Now that non-conference play has wrapped up with Iowa State's dismantling of an overmatched Western Illinois team, it's time to focus on the games that actually matter. Big 12 play starts this week, and Iowa State's first opponent is Texas Tech; a team that Paul Rhoads has dominated for the past two years. Obviously this year's Texas Tech team is very different from Raider teams of the past, but Iowa State fans still have a lot of confidence about this game. And why shouldn't they? Iowa State has owned Texas Tech by a score of 93-45 over the past two years.
In this post before the start of the season, WRNL writers predicted Iowa State to win an average of 6.71 games total this year, with 3.71 wins in conference. All seven writers picked ISU to go undefeated in non-conference play. So obviously WRNL's powers of prognostication are beyond compare, 'cause no one's been proven wrong yet. But no one saw the season playing out quite like it has.
Everyone expected the Western Illinois game to be a blowout, because Western Illinois is a terrible FCS team; and everyone was proven correct. Four out of seven writers picked Iowa to be a defensive struggle, with both teams combining to score less than 40 points. No one expected it to be quite the offensive shitshow that it turned out to be though, with both teams combining to score a grand total of 15 points.
The game that gave WRNL's writers the most trouble turned out to be the first game. Three writers predicted this 15-point victory pretty accurately, picking the Cyclones to win by at least one touchdown. Four writers were much more cautious, (perhaps scared by the fearsome C-USA defense Tulsa was bringing to Jack Trice Stadium) and only picked the Cyclones to win by four points or less.
But now that the first three games are out of the way, Cyclone fans are starting to get a sense of what to expect from the 2012 Iowa State team. As predicted, the defense has looked strong so far; holding an explosive Tulsa team to 23 points, a lackluster Iowa team to six points and a hilariously bad Western Illinois team to three points. Fans can probably expect the defense to continue to play at a high level throughout the conference season, although there's no way that ISU will hold Big 12 teams to their current average of 10.6 points a game.
The more concerning issue has been the offensive game. Steele Jantz has looked better this year than he did last year, completing 70% of his passes for six touchdowns and four interceptions. The receivers have looked better this year than they did last year, with Chris Young's 14 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns standing out. Shontrelle Johnson and James White are both averaging over five yards a carry, and have looked impressive in spots.
But overall, the offense has been sluggish, especially against the weak defenses ISU has faced. Iowa State is averaging 429 yards a game, which is good for 47th in the nation. Unfortunately, that's only good for ninth in the Big 12. The 28 points per game the Cyclones are putting on the board is also only good for ninth in the Big 12. Iowa State's 175 rushing yards per game? Also good for ninth place in the Big 12. This is especially disappointing given the emphasis Paul Rhoads placed on the running game this year.
So clearly, Iowa State needs to find a way to score more points. If Iowa State can just start averaging one more touchdown a game to get them to 35 points a game, it will put the Cyclones near the middle of the pack in the Big 12 along with teams like TCU, Oklahoma and Kansas State. Iowa State can win games with those kinds of numbers.
And fans have been able to judge Iowa State's performance against the performances of other Big 12 teams. With the exception of Kansas, every team has looked like they have the potential to win the Big 12 this year. Oklahoma State stumbled on the road against Arizona, but they're still one of the nation's leaders on offense, averaging 62.3 points a game. Kansas State dismantled Miami at home and just upset Oklahoma on the road. Texas Tech, a team many expected to struggle this year is currently leading the nation in total defense (!) and second in the nation in offensive yards per game.
So how have the first three games affected your perception of the 2012 Iowa State Cyclones? Changed your expectations for the year for better or worse, or have things progressed pretty much as you expected? Click a button on the poll below. It's fun! You're participating in democracy!