A Dose of Mid-Summer Optimism

We're getting closer to that magical day when the 2004 college football season starts. But since we're still in the middle of summer, I thought I'd share some things I've been thinking about…

* While there is much-deserved attention being paid to Curtis Stinson heading into the 2004-05 basketball season, I wonder if we might see a much-improved version of Will Blalock this winter. Something tells me Cyclone fans will see a more aggressive Blalock at the offensive end of the court this year.

Blalock had a very good freshman campaign last season, don't get me wrong. His numbers tell you as much: 7.5 points, 4.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 40% FG, 70% FT and 44% 3PT. Not too shabby. Plus, he handled the ball a lot for a newcomer and only committed 2.2 turnovers per game.

But, I think there were many stretches last season when Blalock "deferred" his offense to some of the veterans, like Jake Sullivan and Jackson Vroman. There's certainly nothing wrong with that. It's much better than someone being selfish.

I'm just thinking that, with that year of experience under his belt, and with some of the new faces that will be on the floor this season, Blalock will find a way to assert himself quite a bit more offensively. I look for his scoring to fall somewhere between 12 to 15 points per game…and with an increased emphasis on penetration, his assists could jump up to the 7 to 8 per game range.

* When was the last time you thought of Ron Falenschek?

* Shouldn't there be MORE optimism from fans surrounding the Iowa State football team? Look, I know that last season stunk. YOU know that last season stunk. Nobody likes to lose 10 games in a row.

But that losing streak will come to an end on September 4th against UNI. And the Cyclones will also win a Big 12 road game this season (at Baylor). Plus, there is no sign of Oklahoma or Texas on the schedule this fall, so that's got to be a positive…right?

It seems that everyone who talks to Barney Cotton is impressed by him, so shouldn't that give fans some solid hope for an improved offensive line? With an improved offensive line, isn't it conceivable that Stevie Hicks could be in the neighborhood of 900 to 1,000 yards this fall? If the Cyclones are able to run the ball effectively, won't that inevitably help the QB—Austin Flynn or Bret Meyer—a tremendous amount…and relieve a lot of the pressure for either young quarterback? And if Iowa State runs the ball effectively, won't that give the Cyclone defense a much better chance to make consistent stops, as well as big plays, late in games?

Isn't it possible to keep special teams from being a weakness without a huge upgrade in talent?

Looking at the Iowa State schedule, I think there is a chance for a 6-5 overall record, with a 4-4 mark in the Big 12. Of course, as a die-hard Cub fan, I'm the eternal optimist, I suppose.

And it's still the middle of July, so EVERYONE in the country thinks their favorite team has a shot at six victories. I'm just surprised that I don't hear more Cyclone fans thinking along those lines…or at least, relatively close to that idea.

* Jackson Vroman has a decent chance to enjoy a five- to 10-year NBA career. (Imagine how FAR he's come along in the last 10 months!) Obviously, his under-rated athletic ability impressed plenty of NBA people prior to the draft in June. And I'm sure that 90% of those people were pretty surprised by his speed and quickness…and they had to be impressed by his motor.

If Vroman can keep his head screwed on straight, there is always room on a roster for a young post player who can: A) run the floor, B) play defense with effort and intelligence, C) rebound and D) go all out on every play.

If his offensive skills continue to improve, Vroman could definitely become a "high energy" type of post player who comes off the bench for a few minutes each half to rebound, defend and bring a spark to the team. I think it's going to be fun to watch his progress.

* When was the last time you thought of David Moss?

* Which freshman—and former Iowa prep—will have the greatest impact this season for Iowa State… Bret Meyer, Todd Blythe or Jason Scales? Something tells me that the guy with the least amount of publicity out of that group—Blythe (a WR from Indianola)—could be the guy who makes the biggest contribution this season. Maybe it's just another crazy, mid-summer thought…but SOMEBODY has to step into the shoes of the receivers who completed their careers last fall. Why not the 6-5 Blythe?

* The key game for the Cyclones this fall is probably on October 9 when Texas A&M comes to Ames. The Homecoming game could provide the positive jolt that the ISU program is looking for.

My guess is that the Cyclones will be 2-2 overall coming into that game. If Iowa State can find a way to win what should be a close contest, this could vault them into the very real possibility of a six-win season. Without a victory on October 9, it's going to be awfully tough to reach the goal of a winning record.

Those are just some thoughts, anyway. Now please excuse me while I try to convince myself that the Cubs are somehow going to catch the Cardinals and win the NL Central.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com and now publishes IowaPrepsToday.com. E-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)

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