1. The race at the top of the Big 12 has been crazy this year, with Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and West Virginia all challenging for a spot in the title game. Do you think this competition helps the Big 12's playoff chances going forward by proving depth, or does it hurt the conference's chances due to the lack of a truly dominant team?
While it's awesome for fans and really exciting to have this many teams contending for the Big 12 title, I think ultimately it hurts the Big 12's playoff chances. The round robin schedule is tough enough with the level of competition throughout the league; then having to play a rematch against the second best for a Big 12 championship only adds to the difficulty. There is a likely chance the Big 12 champion finishes 11-2.
2. The Pokes' offense is always dangerous, but the defense has taken a big step forward this year. What's been the key to that improvement?
OSU's defense has talent at each level, but it all starts up front for the Cowboys. They have some real depth on the D-line and are able rotate in several different guys with out any significant drop-off. They have been solid getting pressure on the quarterback and clogging up running lanes in the middle. OSU has athletic linebackers that are solid tacklers and the secondary has improved each week (I've already wiped bedlam from my memory).
3. Who are some players on each side of the ball that Cyclone fans may not be familiar with, but should definitely keep an eye on this weekend?
On offense, everyone likes to talk about the big three (Rudolph, Washington & Hill) but the Cowboys have some crazy depth at wide receiver. Two names to look for are Marcell Ateman and Dillon Stoner. Ateman is massive target for Mason Rudolph and is giant weapon in the redzone. Watch for Stoner to keep the chains moving across the middle. On defense keep your eyes on linebacker Calvin Bundage and you won't be disappointed. He's the hardest hitter on the team and flies around at full speed, making plays all over the field.
4. Justice Hill and David Montgomery are two of the conference's best running backs. Who do you predict ends up with the better day on Saturday?
Montgomery has had a great year and is Iowa State's best playmaker after Allen Lazard. That being said, I'm giving the edge to Hill on Saturday. OSU is extremely committed to establishing the running game. Hill is coming off a career performance against OU, gaining 228 yards on the ground and has rushed for over 100 yards in five of the last six games. OSU wants to get him going early and often.
5. Iowa State's defense has been downright nasty during conference play, holding opponents to, on average, 11 points below their scoring average. The defense has been especially stingy in the second half, completely shutting down both TCU and West Virginia after halftime. Do you expect the Cowboy offense will be able to hit its scoring average, or will it turn into a hard-fought defensive battle?
No and No. I don't see OSU quite reaching 45 points on Saturday but I'm definitely not expecting either defense to shut the other one down completely. I think scoring somewhere in the 35-38 range is most likely for the Pokes.
6. Iowa State doesn't have crazy athleticism at the receiver position, but it does have incredible length, with receivers measuring 6'6", 6'5", 6'4", and 6'1". How do you expect the Poke secondary to try to counter the size of the Cyclone receivers?
This will be a tough matchup for OSU and one I'm sure Iowa State will look to take advantage of. Glenn Spencer will mix up the looks, but the most important factor for OSU will be getting pressure on Kempt. When opposing QB's have had time against OSU's secondary this year, they have generally had success. Look for OSU to dial up different blitzes and force Kempt out of the pocket.
7. What weaknesses in the Cowboy defense should the Cyclone offense look to exploit if they want to have success moving the ball downfield?
OSU's defense is predicated on not giving up the big play (lol @ bedlam) and GENERALLY has done a good job limiting plays over 30 yards on the season. They do however give a decent cushion to receivers and give up the intermediate passing game. While one of our corners, AJ green is turning into a star, on the other side Rodarius Williams has been beaten over the top for huge plays against OU and West Virginia in consecutive weeks. If Iowa state can give Kempt time to pass, he will be able to find holes in the secondary.
8. Prediction time. Who do you have, and why?
Iowa State is playing awesome on defense and they have been a completely different team with Kyle Kempt behind center instead of Jacob Park. I love what Matt Campbell is doing with this program and Jack Trice will be rocking...but I'm taking the Cowboys. I think OSU has too much firepower on offense and the defense can make enough stops to limit ISU offensively. I think OSU comes up with a big turnover late to seal the game.
OSU 38 - Iowa State 30.