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 consideration 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: Since you said last week that you believed Iowa State could play with Florida State, I doubt you were surprised it was such a close game.
Bruns: I really wasn't. I was surprised how it became such a close game. I was surprised we made so many mistakes early and still fought back and had chances to win the game. We were obviously competitive. Florida State is fast top to bottom, but we're fast in a lot of places. I think we can match up with anybody for sure.
CN: What was the turning point for Iowa State, which once trailed 31-7?
Bruns: I don't know that there was any one thing. I think we were confident all along. Early in the game, even though we made some mistakes, we were driving the ball down the field. I think they just kept believing in each other and it paid off for them. I think they actually got more aggressive on offense with their play-calling as well.
CN: Critique the performance of the offensive line, which seemed to hold its own despite several new starters like Casey Shelton, Cale Stubbe, and DeWayne Johnson:
Bruns: I think they exceeded my expectations. I think there's a definite building block there that has been laid. We ran the ball well at times and for the most part pass-protected well. That's a tribute to those guys coming together and believing in each other.
CN: Are you surprised the coaching staff was able to get guys like Stubbe, Johnson, and JaMaine Billups – who were playing on opposite sides of the ball last season – ready to play so quickly against a high-caliber opponent? Obviously, that speaks well to the reshuffling Dan McCarney was forced to do to his coaching staff.
Bruns: The coaches did a fabulous job in getting them ready to play. They got them to work hard and learn their assignments. The good news is those guys are only going to get more aggressive.
CN: The last three times Iowa State has come so close to beating a ranked opponent, they have lost the following week. You were on that team that blew that big lead to K-State in '99 so I'm wondering what advice you'd give the current Cyclones to prevent such a letdown?
Bruns: I don't have any advice, but I do know that from the look in those guys' eyes when the game ended there will not be a letdown this week. They were mad and upset. They didn't want to have anyone pat them on the back. They appreciated the fan support greatly, but they expected to win that game. They expect to win this one.
CN: Considering all the media attention the FSU game has garnered, and the controversy over whether or not Seneca Wallace scored on the game's penultimate play, how realistic is it to expect the Cyclone players to put it behind them and focus on Kansas? Does it help that Kansas is the Big 12 opener?
Bruns: I think that does help. The thing that's tough about college football is win or lose you only have one day to recover. If you win, you only have one day to enjoy it because Monday you go back to work and focus on your next opponent. If you lose, it eats at you no matter if it was close or not. I don't think they've forgotten about FSU. They will learn from it to understand where they're headed and how they're going to get there. But you know what's not going to stick with them is the "did he score or didn't he score?" stuff. Your column on Monday was good because we've got to get over it. It makes no difference and nothing is going to change. What matters now is playing mistake-free football against Kansas.
CN: If the Seminoles are the 5th-ranked team in the country, does that mean that Iowa State belongs in the top 25?
Bruns: No, not right now. I don't think you get in the top 25 by losing your first game. Controversy or no, there's still an "L" in that category. If our name were Alabama, Florida State, or maybe even Iowa people would be saying we're a top 25 team. But we have to earn that name, and you don't earn that with a loss.
CN: How does the Florida State game prepare the team for the daunting schedule that lies ahead?
Bruns: As a player I would have confidence that I played with the best, and should have beaten them if I'd executed my game-plan properly. I think it gives us an opportunity to show the country what Iowa State football is all about.
CN: Let's now talk about Kansas. How much of an advantage does having a former ISU assistant like Nick Quartaro as the offensive coordinator give the Jayhawks?
Bruns: I think it does give you an advantage. They know personnel, and they've had another week to prepare for us while we've been preparing for Florida State. They've seen us on film, and we have nothing to anticipate what offense they're going to run. How do we scheme against that? They're going to come out and play hard and it's going to be a tough game.
CN: The ISU coaching staff has been lamenting the lack of game tape on Kansas under new coach Mark Mangino and claims the Jayhawks have an advantage there. Is that just coach-speak?
Bruns: They graduated a lot of very talented players last year. They have talent coming back, but they didn't have any discipline and that comes with Coach Mangino. If you look at Oklahoma, that's a disciplined program and I'm sure that he's that way. The lack of film is a tremendous advantage. We don't even know what they've been practicing. It is a challenge and one that I don't think should be overlooked.
CN: Speaking of coach-speak, Terry Allen says he's really not out for revenge against his old school. Are you buying that?
Bruns: I don't think the way they handled his departure was the best way. Anytime you go into a situation like this you want to win the football game. That's the bottom line. Revenge is such a strong word, it's not like he's going to shoot the athletic director but he wants to beat them.
CN: Do you believe in the cliche a team improves the most between its first and second games? If so, what are some areas Cyclone fans should expect to see some improvement come Saturday?
Bruns: That cliche usually held true for me. My first game was usually solid, but never spectacular. I think you're going to see more consistent run-blocking in terms of assignment and execution. I think you'll see a better defensive front, especially as young as they are. There's going to be a tremendous improvement there I think.
CN: Iowa State allowed 239 yards rushing to FSU after finishing near the bottom of the Big 12 in rush defense last season. Obviously, that won't do against this year's schedule. What has to happen to stiffen up that run defense?
Bruns: I think it's partially a matter of personnel. Last year we just didn't have the people to stand in there consistently. That rushing stat against Florida State is a bit misleading, because they got a lot of those yards in the first half. In the first half our scheme was trying to get pressure on the passer, which makes it easier for running backs to find holes. In the second half, that emphasis shifted some and made it harder for the FSU running backs. One thing they are doing is making plays to get