Iowa State

Jeff Woody gave the Wildcats all they could handle, rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns last season. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner).

Overview: Iowa State won three Big 12 games on its way to a bowl last season, and though it ranked eighth in the conference in total offense and sixth in total defense, it would be unwise to count out the Cyclones. Again, with the way West Virginia and TCU are expected to improve the caliber of this league, Iowa State may have a tough go of it, but anyone looking to make an upset pick here and there has a great candidate in the Cyclones.

Returning and thus providing continuity on offense are quarterback Jared Barnett, center Tom Farniok, wide receiver Josh Lentz and running back James White, among others. With last year’s offensive coordinator departed to Ohio State, Courtney Messingham will be in charge this season.

Defensively, the Cyclones return two great linebackers in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. With only one returning starter on the defensive line, the leadership of Klein and Knott will be more important than ever. Iowa State also retained two members of its secondary from last season, when the team’s pass defense ranked third-best in the league, quite an accomplishment considering the type of offenses prevalent in the Big 12.

One reason I like Iowa State is because of its similarity to Kansas State. Listen to an excerpt from Athlon Sports Big 12 2012 Preview and tell me who this sounds like:

“He gets the absolute best out of every player and gives [the team] the chance to win more games than they have any business winning.”

This sort of statement has been made about Kansas State’s Bill Snyder for years. This particular quote referenced Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. Keep that mind when you are thinking about Iowa State this season.

Schedule: After a non-conference schedule that includes bouts with Tulsa, Iowa and Western Illinois, the Cyclones kick off their season with a home game against Texas Tech. With seven games in Ames this season – including contests with Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia – to bolster their schedule, Iowa State could really surprise some people this year.

Last season versus Kansas State: In their regular season finale on Dec. 3, 2011, the Wildcats defeated the Cyclones 30-23. Iowa State took a 13-7 lead in the first quarter, and Kansas State eventually had to score 10 points in the fourth to once again eke out a narrow victory. The Cyclones actually outgained the Wildcats in the game, 368 yards to 359, and possessed the ball for 31 minutes to Kansas State’s 29.

Projection: Iowa State won six games overall last season, three in the Big 12. Despite a somewhat inexperienced defensive line and an offense taking direction from a new coordinator this season, I like the grit of the Cyclones. Call me crazy, but I would not be shocked to see them win between six and eight games this year.

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