Iowa State pass offense vs. Northern Iowa pass defense: Flynn, ISU's freshman QB, will get the first action of his collegiate career. My feeling is that the Cyclones will implement a fairly conservative game plan, with Flynn spreading the ball around in the air to four very good receivers: Lane Danielsen, Lance Young, Jamaul Montgomery and Jack Whitver. I'll be interested to see how much Flynn makes use of Brett Kellogg at tight end. The Panthers return their defensive ends, who must contain Flynn as the young QB can really run. UNI also has a pair of good defensive backs in seniors Benny Sapp and Justin Sandy. How Flynn reacts under pressure or when he can't get the ball to his first two options will be worth watching. A freshman QB who can run might have "happy feet" and show reluctance to stay in the pocket very long. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
UNI run offense vs. Iowa State run defense: The Panthers lost a 1,000-yard runner to graduation (Adam Benge), but have a couple of exciting tailbacks this fall to pick up the slack (Richard Carter and Terrance Freeney). However, UNI only has one starting offensive lineman (Ben Deike) returning from a year ago, so it may take some time for the new guys to adjust. ISU has a strong defensive line, led by Jordan Carstens, Nick Leaders, Tyson Smith and Cephus Johnson. The question for the Cyclones' rush defense might be with their linebackers. Brandon Brown is a stud (137 tackles in 2002), but Nik Moser and Joe Woodley will need to show what they can do. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
UNI pass offense vs. Iowa State pass defense: With an inexperienced offensive line to protect him, Panther QB Tom Petrie will need to make quick decisions and get rid of the ball in a hurry. Petrie threw for over 1,300 yards and ran for over 300 yards in 2002. His favorite receiver, Marlus Mays, returns for UNI. Mays had 54 catches for 992 yards and five TDs last season. The Cyclones should be able to get some pressure on Petrie as Carstens, Leaders, Smith and Brown all had at least five sacks a year ago. Defensive backs JaMaine Billups (97 tackles in 2002), Marc Timmons, Anthony Forrest and Ellis Hobbs III were all starters last season. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Special Teams: The Cyclones return their top kicker (Adam Benike), punter (Tony Yelk), punt returner (Todd Miller) and kick returner (Lance Young) from last season. However, something makes me nervous about ISU's kicking game this year. Maybe I'm off base, but I fear that field goals will decide a handful of the Cyclones' games…and that worries me. On the other sideline, UNI lost its starting kicker, punter and return specialist from 2002. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Coaching: Dan McCarney is in his 9th year at Iowa State and has compiled a 36-57 record, including three straight bowl trips for the Cyclones. But these numbers don't come close to describing the job he's done turning around a program that was in terrible shape 10 years ago. Mark Farley is entering his 3rd season with the Panthers and has a 16-9 mark at the helm. He's off to a very good start, but needs to have this team bounce back from its 5-6 record last fall. Advantage: IOWA STATE.
Intangibles: Youth will be served…one way or the other. Both teams will get a good look at a bunch of freshmen on Saturday night. The Cyclones have 10 freshmen in their two-deeps heading into the opener: Seth Zehr (backup center), Aaron Brant (starting right guard), Austin Flynn (starting QB), Stevie Hicks (starting tailback), Ryan Kock (starting fullback), Jason Berryman (backup DE), Brent Curvey (backup DT), Matt Scherbring (backup nose guard) and Korey Smith or Beau Klaffke (backup DE). I think this shows the talent level that Coach McCarney and his staff have been able to bring into the program the last couple of seasons. But, we can expect to see a number of "rookie mistakes" from both teams on Saturday. "School" will definitely be in session at Jack Trice Stadium. Advantage: UPPERCLASSMEN.
PREDICTION: Obviously, UNI isn't going to sneak up on Iowa State. All McCarney has to do is point to the Panthers' victories in this series in 1992 and 1994 to get his team's attention. I believe that Iowa State's first-team defense will play very well, led by its front four. The Cyclones will run the ball effectively from the start, with Hicks gaining 100-plus yards and a couple of TDs. I can see Flynn finishing the day with a line of 9-for-17 for 96 yards, with 1 TD and 1 INT. Waye Terry will get in and appear to be a solid backup QB. Iowa State will lead early and never look back. FINAL: IOWA STATE 31, UNI 10.
(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.)