Your Iowa State Cyclones are underdogs. Nay, HUGE underdogs. Like over three touchdown underdogs. The way the national media sees it, you cardinal-and-gold devotees should just be pleased to be entertained by the likes of Florida State. Just plan on showing up to Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday night and taking your 40 lashes with dignity, right?
Not so fast my friend. This game is going to be closer than the experts think. Here's why:
Iowa State pass offense vs. Florida State pass defense
Seneca Wallace, one of the most electrifying players in college football, guides the Cyclone offense. He has a bevy of quality wideouts at his disposal to move the ball through the air against a Florida State secondary that finished 38th nationally in pass defense last season, which is very low by FSU standards. The Seminoles' young defensive front struggled to pressure the quarterback last season, finishing with just 14 sacks despite their lofty recruiting credentials. That will change this fall, and look for the likes of Alonzo Jackson, Travis Johnson, Kevin Emanuel, Jeff Womble, and Darnell Dockett to become household names. Womble, however, will not play Saturday night because of a suspension. Iowa State's offensive line can be best described as "in transition" following the loss of four starters. A key matchup will be Jackson, who reportedly has been strong for FSU during two-a-days, against left tackle Casey Shelton. I like ISU's receivers against the Seminole secondary, but am less than confident about the Cyclones ability to protect Wallace consistently. Also, look for either of FSU' standout and fleet of foot outside linebackers – Kendyll Pope and Michael Boulware – to be used as spies on Wallace Advantage: Even.
Iowa State run offense vs. Florida State run defense
The Seminoles were susceptible to the run last season, finishing just 5th overall in the ACC in run defense. The past few years we've seen physical teams like Tennessee and Oklahoma attack Mickey Andrews' defense right up the middle with the running game, mainly out of fear of how fast FSU is on the edges. Look for Iowa State to attempt the same thing behind Zach Butler and Bob Montgomery. Expect lots of draws, traps, and misdirection running plays against Florida State's over-pursuing, pressure defense. These are some of the easier plays to block for a young offensive line, and utilizing them early should bolster their confidence of players like DeWayne Johnson and Cale Stubbe. Speaking of Stubbe, and it may be unfair to say this, but as he goes Saturday night so will likely go the Cyclone offense. One play Iowa State should run at least three times is the quarterback draw in order to take advantage of the upfield rush by Jackson and Emanuel. Vision and the ability to break tackles will be keys for Michael Wagner and Hiawatha Rutland, who are expected to get the bulk of the rushing attempts. Holes open and closer faster against FSU than they do against Kansas. Advantage: Even.
Florida State pass offense vs. Iowa State pass defense
You look at a big, white kid like Chris Rix who stands 6 feet 4 inches and weighs over 200 pounds and you instantly think "pocket passer." Don't fall for stereotypes. Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden says Rix is the fastest quarterback he's ever had, and that includes former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward. Rix struggled early as a redshirt freshman in 2001 before playing much better down the stretch. With one of the best offensive lines in the nation providing plenty of protection, and the typically tall and athletic corps of receivers we're used to seeing from Florida State ready to catch his passes, one has to think Rix is due for an even better sophomore campaign. The secondary is a team strength for Iowa State, but I don't think they match up well with FSU. The Cyclones have their best depth and speed at both safety and cornerback in recent memory. But I'd rather have 4.4/40-yard dash guys who are 6-2, as opposed to the 4.4/40 guys who are 5-9. Advantage: Florida State.
Florida State run offense vs. Iowa State run defense
This is probably the biggest mismatch in the game for either side. Greg Jones gives the Seminoles a physical presence at tailback they haven't had since Sammy Smith. He's capably backed up by Nick Maddox, a former prep All-American. Leading the way for Jones is a superior offensive line anchored by All-American tackle Brett Williams, last season's ACC Lineman of the Year. Guard Montrae Holland is another honors candidate the NFL scouts are high on. The offensive line did take a hit when it was announced this week that Milford Brown had run out of eligibility. Look for Jordan Carstens to line up opposite whomever replaces Brown in the lineup to expose a potential soft spot. Since Carstens is liable to face a lot of double-teaming, it is imperative that Tim TeBrink plays to the level of his ability, not his experience. Carstens, TeBrink, Tyson Smith, Beau Coleman, Cephus Johnson, and Shaheed Richardson have to hold up against the Seminole offensive line, otherwise Iowa State's terrific trip of linebackers won't be freed up to make plays. Don't worry so much about FSU's vaunted speed. If you're a Cyclone fan, you should be more concerned about the prospect of having the ball run down your throats. Advantage: Florida State.
This is another area where the Cyclones can compete. Florida State punter Chance Gwaltney was just 105th nationally in net punting last season, while Tony Yelk gives Iowa State one of the strongest punting legs in the nation. Unfortunately, that hasn't translated to place-kicking, where Yelk has had much-chronicled woes and will likely lose some attempts to Adam Benike. Xavier Beitia was a freshman sensation for the Seminoles last season kicking field goals. With the talent on hand, it's hard to believe Florida State will finish 58th in kickoff returns again. Todd Miller demonstrated in the spring that he could be a real x-factor for Iowa State on returns. Both teams cover kicks well. Advantage: Even.
This is an unfair comparison. Dan McCarney has revitalized a program that was more reminiscent of the ‘80s miniseries "The Day After" than the machine Bowden has built down at Florida State. But his success is modest compared to Bowden's legacy. Lost in the hype of the national titles and top five finishes is the fact that Bowden rescued an FSU program on the scrap-heap in the 1970s and has turned it into one of the greatest dynasties in the history of the sport. Both Bowden and McCarney do compare favorably from this perspective: each of their larger-than-life personas currently dominate their respective corners of the world. Advantage: Florida State.
This one's tough to call. Florida State is playing for history and redemption. Iowa State is playing for respect and shoulders less pressure as a heavy underdog. With a win, the Seminoles would lift Bowden into a tie with Eddie Robinson – the man the game is named after – for the most all-time victories. Plus, there's a need for the FSU players to send a message that last season's 8-4 "downer" was a blip on the radar screen and not a sign the program is losing steam. Only Nebraska, Texas, and Kansas State have won more games in the Big 12 than Iowa State over the past two seasons, but you'd hardly realize that if all you did was watch ESPN. Believe me, it didn't take long to realize at media day when talking to the players just how eager they are to gauge their resurgence and measure themselves against the best. I'm guessing motivation for two-a-days hasn't been a problem for Mac and the staff this summer. Advantage: Even.
PS2 simulations aside, it is difficult to pinpoint one area specifically where Iowa State has the clear advantage over the Seminoles. However, I also think it's true that the gap isn't as wide between the two as some might suggest. But that doesn't mean that I'm backing away from my previous contention that only 6-8 of the Cyclones would crack the two-deep at Florida State, either. This game will be closer than most expect, and the crowd will pay dividends for Iowa State. Unfortunately, not even a player as great as Seneca Wallace can make up for the advantage in depth and big-game experience a program of Florida State's stature takes for granted.
Florida State 35, Iowa State 21