Ben Bruns was a standout center at Iowa State and a key member of the 2000 senior class that led Iowa State to a 9-3 record and top 25 ranking in both the Coach's and AP polls. Bruns finished 5th in the voting for the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the top center in college football, and in high school was named the Class 1-A Player of the Year by the Des Moines Register. The native of Denver, Iowa now provides analysis for the Cyclone Radio Network and Cyclone Nation during the football season.
CN: Let's start with your overall impressions of the Northern Illinois game. Despite the loss, it did seem as if the Cyclones made a lot of improvement after the loss to Iowa.
Bruns: I think there was a lot of improvement in a lot of different areas. Our guys played very hard and dominated much of the game. Unfortunately, we just didn't make the plays it took to win.
CN: Were there enough positives coming out of DeKalb to believe this team still has a realistic shot at the postseason given the schedule that awaits?
Bruns: I don't see any reason this team can't make it to a bowl game yet again. Yes, the schedule is tough; and yes, there have been key injuries. But the younger guys have talent and will keep improving. This team has a lot going for itself, and it is about time to surprise some people.
CN: Going back to last year's Oklahoma debacle, ISU has lost eight of its last 11 games. Of course, the schedule has a lot to do with that. Six of those eight losses were to ranked teams on the road. However, I went back and did some research into those eight losses this week, and I discovered that in five of those eight defeats the Cyclones either led at halftime or in the fourth quarter. What does that tell you?
Bruns: I wouldn't put anything into leads at halftime, etc. I think you have two different issues, here. The long season and the small senior class last year had a big effect at the end of the year. This year the team is short on experience in a lot of areas, and it is tough to be consistent when that is the case. The good news is that they will continue to get better.
CN: In those five losses something always seems to go wrong for ISU as well, such as missed makeable field goals, dropped interceptions, receivers not making the big catch, a big turnover, or an unfortunate injury. As a player, do you have a sense of doom like fans do or does this pattern really not enter your thought-process at all?
Bruns: I think we are mentally beyond the notion that a single missed opportunity makes or breaks a game or even a season. I think if you miss an opportunity, you miss an opportunity. We have enough toughness on our team to bounce back from missed opportunities. However, if your opposition is good, missed opportunities can mean a loss. We're too close to everyone else not to capitalize when opportunity knocks.
Bruns: I think there were a large number of plays that didn't get made last week. I think Lane Danielsen, Jack Whitver and Mike Wagner have all made plays as well, along with a number of other players. However, if you're a coach and you've got guys consistently not making plays, you have to find someone who will.
CN: Injuries are really taking their toll. The latest is Jordan Carstens is doubtful with a knee injury and Hiawatha Rutland tore his ACL and his career is over. That means key players like Carstens, Rutland, Bob Montgomery, Tyson Smith, Johnny Smith, Matthew Robertson, Tony Yelk, and Stevie Hicks have all missed time already with various injuries and the real heart of the schedule has just now arrived. Factor in Anthony Forrest's ineligibility and is ISU's roster just stretched too thin against the caliber of competition it's facing?
Bruns: It certainly doesn't help, but those guys aren't going to be here forever. The players behind them have to step up big like Jason Berryman has and play well. ISU's depth is better than it has been in most spots, and while it hurts to lose top players, you have to get the most out of their replacements.
CN: Is there such a thing as the "injury bug?" Does it become contagious?
Bruns: ACLs, MCLs and broken bones aren't contagious. They are exceptions to the rule. When you have multiple numbers of them, you have been very unfortunate.
CN: To Mac's credit, he refuses to use his depleted depth as an excuse, but this week the Cyclones are going to be playing a lot of freshmen against the top-ranked team in the country. Does that scare you?
Bruns: The last time someone asked me if something scared me in this sort of context was last year before the Iowa game: ‘Ben, does Iowa's offensive line scare you if you're ISU?' Of course the Hawkeye fans went crazy when I told them my honest evaluation of their line's performance against Miami of Ohio in the previous game and that I was not "scared" of their O-line. So in answer to your question: NO, it doesn't scare me.
Oklahoma is on an entirely different level than Iowa, and you wish you had all your guns because you're going to need them. The young guys need to grow up. There is no better way than playing the best, and you can't be scared if you want to come away with a win in those situations.
CN: What most impresses you about Oklahoma? Their overall depth and athleticism? Their tremendous coaching staff? Their versatility and ability to hit the big play on offense, defense, and special teams? Or all of the above?
Bruns: I think they are the total package, but they are coached extremely well. A perfect example was the fake punt on their own 30 on 4th-and-9 in the third quarter against Alabama. That play made the game for them…one of the gustiest calls I've ever seen. Last year their free safety, Brandon Everage, was involved in almost every ISU offensive play. He was everywhere -- intercepting, tackling and sacking. Seneca Wallace must have had nightmares about the kid for the next two weeks. He was in the right position every time because of coaching and defensive play-calling. It changed the game.
CN: Early on in your career at ISU while the program was still developing you can probably remember what it felt like to be a 21-point underdog like the Cyclones are this weekend. Thus, can you give us read on whether or not the ISU players really believe they have a chance to win on Saturday?
Bruns: I always believed we had a chance until the last second ticked off the clock…you can't play the game if you think any differently. If you don't think that way, you don't have a chance to beat Baylor.
CN: From a player confidence standpoint, what's a bigger mental hurdle to overcome: forgetting last season's 49-3 loss to the Sooners or not dwelling on the fact that several key teammates aren't going to battle with you on Saturday night?
Bruns: I would remember both and keep them close to my heart. Remember what the Sooners looked like as they strutted around while kicking your butt. Remember what the guys that play beside you mean to you. That is what inspires overcoming the odds.
CN: Is there any recipe for the Cyclones pulling what would be a monumental and historic upset at Jack Trice Stadium?
Bruns: There is a little saying that Mac says a lot that really gets right down to it: Players have to play and coaches have to coach. If both of those things happen and we play inspired, mistake-free football, anything is possible.