Is the future now for ISU?

This Saturday, Iowa State will start a freshman at quarterback (Austin Flynn), fullback (Ryan Kock) and tailback (Stevie Hicks). This experience will certainly pay off for the Cyclones in the next few seasons, but what about this fall?

Can a team with a backfield full of freshmen make it to a bowl game? Can it survive the rigors of a Big 12 schedule? On the surface, it doesn't sound too promising for ISU.

However, freshmen have been able to make an impact—a positive impact—for their football teams recently in the mighty Big 12 Conference. All you need to do is look at last season's statistics to find some nice success stories. Seven of the teams in the league enjoyed significant offensive contributions from first-year QBs or RBs last fall. For example…

Oklahoma fullback Kejuan Jones ran for 613 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman in 2002.

Texas Tech running back Taurean Henderson ran for 793 yards and seven TDs for the Red Raiders last year. As a freshman, he also hauled in 98 passes for 633 yards and six more scores.

Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal threw for 456 yards and six touchdowns last season, mostly as a backup. He also ran for 137 yards. McNeal came off the bench in 2002 to throw four TDs against Oklahoma.

Nebraska running back David Horne rushed for 651 yards and seven touchdowns last season as a freshman. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

Colorado tailback Brian Calhoun ran for 314 yards a year ago.

Missouri quarterback Brad Smith had an amazing freshman campaign in 2002. He threw for 2,333 yards and 15 touchdowns, and ran for 1,029 yards and seven scores. Smith was only intercepted six times all year.

Kansas fullback Clark Green led the Jayhawks in rushing last year with 813 yards and four TDs.

So, it CAN be done.

I think it's probably much easier for a freshman running back to produce big numbers, though. On the other hand, the quarterbacks need to learn to read everything, make quick decisions, deliver accurate throws, manage the game clock and avoid turning the ball over with rookie mistakes…all while playing the game at a brand-new speed.

I fully expect Hicks to "play like a sophomore" by the time conference play rolls around on October 4 against Oklahoma. I wouldn't be surprised if the big tailback from Omaha has racked up 400 yards rushing by then, either.

However, I think it's a bit unrealistic to expect Flynn to adjust to big-time college football as quickly. Plus, I'm a little worried about the Sooners' attacking, speedy defense and how that might affect Iowa State's offense, regardless of who is playing quarterback. Oklahoma can be pretty scary, as evidenced by ISU's 46-point loss to the Sooners a year ago.

One thing that Flynn has on his side is his speed and ability to run. There may be plenty of times this season—if he stays healthy—that Flynn will need to tuck it under his arm and run for his life. Who knows? These situations might be when he's at his best this season.

The biggest ally that Flynn could have would be a strong rushing attack. If the Cyclones can run the ball effectively, they will shorten the games up a little bit and take a ton of pressure off of their freshman signal-caller. If these things happen, it will appear that the offensive line is doing a terrific job for the Cyclones and, as I've said before, that will be the big key for ISU in 2003.

Even the Iowa State offensive line will include a freshman in its starting unit: Aaron Brant at right guard.

Hopefully, Flynn enjoys some early success against UNI and Ohio in the first two weeks. It would NOT be the best-case scenario for Iowa State to have a quarterback controversy heading into the Iowa game on September 13.

In fact, it would be very nice if by the time that the Sooners come to Ames, all three freshmen (Flynn, Hicks and Kock) were comfortable and confident in their abilities to perform against top-notch competition. There will not be room for any hesitation against Oklahoma.

While I still believe that the offensive line is the key unit for the 2003 season, the Cyclones may only go as far as three freshmen can carry them. Does that scare you at all? Me too.

But, it's also exciting to think of a backfield of Flynn and Hicks for the next four seasons. And just as the first few games will set the tone for their rookie seasons in Ames, the 2003 season may set the tone for their ISU careers.

(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.)


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