On Campus: The Value System

The debate always rages on what equates to the most valuable player on a team or in a league. Call it the A-Rod debate. In 2003, Alex "Mr. March" Rodriguez won the MVP despite playing on the worst team in the AL West. What good are 47 homeruns and 120 RBI, if your team finishes 71-91?

That's the baseball equivalent of picking up the best looking girl at the bar, but not having any memory of it the next day. So what constitutes value? It can be argued, if it weren't for A-Rod the Rangers would have only won 55 games. And he had the best individual year in the league, which makes him a deserved winner. Honestly, there really isn't a correct answer to the debate. So, I wanted to take a different approach to this age-old conflict.


For Iowa State to have a successful year, what or who are the most vital pieces for success? I think you may be surprised at the results.


15. Packed Jack

Imagine a sell-out seven days from now. As the sun goes down, 50,000 fans stand in unison as the 2006 Cyclones emerge from the smoke and onto the surface. The noise is deafening as the sound system combined with nine months of building excitement join forces to send the crowd into a frenzy. As any player will tell you, that will get you fired up quicker than anything else can. Now imagine that for every home game. It could be some kind of fun to be a part of and a huge asset to this Cyclone team.   


14. Scott Stephenson

Just talking with Scott for a few minutes at media day made me fired up about football. He was starving to hit somebody. I actually felt like I should keep my distance to not give him any ideas; he could toy with me like a box full of Legos. The best story of the fall camp came from one of the scrimmages and involved Stephenson. As the legend goes, Alvin Bowen picked off a pass and was on his way to an easy TD return with seemingly nobody within yards of him. But, Stephenson was in no mood to see Bowen celebrate on his practice turf. He came barreling down the field and leveled "Ace" after he crossed the goal-line, sending him sprawling towards the back of the end-zone. Scotty means business this fall. Not even his teammates are safe. Expect big things from #63 this year. No doubt. They need him to establish a running game.


13. Jason Scales

I'm not going to mention the "I" word that often is complemented with the word "prone" when speaking about Jason. Nobody has any idea what Scales can do. But just having him on the field should give the team a lift. He is a well-liked, hard-working kid that just needs to get some snaps under his legs. And he could add another dimension to Hicks and "Juice" Johnson. That means added value to 2006.



12. Walter Nickel

I think we are in the wake of a break-through effort from the ISU tight-ends. With J.D. and Blythe on the outside, Flynn operating the slot, Messiah in the flat, and the backs doing their jobs, the middle of the field should be a haven for Walter Nickel. He had a nice year last year (20 catches, 263 yards, 2 TDs), but I believe he could put up some big-time numbers this fall. He has put on 15 pounds over the off-season, up to 255 pounds, but kept his 4.65 speed and fantastic hands. He had some tremendous, acrobatic grabs last year and with so many weapons around him, no limit should be set for his production in 2006. Four months from now when Walter has 50 grabs and 7 TDs, don't be surprised.  


11. The Cannon Guys

Last year in a column I wrote for the Iowa State Daily, I mentioned the sluggishness of the guys firing the cannon after scores in 2005. Their timing was worse than Howard Dean's scream at the Iowa Caucuses. They were firing cannons after fumbles, in the middle of missed field goals...all sorts of issues. I called them out in the paper and they responded with a barrage of angry e-mails. True story. Well, this year I look forward to great things from the cannon guys, who apparently, as I was angrily told in the e-mails, have to go through rigorous training to get the honor of firing the cannon. The value of a well-timed cannon artillery is tough to equate, but it could be a good motivator for the men in Cardinal and Gold.


10. Todd Blythe

Are 70 catches for 1300 yards and 13 TDs unrealistic? Not for this guy. If he can get off to a great start unlike last year, nothing is impossible. Plus, Blythe has been sporting the full-growth beard during fall camp. He could become the best bearded receiver in college football history. Not that there is a whole lot of competition for that distinction.


9.    "Ace" in the Hole  

There isn't a player I am looking more forward to watching on an every-snap basis more than Alvin Bowen. I'm telling you, by the end of the year people are going to be wearing shirts with an Ace of Diamonds plastered on the front, just like Superman's Big "S." Iowa State hasn't had his level of speed at the line-backing spot in a very long time, if ever. He will make some mistakes along the way, but he will be doing it at full speed. I expect five or six, "Oh *blank* did you see that" type hits from Bowen. He needs to be a solid run stopper and maintain his responsibilities to help out the young d-line. By the end of the year, I think he will be one of the main factors on whether this defense had a good year or not.



8.    Bret Culbertson

Some may have Shags a little higher on the must-perform list, but I have confidence in the young man. Over the summer he went to the Jamie Kohl kicking camp and reportedly did quite well. I know what you're thinking, "Nothing like a former Cyclone kicker teaching a current Cyclone kicker how to kick. That's just like attending Britney Spears' seminar on parenting." But that is pessimistic. Jamie Kohl actually made two game-winning field goals back in the day. I think Culbertson's attendance will officially break the Cyclone place-kicking hex. Seriously. Don't worry about Shags this year, he will be just fine.


7.    The PA announcer

I think this is the year the Iowa State PA announcer finally figures out the meaning of dual numbers. No longer will Bret Meyer be making tackles on special teams, or Jon Banks making catches on slants across the middle. This effect on a team's morale is immeasurable and could lead to at least four more wins.


6.    Todd Fitch

It didn't receive a lot of attention, but quarterbacks coach Todd Fitch was given the keys to the aerial attack this off-season. He is now the passing game coordinator. The players rave about his teaching ability and he has been called one of the bright young minds in college coaching. With added responsibility, Fitch will allow Barney Cotton to concentrate on the big-uglies, which could make this offense even more lethal. This move is like giving Wesley Snipes character in Blade, Incredible Hulk like strength. In less crazy terms, the ‘Clones offense will be even more dangerous.


5.    Stevie Hicks

Hicks is the Morgan Freeman of Iowa State football, he rarely stands out, but when he is prominently involved the team is usually successful. Hicks has run for over 100 yards nine times in his career; Iowa State is 7-2 in those games. In the games he had more than 15 carries last year, the Cyclones were 5-0. He is much-maligned for his lack of game-breaking speed, but his ball security and blitz pick-up skills are as good as you can get in the Big 12. You know what you are getting from Stevie, 3.9 yards per carry. Each year at ISU he has averaged that many yards per carry. Not great, but good enough to win ball games.


4.    Chris Singleton

Singleton has had a quietly great off-season and he needed to. Teams are going to pick on him more than the Mark Mangino-looking kid in dodge ball this fall. D-Jack will receive Deion Sanders like respect at the other corner, and teams will focus most of their attention on Singleton's side of the field. He played quite a bit as the nickel back last year, but hasn't had much time out on the island. He doesn't have to be LaMarcus Hicks or Ellis Hobbs, but needs to have a solid year. And I think he will. Along with "Ace" Bowen, Singleton is my break-out Cyclone for 2006.


3.    Scott Fisher

It may surprise some folks to see the big dude in this position, but he and his 6'7 325 pound frame needs to hold down Meyer's blind-spot. The revolving door last year at LT (in more ways than one) with Johannes Egbers and Fisher was a large part in allowing a Big 12 leading 39 sacks. The only schools who allowed more sacks were: Buffalo, Ball State, Cincinnati, New Mexico State, and Stanford. Ummm…I'm not real intelligent, but that is not a good group to be associated with. Those 5 schools combined to win 14 games last year. Big Scott needs to hold down the fort along with the rest of the line.


2.    Bret Meyer

There is a different aura around Meyer this fall. It is bordering on cockiness, but that is what this team needs. The aura could also be mistaken for the glass bubble placed around him during practice. He is being protected better than the Colonel's "finger-lickin' good" recipe. They can't afford Meyer to go down for an extended time. Austen Arnaud may be the next great thing, but without #7 under center ISU loses its leader and conductor of the offensive symphony. Meyer is going to put up scary good numbers this year. Book it.


1.    The person opposite Brent Curvey

If "Big Play" is the Curve Ball, this person is the Slider. As Kerry Wood will attest, you can't get by with just one pitch. (Wood will also attest that it's hard to pitch with a shoulder that resembles a train-wreck, but that is another story.) As I wrote earlier this summer, teams with stout rush defenses are almost always successful. The correlation is remarkable: In 2005, 37 of the 40 top run defenses had a winning record. 34 of the bottom 40 had losing records. Last year, the Cyclones were 12th nationally, but that was with Nick Leaders and his 310 pounds of sloppy brilliance. Guys like Nate Frere, Ahtyba Rubin, Bryce Braaksma, Stephon Dale, Matt Berg, etc. are the #1 key to a successful season. It was the biggest question mark in the summer and remains the biggest question mark with only a week left to the first game. Toledo ran for over 220 yards a game last year and returns four of the five offensive lineman. The d-line might as well make an impression early.



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