Big 12 Preview: Iowa State

Iowa State Cyclones
OSU vs. Iowa State, Oct, 22, at Ames, Iowa
Head Coach: Dan McCarney (11th season)
2004 Record: 7-5, 4-4 Big 12

The Cyclones return 17 starters and more than three-fourths of their scholarship players from a team that was the second-most improved squad in college football in 2004. Iowa State went from 2-10 in 2003 to 7-5 last season, a remarkable turnaround for a team starting a redshirt freshman at quarterback, and a team with 60 underclassmen among its 85 scholarship players. Head coach Dan McCarney expects his 11th Iowa State team to go bowling for the fifth time in six years. And he's setting the bar even higher for a squad that was just inches away from beating Missouri in its final game, which would have sent it to the Big 12 Championship game.

Bret Meyer returns for his sophomore year and second year as starting quarterback. He completed just 53 percent of his passes last year but demonstrated improved accuracy and touch on the football this spring. He was also lethal running the option. Behind him is rough and rugged running back Stevie Hicks, who got the tough yards repeatedly last season on his way to 1,000 yards. ISU will go with more of a one-back offense as its base formation this year. Two new weapons were added to the scheme, juco All-American Walter Nickel at tight end and former quarterback Austin Flynn at wide receiver.

Of course, all eyes in August will be on 2004 Freshman All-American Todd Blythe, who tore his ACL in January during winter workouts. Blythe vows he'll be ready for the season-opener against Illinois State.

The most improved area this spring was the offensive line, which began to come on late last season. This is where offensive coordinator Barney Cotton's influence has been felt the most since he came over from Nebraska. The unit will get an added boost in the fall with the addition of juco All-American Paul Fisher.

Defensively, this could be the best front seven ISU has had since the Earle Bruce era of the 1970s. Nick Leaders and Brent Curvey are impenetrable up the middle, while Shawn Moorehead is rapidly becoming a force at rush end. At linebacker, the anchor is Tim Dobbins, last season's Big 12 Newcomer of the Year on defense.

ISU would like to sustain the aggressive scheme it deployed under coordinator John Skladany last season, but inexperience at cornerback might make them reconsider. The loss of Ellis Hobbs cannot be understated. Helping to offset that, however, is the return of senior safeties Stevie Paris and Nik Moser, one of the top pairs at the position in the league.

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