By: Steven Lassan | 5/21/12, 11:18 AM EDT
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You can read the entire Iowa State preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 Big 12 magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#60 Iowa State
Big 12 PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Paul Rhoads, 18-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Courtney Messingham | DEF. COORDINATOR: Wally Burnham
The quarterback competition between Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett will go deep into the preseason and be the first domino to fall in what the Cyclones’ offense will look like in year one with new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham. Both have shown that they are capable of winning games. Who has developed more in the offseason?
Of course, whichever quarterback gets the nod will only be as good as the players around him. The offensive line has no all-conference prospects, but it still has the potential to be a solid unit. Iowa State knows what it has at running back, and the Cyclones have defined roles for speedster James White, bruiser Jeff Woody and youngsters DeVondrick Nealy and Rob Standard. White led the team in rushing yards (743) and touchdowns (eight) last season.
At receiver, there’s a mix of proven commodities and talented newcomers with the type of size that Iowa State hasn’t had much of in the past. Senior Josh Lenz is the veteran and will be counted on to provide consistent production. Aaron Horne was the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2011 and is one of a handful of small and speedy pass-catchers.
Transfer tight end Ernst Brun is generating a good amount of buzz for his all-around ability.
Despite having a first-time starter at one of the three spots, Iowa State can legitimately make the claim that it has the Big 12’s top linebacking corps. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein have proven themselves over the last two seasons as tackling machines and big-time playmakers.
Still, they can’t be expected to carry an entire defense that’s down a pair of four-year players in the secondary and three of its most productive defensive linemen.
Up front it’s nose guard Jake McDonough’s time to step forward and be a disruptive force in the middle. What was a woeful pass rush will get a boost from the return of end Roosevelt Maggitt, who was lost in last year’s opener to a knee injury, and rising star David Irving.
The secondary returns two known quantities in corner Jeremy Reeves and free safety Jacques Washington. Iowa State ranked third in the Big 12 in pass defense last fall.
Kirby Van Der Kamp is in his third year as the punter and is one of the league’s best. The junior ranked fourth in the conference with a 42.7-yard average last season and downed 21 punts inside the 20-yard line. The field goal kicking duties are far less settled. True freshman Cole Netten is expected to take over. ISU kickers made just 12-of-20 field goal tries last year, and fans have been crossing their fingers and closing their eyes for years when kickers run onto the field.
Much of the focus this season will be on the quarterback position, as it should be — after all, at this point it appears that the starting spot could be decided by the flip of a coin. It’s always come down to trust with coach Paul Rhoads, and who can protect the ball while still being able to produce enough points to stay competitive in the loaded Big 12.
The offense has potential, and the defense over the years has made up for its limited number of difference-makers with great schemes and timely stops in the red zone.
As usual, expectations outside the program won’t be high. But as usual, Rhoads’ team will find a way to overachieve and knock off one (or more) of the league’s powers.