2012 Iowa State Preview - The Landmine
Iowa State LB Jake Knott
Iowa State LB Jake Knott
Posted Jul 12, 2012

Preview 2012 - The Cyclones aren't a threat to win the Big 12, but they'll be dangerous.

Iowa State Cyclones

Preview 2012

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- 2012 Iowa State Defense | 2012 Iowa State Depth Chart
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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Paul Rhoads
4th year: 18-20
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 19, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Iowa State Players
1. LB A.J. Klein, Sr.
2. LB Jake Knott, Sr.
3. S Jacques Washington, Jr.
4. CB Jeremy Reeves, Jr.
5. RB James White, Jr.
6. DT Jake McDonough, Sr.
7. WR/KR Josh Lenz, Sr.
8. QB Jared Barnett, Soph.
9. QB Steele Jantz, Sr.
10. OG Ethan Tuftee, Jr.
2012 Schedule
Sep. 1 Tulsa
Sep. 8 at Iowa
Sep. 15 Western Illinois
Sep. 29 Texas Tech
Oct. 6 at TCU
Oct. 13 Kansas State
Oct. 20 at Oklahoma St
Oct. 27 Baylor
Nov. 3 Oklahoma
Nov. 10 at Texas
Nov. 17 at Kansas
Nov. 24 West Virginia
Paul Rhoads might be the best head coach that no one knows about.

To start, his name is just about impossible to get the spelling right without looking it up to make sure, and Iowa State isn't exactly on the national radar, but he took over from the rough Gene Chizik era and has cranked out a decent three-year run. Considering the program isn't exactly a factory of NFL talent, and without a high-powered attack to keep up with the loaded Big 12 offenses, getting to a bowl game last year and two in three seasons is all anyone could reasonably ask for.

The problem, though, is that Rhoads and Iowa State are trying to play this straight. Baylor and Texas Tech waved bye-bye to any and all things defense long ago and try to get by on their crazy offenses, while Kansas State has its tried-and-true system and style under Bill Snyder. The Cyclones don't have a hook; they're trying to win games with a sound running game, a decent defense and good special teams, and all the while they're doing it without the slew of four-and-five star recruits that Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State welcome in on a regular basis.

But Iowa State is always going to be Iowa State, missing the facilities and the ability to become a Big 12 superpower. So without a gimmick or a hook of some sort that can throw opponents a curveball, that means there can't be any mistakes and winning every close game is a must.

Every team plays a few tight battles, but few have a smaller margin for error. In 2010 the Cyclones missed on a late two-point conversion try, lost to Nebraska and ended up going 5-7. Last year they somehow got survived against Iowa in a three point win, beat UNI by one, beat UConn by four and didn't show up against Kansas in a 13-10 squeaker. Of course, the season was made by the epic 37-31 win over Oklahoma State helped by a missed late kick by the Cowboys. In other words, 6-7 with a bowl appearance could've easily have been 1-11 without surviving under pressure, and that's not a fluke.

It takes a true believer of a head coach to help will his team to so many close calls.

It has taken a little while, but Rhoads has finally started to put together a deep team with lots of options and upside on both sides of the ball. There might be some big losses with ten starters gone along with the starting placekicker, but the team might be even better.

Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz are two decent quarterback prospects who'll battle it out for the job. The running backs are deep, the receivers are deeper and the O line has solid potential even after losing top tackle Kelechi Osemele. The offense might never be among the Big 12 leaders, but it should be more consistent and a bit more explosive.

Jake Knott and A.J. Klein are two of the most productive returning linebackers in America, and they'll have plenty of opportunities to clean things up behind a try-hard line that has decent size but probably can't get into the backfield. The secondary loses top corner Leonard Robinson, but should be fine with a few JUCO transfers to help and helped by an underappreciated playmaking free safety Jacques Washington.

This should be the best team in the Rhoads era, and Rhoads should be at his best. He might only be 18-20, but he has settled into the job and continues to get a lot out of a little. However, considering how strong the Big 12 is, it might be tough to come up with decent results. But no one gave Iowa State any credit before and the team got to a bowl game, and Rhoads and the Cyclones might be able to pull off an upset or two again to get to another.

What to watch for on offense: The quarterback situation. Despite losing top pass catcher Darius Reynolds, the receiving corps has the potential to be terrific. The backfield is deep with various good options, especially if Shontrelle Johnson is back from a neck injury, working behind a decent line that should be solid with three starters returning. Now the key will be the quarterback situation with Oklahoma State hero Jared Barnett and talented Steele Jantz battling it out for the job. Each has proven worthy of getting time, but it would be nice if one could step forward and be head-and-shoulders better. However, there will likely be a controversy throughout the year.

What to watch for on defense: Will there ever be a pass rush? The Cyclones were dead last in the conference and 115th in the nation in sacks in 2010 after finishing 111th in the nation in sacks in 2009, 94th in 2008 and 88th in 2007. Last year they were 106th after coming up with a mere 17 sacks to go along with 56 tackles for loss. There are a few interesting prospects on the end with Roosevelt Maggitt coming back from a knee injury and the 6-7 David Irving looking to be a factor, but there isn't anyone who'll be a sure-thing terror into the backfield. The secondary has upside and the linebacking corps is great, but it won't matter too much if there isn't more pressure behind the line.

The team will be far better if … it doesn't get slaughtered in turnover margin. The offense had a huge problem holding onto the ball with 17 picks and 18 fumbles and with a minimum of three turnovers in nine of the 13 games. The defense did what it could with 24 takeaways, but it forced three or more turnovers in five games. Against an even tougher slate, the Cyclones can't be 112th in the nation and last in the Big 12 in turnover margin.

The schedule: The Cyclones always seem to come with a stunning win out of the blue – like beating Iowa and Oklahoma State last season – and it's going to take a few shockers to come up with a winning season.

The non-conference slate is hardly a breeze with Tulsa and a trip to Iowa to start before the layup against Western Illinois. However, if ISU can work its mojo against Iowa like it's been able to now and then in the rivalry, 3-0 isn't out of the question going into the bye week.

Unfortunately, with no December 1st game, there's no break in the Big 12 slate going on a nine-week run. That means the conference opener at home against an experienced Texas Tech is a must before taking off for TCU. There isn't a rough stretch of road games – the November dates with Texas and Kansas are the only back-to-back road tests – but there isn't a sure-thing win on the lot. The team can't take a break.

Best offensive player: Junior RB James White. There are speedier backs and more powerful backs in the rotation, but White is an ultra-quick playmaker who showed he could handle the workload when needed with 31 carries against Texas Tech and 148 yards and a score against Baylor. However, his workload was diminished over the final few games with the thumping Jeff Woody getting plenty of time. White will be the best back on the lot, but there will be others who'll get their chances.

Best defensive player: Senior LB A.J. Klein and Senior LB Jake Knott. Klein is the main man in the middle while Knott is the playmaker on the weakside, and together they form a terrific duo that came up with 231 tackles last season. Klein is a do-it-all performer, while Klein is a guided missile forcing four forced fumbles. There are more talented linebacking pairs, but few can hit like these two and few are more meaningful for their respective defenses.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DT Cleyon Laing. Stephen Ruempolhamer wasn't just solid against the run on the inside, but he was one of the team's best pass rushing options with 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. He was the key defender at tackle, and now it will be up to the 6-4, 290-pound Lang to show he can handle the workload next to veteran Jake McDonough. The run defense can stand to be stronger, but again, getting behind the line might be the bigger key.

The season will be a success if … the Cyclones get back to a bowl game. It's going to be tough to get to six wins as the likely underdog in at least eight games, but after going bowling two times in three years under Paul Rhoads anything less than a run to a 13th game will be disappointing. However, just getting into the top seven in the ten-team Big 12 might be enough to ask for.

Key game: Sept. 29 vs. Texas Tech. The non-conference schedule will be over and the Cyclones will get a week off before hosting a Red Raider team that got thumped at home 41-7 last year. The last seven games between the two have been blowouts with Iowa State dominating the last two. With a trip to TCU coming up next, the Big 12 season will be a big, big problem if the Cyclones can't hold down the Tech passing attack.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Red Zone Scores: Opponents 46-of-56 (82%) - Iowa State 33-of-48 (69%)
- 2nd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 139 – Iowa State 55
- 4th Down Conversion: Iowa State 16-of-29 (55%) – Opponents 6-of-13 (46%)
- 2012 Iowa State Preview | 2012 Iowa State Offense
- 2012 Iowa State Defense | 2012 Iowa State Depth Chart