Last week, I predicted the Cyclones would beat West Virginia on national television the day after Thanksgiving for my first bold prediction of the year. This week, I make a bold prediction about Iowa State’s record for the upcoming season–a prediction that will draw the criticism and jeers of the black and gold faithful, I’m sure.
According to college football expert and magazine writer Phil Steele, Iowa State has the #3 most difficult schedule in the nation in 2012. Most preseason predictions have the Cyclones winning between 3 and 5 games. While the Cyclones lost one of their greatest offensive lineman and greatest defensive backs they’ve ever had to graduation (Osemele and Leonard Johnson), I have a “gut-feeling” this team is in line for a really special season, despite the difficult schedule. I’ll be called a Cyclone “Homer” for this and I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I predict Iowa State will finish the regular season with a record of 8-4.
The biggest reason for my prediction? A.J. Klein and Jake Knott—the best linebacking duo the Iowa State Cyclones have EVER had. Not only do I love the talent, but I love the leadership of these two even more. I can’t emphasize enough what the grit, heart, veteran experience, and character of these two will mean to Paul Rhoads’ entire football team this year. I really believe that their leadership and desire, both defensively and on the team as a whole, will have an effect on the rest of the team that no additional amount of talent can make up for.
I like the other senior leadership on the team as well, beyond Klein and Knott. Don’t underestimate the experience and poise that Josh Lenz and Aaron Horne (wide receivers) bring to the offense. And don’t sleep on Jake McDonough, Roosevelt Maggitt, and Cleyon Laing on that defensive line either. They may not be the most talented group in the Big 12, but there is a lot of experience there with those three. Look for Jeremy Reeves and Durrell Givens to really step up and fill the shoes of Leonard Johnson and Ter’Ran Benton in the defensive backfield. They both bring plenty of experience.
In addition to fielding the best linebacking duo the Cyclones have ever had, and the senior leadership, the other reason for my bold prediction this year is depth. I absolutely love our depth at running back, especially with the return of Shontrelle Johnson. The combination of James White, Jeff Woody, Shontrelle Johnson, and DeVondrick Nealy represents (probably) the deepest backfield in Iowa State history. And, even though there’s no superstar at wide receiver, I’m really excited about the options that either Steele Jantz or Jared Barnett will have to throw to (I’ll have my quarterback prediction next week). Lenz and Horne are the veterans (and underrated). Jarvis West and Quenton Bundrage are the sizzle—can’t wait to watch both of them this year. Throw in 5th year senior and former quarterback Jerome Tiller and possibly Albert Gary (suspension?), and I think there are plenty of better-than-average options.
So, what about that schedule? Where are 8 wins going to come from? The strategy I like to use when making predictions is, not necessarily to predict exactly which games the Cyclones will win, but rather to predict wins/losses in groupings.
The first thing I do is to list the wins I’m fairly confident about. This year, I’m confident Iowa State can beat 5 teams on their schedule: Tulsa, Western Illinois, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Kansas. Obviously, a trip-up against any of these opponents decreases ISU’s win total and a chance at a bowl game, but these are the games I feel the Cyclones must win and should win.
The second thing I do is group the teams that I feel are toss-ups with Iowa State. This year, that group includes: Iowa, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State. My prediction is that Iowa State will split with these four, winning two and losing two. So that puts the Cyclones to 7 wins, with three other opponents to consider.
The last thing I do when making predictions is to look at the games that I feel will be the most difficult for Iowa State to win. This year, those opponents are: Oklahoma, Texas, and West Virginia. If you read my prediction on West Virginia, you already know that’s my upset pick of the year, pushing the Cyclones to 8 wins and a season that (featuring Jake Knott and A.J. Klein) will be a team that Cyclone fans remember and adore for decades to come. I’m saying it right now—those two are just too special for Iowa State to have anything other than a “special season.”