Will this be the year that Iowa State goes to the Big 12 Championship? That's the big question heading into the fall. One man who is very qualified to answer that question is Tom Dienhart, an Associate Editor and writer for The Sporting News. CN had a chance to talk to Dienhart about Iowa State's upcoming season.
Williams: In the past two seasons,
State has entered the last
game of the season with a chance to play for a Big 12 championship. Obviously in
both of those games, they have lost. Do you think that there is a reason behind
those outcomes, or has Iowa State just flat out had some bad
Deinhart: I just think it's some bad luck.
You have to wonder sometimes if the window has shut. You have to ask if they
blew it losing to Missouri and Kansas. I still think
that the window is open. Obviously the Big 12 North still isn't very strong.
like it is the only top 25 team. We have Iowa State right on the cuff at 26. Obviously
they still have McCarney going for them but they still have that offense. They
have Bret Meyer, who I think is the best QB in the Big 12. Anytime that you have
a QB like that, I think that you're going to have a great chance. Again, having
Meyer under center, a good RB and the fact that the Big 12 North isn't that
strong, I still think that they have the chance to maybe sneak up and seal the
deal this year.
Williams: The defense took a huge
hit in the off-season, especially with the losses of Matt Robertson and Jason Berryman. What are your thoughts on the linebackers and replacing
Deinhart: I watched Berryman in that bowl
game; he was all over the field! He was one of the Big 12's best newcomers a
couple of seasons ago. I would say that the two most disruptive guys on defense
could be a good pass rushing END or a shutdown cornerback and obviously
State loses that in
State is never going to
have great athletes on defense from top to bottom. They will have select guys
here or there. I think that their best chance is to always limit big plays and
to make teams earn what they get. The LB's are good this year, and that's going
to help because that's a critical position. With that athleticism that's
acquired, the guy not only has to cover but they have to stop the run. That's a
good starting point for Iowa State, but even more than linebackers, I
still like to look at team's defensive lines. That's really where it has to
start. That's an area that I'm really concerned about. I think that if the
defense is just average and solid, I think that the offense is good enough to
confiscate for Iowa State to have a successful
Williams: You led me up to my next
question. The offense has 10 of 11 starters returning and you have your
explosive guys like Meyer and Blythe. A healthy Stevie Hicks is key but who else
do you think has to step up for this offense to be as good as it's capable of
Deinhart: That's going to be the key,
making sure that Hicks is healthy. Austin Flynn is a nice combo with Blythe too.
I think that there are enough playmakers there so that the offense can do
whatever it wants. They have balance. They're always going to run the football
under McCarney, but with such a good QB and all of those good receivers, they
are going to be able to keep defenses off balance and guessing. Anytime that you
can do that, you have a great chance. You can really get the defense on their
heals with a veteran QB. Think of the wars that he's been though. He's played in
all of the tough venues and all of the tough situations. That could be one of
the best offenses in the league and that could make up for the deficiencies that
the defense is going to have.
Williams: What is your take on
Stevie Hicks? A lot of people
around here call him soft and overrated?
Deinhart: I don't know if he's an NFL
player but I think he can be a very strong Big 12 player. The one thing that he
has going for him is his size. He's a physical guy who can wear down a defense.
State can get a lead, he's
a great guy who you can just stick the ball in his gut and run down the clock.
Again, you wonder if he's going to be tough enough. He can't be beat up. I don't
think he's Adrian Peterson but I think he's a very strong Big 12 running back.
He can do everything that Iowa State needs for that offense to be
Williams: In your opinion, is Dan McCarney the guy for this job?
Deinhart: He's incredible, I think so. I
always site him when I talk about schools being impatient. Look at the patience
that the Iowa
State administration has
had with him. Just look at how he's turned the Iowa series around. Honestly, we have to tell
ourselves that this isn't the greatest job in the world. He's getting darn close
to winning the Big 12 north with the lowest budget in the Big 12. I think when
you factor in what he has to deal with from a resource standpoint, he's second
fiddle in his own state, yet he plays Iowa better than they play him. He goes to
bowl games and he has success, I think he's one of the few coaches who can
probably stay there as long as he wants. He seems to want to stay there so
State has a coach, who is a
proven winner and the desire to remain there. They're going to try and take it
to a whole other level.
Williams: When you look at that
schedule, it's one of the toughest in the nation. I think that a lot of people
would be happy with 7-5, is 8-4 impossible?
Deinhart: It may be just looking at the
schedule here. You've got back to back games at Iowa and at Texas. Looking back at the year when Seneca Wallace played there, the played Florida State and they had a schedule like this
too. They went to Oklahoma and I think they
went to Texas.
It sort of fell apart on them so if you're going to have a special year, you're
going to have to win one or two games that you're not supposed to. It's going to
be imperative I think for them to protect their home turf. I think that every
home game is winnable. That Nebraska game is the one that everybody is
going to have in red ink. If they can win that game, go undefeated at home and
maybe steal one or two on the road, I think it's possible.
Williams: Is there one key to this
season that sticks out to you?
Deinhart: It's got to be the defense.
That's going to separate Iowa State from being 7-5 type of a team to possibly
winning nine games if the defense plays better than people expect. I expect the
offense to perform well but it's going to be the defense. Can the defense do
did last year? That was a good defense that nobody expected to be great.
Kansas didn't have the offense that Iowa State is going to have this year so I
think that defense is the one big key to this team. That will decide if this is
another midland type of a bowl season for Iowa State or if this is a year when they can
seal the deal and win the North.