- Why did we choose "Leap Year" as the theme for our 2003 football preview in CN Magazine?
- Did Cris Love and Hiawatha Rutland doom themselves to a season in purgatory with their arrests for drunk driving in July?
- What is Dan McCarney's chief concern heading into the season?
- What is Dan McCarney worried the least about?
- Will the Cyclones pick up the "six pack" on September 13th?
- Which Cyclones will have breakthrough seasons?
- Which newcomers will make an impact this fall?
- Which Cyclones have the best chance for individual honors?
- What's the scariest game on ISU's schedule?
- What's the one game ISU fans shouldn't even bother watching?
- What is ISU's best shot at an upset this season?
- What is ISU's "must-win" road game?
- What will be the most exciting game of the season?
- What game will ISU lose this season that they shouldn't?
- What game will ISU win this season that they shouldn't?
- Who is ISU's most overrated player?
- Who is ISU's most underrated player?
- Which team will win the Big 12?
- Which of ISU's games are rated definite wins, definite losses, and tossups for 2003?
- Will ISU qualify for a fourth straight bowl bid?
Beyond just the brilliant shot of a leaping, one-handed catch from Lance Young on the cover, "Leap Year" has another meaning. There's probably more hype going into this season of Iowa State football than any other in recent memory. The Cyclones have gone to three straight bowl games, beaten Iowa five straight years, and return 40 of their 48 on the two-deep and an outstanding senior class. However, a schedule only a sadist would love looms, including a murderer's row of college football's elite that will be visiting Ames. Last season the Cyclone Nation was demoralized by the second half struggles that culminated with an embarrassing loss to Connecticut. The same foes that befuddled ISU on the road in 2002 now visit the friendly confines of Jack Trice and a record-setting season-ticket base. Cyclone Nation is waiting for Dan McCarney's Cyclones to knock off one of the Big 12's heavyweights, or at least play them competitively on a consistent basis. If that doesn't happen, and the program fails to make it to another bowl game, traditionally skeptical ISU fans looking for any excuse to jump off the bandwagon may have to be talked off the ledge.
Let's start with Love, who was atop the depth chart at quarterback coming out of the spring. Anybody who saw spring practice would have a hard time saying Love was better than Austin Flynn was. Love was No. 1 because of his experience, but in terms of the development of Flynn and Waye Terry, his tomfoolery probably helped the Cyclones. Now, I'm not saying anybody was happy he got busted, because they obviously weren't. But his mistake did clear the way for ISU to begin developing his younger and more talented challengers. Barring something unforeseen on the injury front I don't expect to see Cris Love play too much this season.
On the other hand, Rutland was the clear No. 1 at tailback heading into the fall after an outstanding spring that climaxed with him being voted a captain by his teammates. Rutland had taken the challenge from redshirt freshman Stevie Hicks and responded. Word out of fall practice is that he is taking his demotion in a similar vein. Don't be surprised if Rutland starts and/or gets the bulk of the carries against Ohio next week.
The Cyclones have plenty of experience and depth at several positions, except at quarterback where it counts most. It's almost a certainty that ISU will start an all redshirt-freshman offensive backfield. Those players are all talented, but they lack seasoning. Also, the broken foot suffered by All-Big 12 guard Bob Montgomery could have a crippling effect on an offensive line that already was a question mark heading into 2003.
Overall, this could be the most physically talented squad Mac has had at ISU. The secondary and defensive line has the potential to be the best of his tenure. The wide receivers corps could be the best in school history. And young talent like Hicks, Flynn, Jon Davis, Matthew Robertson, Korey and Kyle Smith, DeAndre Jackson, Todd Blythe, Aaron Brant, Seth Zehr, Caleb Berg, and Jason Berryman provide quality depth and hope for the stability of the future.
Given the offseason of foibles ISU has suffered through, perhaps "six pack" isn't the most appropriate term. Nonetheless, we'll get our first read on where the 2003 Cyclones are heading when Captain Kirk Ferentz brings the Hawkeyes to Ames. One thing Iowa fans don't understand is that ISU frankly cares about this game more than Iowa has, and that desire for respect has been as big a factor as any in the Cyclones capturing five consecutive Cy-Hawk trophies. I've seen both Flynn and Nathan Chandler play, and that's why I'm going with Iowa State to win a close one again.
The coaching staff moved play-making safety Anthony Forrest to cornerback in the spring hoping to make a strong unit even stronger. Well, somebody forgot to tell Harold Clewis he was supposed to sit on the bench his senior year because he's had an outstanding spring and fall practice. Call it a hunch, but I'm thinking this is finally the year that kicker Tony Yelk takes his practice dominance with him to gameday. The coaches were also hoping to upgrade the tight end position with JUCO transfer James Wright, but right now Brett Kellogg is the starter and when it comes to blocking he could be another Mike Banks. Fullback Ryan Kock is going to make that position viable in the ISU offense again. Our very own Bill Seals also believes senior safety Marc Timmons, who really dedicated himself this offseason to conditioning, is a player to watch. Finally, he may lack the measurables scouts look for from the position, but you can't discount heart and desire. So look for Joe Woodley to be a pleasant surprise as a full-time linebacker. He's just got a knack for making plays beyond what the stopwatch says about his perceived lack of athletic ability.
The obvious choice is the all-redshirt freshman offensive backfield of Flynn, Hicks, and Kock. Flynn is an outstanding athlete, but it's his guts and chutzpah that I like. He'll be a great quarterback at ISU before it's all said and done. Whether or not that will be this year remains to be seen. Hicks has been pegged with the special label from the time he game ISU a verbal commitment in the summer of 2001. Beyond those no-brainers there's already a lot of buzz about Berryman, who could be ISU's next threat off the edge in the Reggie Hayward and Tyson Smith mold. Jackson is walking into a secondary already blessed with skill, experience, and depth but you can never have too much speed on the field and DeAndre certainly has that. Unquestionably the youngster that will have the biggest impact – figuratively and literally – is Brant, who will be the rare true freshman starter on the offensive line. Redshirt freshman Seth Zehr will also see plenty of action on the line as well.
Jordan Carstens is a shoe-in for All-Big 12, and maybe has an outside chance at All-American honors as well. JaMaine Billups was third team All-Conference in his first season on defense and should be even better this time around. Depending on how long he's out, Montgomery could also repeat as All-Big 12. Look for big things from linebacker Brandon Brown, who has been moved to the middle of the defense where he'll make more plays. Wide receivers Lane Danielsen and Lance Young are NFL prospects, but the lack of experience from the quarterback position could dim their hopes for postseason honors. Perhaps the Cyclone with the best chance for an actual award is Brant, who is a strong preseason candidate for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.
There could be an ambush on September 27th when the Cyclones visit Northern Illinois, perhaps the best team in the underrated MAC. The Huskies will be battle-tested because they open the season at home against ACC power Maryland, so a respectable Big 12 program won't intimidate them. Plus, ISU will be coming off a bye week as well.
November 8th could be a good Saturday to get caught up on raking the leaves in your yard, applying cream rinse to your hair, or actually speaking to your family because that's the week Kansas State comes to town. For whatever reason, every time Iowa State is weighed and measured by the Wildcats they come up wanting. K-State has outscored the Cyclones by about 1 million points the past three years, which have been some of the most rewarding in ISU football history. Unfortunately, I don't expect much to change in 2003.
I'm also leaning towards putting an advisory on the Nebraska game in Lincoln on October 25th. But the Big Red needs to earn back some respect after last season's 36-14 shellacking.
Texas, my pick to win the national title, is the Homecoming opponent on October 18th. The Longhorns are one team ISU seems to play well against, and if it weren't for a little home cooking from a linesman last year in Austin the Cyclones might have hooked those Horns. Could Texas have a post-Oklahoma hangover when they come to Ames?
Another "upset" possibility is two-time defending Big 12 North Division champion Colorado at home on November 15th. However, I actually think the rebuilding Buffaloes are in for a struggle this fall so I'm not sure how much of an upset that will really be.
According to my preseason projections, the Cyclones' bid for a school-record fourth straight bowl bid comes down to the finale at Missouri on November 29th that will air on national television. The Tigers have taken over for ISU as the new up-and-comer in the Big 12, with Brad Smith inheriting Seneca Wallace's hype. This could be a loser stays home for the Holidays matchup.
Iowa. ‘Nuff said.
At Northern Illinois.
Look for Flynn, a native Texan, to get his first road victory as ISU's starting quarterback on October 11th at Texas Tech.
Kicker Adam Benike earned All-Big 12 honors after coming out of nowhere to convert 17-of-23 field goals last season. Don't look for an encore. Benike was inconsistent – for lack of a better word – in the spring and now looks to have lost his place-kicking duties the strong-legged but enigmatic Yelk.
Despite looking more like a power forward than a Big 12 starting offensive tackle the past two seasons, Casey Shelton has been a capable player for the Cyclones. Now he's a senior captain with thick ankles after a rigorous offseason workout regimen. The steady Shelton will be missed when his eligibility is exhausted after this season.
Oklahoma is the preseason #1 in both polls, which means they have no shot to win the national title. Therefore, I'll pick Texas in the South now that the pressure is off the talented Longhorns. K-State looked like an overwhelming favorite in the North until its defense was turned to Swiss cheese on Saturday night. But I'll stick by the Wildcats with Texas winning its first Big 12 Championship game.
Definite wins—Northern Iowa, Ohio, Colorado, and at Kansas.
Definite losses—Oklahoma, at Nebraska, Kansas State.
Tossups—Iowa, at Northern Illinois, at Texas Tech, Texas, at Missouri.
Yes. Somehow, someway Mac and the deep senior class that went through last season's downfall will eke out a bowl bid somewhere. Perhaps the Tangerine Bowl on December 23rd?
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Central Iowa each Monday-Friday from 4-7 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)