Monday Musings

In his weekly word to Cyclone Nation.com readers, Steve Deace says Iowa State's grueling second half schedule is even tougher than originally thought and the offensive line is one area where improvement is needed heading into that difficult stretch. That, plus his weekly top 25, Heisman ballot, and bowl projections can be found right here.

Wave bye-bye to the bye week and prepare now for the gauntlet.

Iowa State got both good news and bad news over the weekend while kicking back in the recliner and watching an exciting day of college football.

The good news is some upset losses moved the Cyclones up to #14 in the Coach's Poll and 11th in the AP Poll. Also, Rex Grossman's gross lack of ball security in an upset loss at Mississippi definitely bolstered Seneca Wallace's Heisman Trophy candidacy.

However, there was also some bad news. Texas Tech marched down to College Station and lit up Texas A&M's wrecking crew defense behind quarterback Kliff Kingsbury. It appears this weekend's visit from the Red Raiders is not going to be the rubber-stamping we anticipated before the season started. In fact, had Texas Tech converted a late field goal against N.C. State, it would likely be in the top 25 this week.

Missouri also proved it can be dangerous with redshirt freshman quarterback Brad Smith, who gave the imposing Oklahoma defense fits in a near-upset. The Tigers come to Jack Trice Stadium on November 2nd.

Bottom line: the only breather left on Iowa State's schedule is the finale against Connecticut. Despite the lofty perch the Cyclones are resting on now after big wins over Nebraska and Iowa, the season still hangs in the balance.

Is Iowa State up to the challenge? Are the Cyclones legitimate contenders in the Big 12 North? For answers to those two questions let's fearlessly forecast each facet of the Iowa State team heading into the second half of the season.

Quarterback

As long as #15 stays healthy, Iowa State can contend with every team on its schedule. The talent level in Ames has definitely been upgraded, but it's still not to the point of an Oklahoma or Texas. Nonetheless, the gap has been narrowed enough so that Wallace's greatness is able to make up the difference. The good news for Cyclone fans is that Iowa State beat Nebraska by 22 points two weeks ago without Wallace exhibiting his normal heroics.

Running Back

The Cyclones have a nice combo in the slashing Michael Wagner and the powerful and fast Hiawatha Rutland. The two complement each other well while displaying pass-blocking prowess. Then there's youngster Brian Thompson, who's probably the best of the bunch. The talent level here is very high, but they'll need improvement from the offensive line in order to sustain the type of running game necessary on the road in the Big 12.

Wide Receiver

Hard to see how this unit, which ranks among the nation's best receiving corps, can get much better. There may not be a Charles Rogers, Kelly Washington, Reggie Williams, or Roy Williams in this group, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better foursome.

Offensive Line

Perhaps more than any other unit this one holds the key to the second half of the season. In November, the weather in places like Manhattan and Boulder can get dicey. That means being able to run the ball is paramount. Last year, physical defenses like Kansas State and Colorado dominated the Iowa State running game. This season, the run-blocking has been inconsistent. Against Florida State it was adequate. Against Iowa it was poor. Against Nebraska it was outstanding. With Luke Vander Sanden gone for the season either Collin Menard or Dwayne Johnson must be able to step up at guard. If not, the road schedule will become even more treacherous for the Cyclones.

Defensive Line

The quick emergence of precocious freshman Nick Leaders should be music to the ears of Jordan Carstens. Carstens has faced consistent double-teaming this season and has been moved back-and-forth between tackle and end. Film of Leaders consistently blowing up the Nebraska offensive line is making the rounds now, so look for him to start getting some of Carstens' double-teams. The rest of this unit has been solid. Tyson Smith is finally flashing his big-play potential and has combined with Beau Coleman for eight tackles-for-loss and seven sacks. Tim TeBrink is also a very capable player who made the biggest defensive play of the season thus far with his sack and recovering of his own forced fumble at Iowa. One thing John Skladany will be looking for during the second half is this unit's ability to consistently generate a pass-rush without the aid of the blitz.

Linebackers

The only bad news here is the season-ending injury of true freshman Jimmy Morris. Brandon Brown has lived up to his "bam-bam" nickname with his team-high 54 tackles to go along with three sacks. Matt Word is also on pace for a 100 tackle season, although the coaches would like to see more consistency from him. Jeremy Loyd is perhaps the most complete player on the defense. Chris Whitaker, Eric Anderson, and Joe Woodley supply depth. This unit will be severely tested the remainder of the season. Texas Tech loves to isolate its backs on linebackers in the flat while Missouri, Kansas State, and Colorado each feature very mobile quarterbacks.

Secondary

Proving that dynamite does indeed come in small packages, the depth and athleticism of this unit has really freed up the aforementioned linebackers to aggressively attack the opposition's offensive backfield. Safeties Anthony Forrest and JaMaine Billups were pegged by Ben Bruns last week as his first half co-MVPs of the defense. However, the defensive backs have been susceptible to the big-play at times this season. Big-play receivers like Texas' trio, Oklahoma's Mark Clayton and Curtis Fagan, and Missouri's Justin Gage will provide tests.

Special Teams

Iowa State's recruiting efforts really pay dividends here with the added depth and talent. Todd Miller has already returned two punts for touchdowns, Tony Yelk is averaging a solid 45.1 yards per punt, and Adam Benike is 9-of-12 on field goals. The only potential weakness is Benike's kicking range. He's 0-2 from 40-49 yards and Yelk, despite his strong leg, consistently lacks consistency. At some point during this rigorous road slate the Cyclones will need to prove they can convert a 45-yard field goal.

Prediction

Iowa State finishes the season undefeated at home and manages to avoid being swept by the Big 12 powers they face on the road. I don't know which one they'll get, but they'll get one and finish 9-4 overall and earn a bid to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

Weekly Top 25

If I had a vote in the AP Poll, this would've been my ballot this week:

1. Miami, Fla. (5-0)

Last week: 1

This week: #10 Florida State

2. Texas (5-0)

Last week: 2

This week: vs. #4 Oklahoma at Dallas

3. Georgia (5-0)

Last week: 3

This week: #9 Tennessee

4. Oklahoma (5-0)

Last week: 4

This week: vs. #2 Texas at Dallas

5. Virginia Tech (5-0)

Last week: 5

This week: at Boston College

6. Notre Dame (5-0)

Last week: 7

This week: Pittsburgh

7. Ohio State (6-0)

Last week: 6

This week: San Jose State

8. Oregon (5-0)

Last week: 9

This week: at #24 UCLA

9. Tennessee (4-1)

Last week: 11

This week: at #3 Georgia

10. Florida State (5-1)

Last week: 14

This week: at #1 Miami, Fla.

11. Washington State (5-1)

Last week: 16

This week: at Stanford

12.


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