College Football season is in sight, so I am back to preview what will be a hopeful year for the Iowa State Cyclones, who have been picked ninth in the 10-team Big-12 Conference. Today, we will take a look at the defense and the special teams units, followed by the Cyclone offense and season outlook later in the week.
DB’s: It is never a good sign when three of the top five tacklers on the 2013 defense came out of this unit. The pass-happy Big-12 offenses do have some reason for that, but the returning members of the defensive backfield still have yet to tackle a Baylor Bear. The other Sam Richardson is back, and is still 5’7”. The guy plays hard and had 53 tackles last year with 7 pass breakups, but 0 interceptions in 12 games. At the other corner, Nigel Tribune started seven games, and had a nice pick against Oklahoma State. The answer at the Safety spots will be tough to figure out, after losing Washington and Broomfield. JUCO players hope to fill those voids, hopefully, due to a lack of young talent. These guys will be tested, and without steady QB pressure, it could be a long season on the back end.
LB’s: The leader of the defense in Jeremiah George is gone to the Jets, meaning Jevohn Miller will have to step up at Will. Jared Brackens showed flashes last year at Sam, but had his three best tackling games against UNI, Tulsa, and West Virginia. Granted, there were very few tackles made last season against Baylor (L, 7-71), Oklahoma State (L, 28-58), and Oklahoma (L, 10-48). This unit has to step up in every game if the Cyclones don’t want to again give up 50+ ppg against the powerhouses of the conference.
DL: Maybe the best part about the defensive line for Iowa State is the fact that it gets a training camp against one of the best offensive lines in the conference. The guys are big, but are young and inexperienced with only 3.0 sacks returning from last season. Two of the sacks came from Cory Morrissey, who led the line with 6.5 tackles from a loss in 2013. Other than that, much like the Safety position, the starters against North Dakota State on August 30th are anybody’s guess.
Punter: No more Kirby Van Der Kamp means there’s an open punter call for the Cyclones this season. Colin Downing and Holden Kramer will battle it out to replace what was the best player on Iowa State’s roster last year. Not a typo; the best player on last year’s roster was a punter.
Kicker: Ankeny’s own Cole Netten is back after a successful freshman campaign in which he went 13-for-18 on field goals, including 10-for-11 from under 40. You have to feel okay about the kicker more than any other position in the first half of this preview, which is good for a program known to shank the occasional 22-yarder.
Returns: Wideout Jarvis West returned punts last year and had a kickoff return for a touchdown, as did DeVondrick Nealy. A lot has to happen for touchdowns in the return game, but if the Cyclones can end the season with 4-5 of these, it can only enhance their chances at a bowl bid.
For the defense to be successful, a ball-control offense would help. However, Iowa State is going to keep up with the rest of the country in Mark Mangino’s offense and utilize their strengths in the passing game. If Downing/Kramer can pin opponents deep like Van Der Kamp was able to do a season ago, the youthful defense will have a little less pressure taken off. While the offense will be fun to watch, the defense will be challenged weekly, along with the livers of Cyclone Nation. It feels like the defense is a year away from being mediocre, whereas the offense is a year away from being great.