People treat Iowa State kind of funny right now. We're all quick to say that Gene Chizik's done a good job so far, and that he could do some good things in Ames; and yet nobody even thinks for a moment that ISU will be involved in any future "balance of power" conversations. Is that fair? Unrealistic? Totally realistic? The 2008 version of ISU looks like it will somewhat resemble the second-half-of-2007 version: competent, tough...but not overtly talented enough to keep up with most Big 12 opponents. At least that's what I think at the beginning of the week...we'll see what the Iowa State Week links, stats, roundtables, and Q&As do to change my mind...
First, last year's stats. Distinct improvement for ISU over the last month, at least offensively. The 'Clones averaged 24.3 PPG over that period after averaging just 15.1 before that. The defense regressed slightly (to 33.8 PPG), though that had as much to do with playing three strong offenses (MU, KU, and KSU) as anything else.
A quick perusal of the stat sheet shows you that a) Iowa State has to replace some major contributors in '08--4-year starters QB Bret Meyer and WR Todd Blythe, do-it-all LB Alvin Bowen, etc.--but...well...most of them just weren't that good to begin with. Blythe was the only true deep threat ISU had, though (only one other WR averaged even 10.0 yards per catch, much less Blythe's 15.0), and that's a major concern. We see repeatedly just how important easy points are to any team, and I have no idea where those easy points are going to come from.
So who are the 'stars' for Iowa State in 2008? Chris Singleton is a potential star at CB, coming off a season with 4 INTs and having started every game from the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Phil Steele likes the other CB, Allen Bell, quite a bit. Lord knows playing in the Big 12 will pretty quickly prove the value of your CBs.
Mizzou fans may view sophomore RB Alexander Robinson as a potential star (so do readers of Clone Chronicles, who voted for Robinson to start), what with his 149-yard explosion in Columbia last year; however, his game-to-game output leaves something to be desired. Most projected JJ Bass to be the starter at RB, but he was suspended in the spring and then wasn't listed in this summer's media guide, suggesting his time in Ames is done. He's still "suspended" instead of "kicked off the team", but...I mean, suspended guys still get listed in the media guide, right?
Anyway, there's uncertainty at QB as well, though in a slightly more healthy way. No suspensions, just a battle between two youngsters, sophomores Austen Arnaud and the more boringly-named Phillip Bates. Arnaud (a big boy at 6'3, 222) is slightly more experienced, getting quite a few snaps last year (he ended up with 37 pass attempts and 17 rushes) while Bates was a backup WR (5 catches, 73 yards); however, Bates looked a bit better in the spring. From the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald:
"I'm really proud of both of them," Chizik said. "You can't have two quarterbacks with both being equally good at the same things. That's unrealistic. There's probably some things Austin is better at right now than Phillip, and vice versa.
"The job will cater more to the things that they are better at, but they still have to run the whole offense. That's the key. We still think, with either quarterback, we can run them. Not only can they run the football, our quarterbacks will have to run the football. That's no secret."
Arnaud is the hometown favorite and was Meyer's understudy the past two seasons. He saw action in six games in 2007, completing 20 of 37 attempts for 267 yards.
Playing receiver, Bates hauled in five receptions for 73 yards last season, including a key 38-yard catch that set up the winning field goal in Iowa State's 15-13 triumph over Iowa.
Say this about Chizik and his team: they're confident.
When you look at their 2008 schedule, it's important, I think, to look at two things: a) how many non-conference wins are available, and b) where are the most likely home upsets in conference? The answer to (a) is anywhere between 1 and 4, honestly. South Dakota State is more or less a gimme (though North Dakota State would be a different story), and Kent State should be (though they did lose to them 23-14 last year), as should the trip to UNLV (though road trips will always be a challenge). That leaves the Iowa game. ISU has covered the spread against Iowa each of the last four years, including straight-up upsets the last two games in Ames. This one, however, is in Iowa City, so you figure Iowa will win, but...well, Iowa's program isn't all that healthy itself at the moment, so you never know.
As for (b)...you figure the upset potential of the home games, in order, is 1) Nebraska, 2) Texas A&M, 3) Kansas, 4) Missouri, but all are up for grabs somewhat, as rpt's EA simulation suggested. Plus, a trip to Waco is in the works, and though Baylor will possibly be favored there...well...trips to Waco are never too daunting. So I'd probably put the at-first-glance best-case scenario for ISU at 3-5 in conference, 6-6 overall. I don't know if that would get them a bowl game, but you'd have to consider a 3-game improvement a rousing success.
Finally, camp has begun in Ames, and experience is the tagline from Day One.