More team-themed Mailbags:
Chad in Des Moines, Iowa asks: ISU had some surprising success last year making and winning a bowl game. With such a difficult schedule in year two of Coach Paul Rhoads, will early defeats, even though they might be against top 25 teams, rattle the team and shake any confidence that carried over from last year?
DU: Well, as much as coaches and fans like to talk about "resiliency," I wouldn't worry about any losses shaking a team. This isn't peewee football. Anyone who made it to the Division I level isn't going to curl up into the fetal position because they lost a few games. Teams keep fighting week to week and the times when players fold are grossly outweighed by the times they keep fighting.
Iowa State had a couple bad defeats last year and bounced back just fine. Iowa dominated them at home and the Cyclones lost on a missed extra point to Kansas State, among other losses, but still had a great finish to the season. Even if a winning season is out of reach with a couple games left to play, the Cyclones aren't going to just pack it up and prepare for 2011.
Mark in Dallas, Texas asks: So Iowa State has a daunting schedule ahead of them (at Iowa, Utah, Nebraska, at Texas, at Oklahoma)...What do you think the odds are that the Cyclones pull off another stunner this year like they did at Nebraska last year? Which Big 12 teams are already counting their game against the Clones as a sure win?
DU: They've probably got a decent chance to knock off Utah, but really every team in the North should be on alert. Iowa State has a strong case as the third-best team in the North, but obviously, the schedule is going to make it tough for them to beat out a team like Kansas State to finish there at the end of the season. The biggest thing for Iowa State is it has to win the games it should win, like Kansas and Colorado.
But teams like Texas Tech, Missouri and Nebraska better be careful. If they go up to Ames and don't play well, they might go home losers.
cyclonefan1 in Ames, Iowa asks: Why is it that Alexander Robinson is being completely overlooked by ESPN? He was barely off from being the number 1 back in the big 12 last season and thats even with missing a lot of time due to injury! If he has a healthy season he should be the number 1 back in the big 12 this season.
DU: I don't know that he's been completely overlooked. Maybe a touch underrated, but I had him reasonably high in my preseason top 25 player rankings. Also, in our "20 for '10" preseason section, Robinson made our list of the nation's best undersized running backs.
Paul in Austin, Texas asks: Hey David,Yes, I know, very strange to see an ISU fan in Austin, but life can lead to strange places. Chris Low recently did a piece for the SEC blog looking at 5 quarterbacks from the PAC-10 and 1 from the SEC. Other than pure yardage, their stats are remarkably similar to Austen Arnauds, and none of them have the rushing yards or rushing TD's that he does. Is Arnaud really a substandard quarterback, and if so what does he need to do this year to get us through a tough schedule?
DU: For quarterbacks, it's not as much about numbers as it is for running backs or receivers. Quarterbacks have to be efficient to move offenses, and that's where he has to get better, not total production. He only completed 58.9 percent of his passes last year, tied for seventh in the Big 12 and threw 13 interceptions, tied for second-most. That's especially troubling considering he only threw 304 passes. The two guys in the league, Taylor Potts and Landry Jones, who threw an equal or greater number of picks threw 470 and 449 passes, respectively. He's got to take care of the ball this year.
As for his running, there's not another quarterback in the league who runs as hard as he does. And at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, he's an absolute load to bring down when he runs, and he obviously runs a lot.
Nick in Ankeny, Iowa asks: Hi David,With Iowa State having a majority of their defense young and inexperienced. What do you expect from Wally Burnham's 2nd year defensive unit? Also: With Iowa State having experience at their offensive skill positions. Do you expect a turnaround from last years last in the Big 12's scoring offense?
DU: I don't expect a lot, but they should have a decent secondary. Paul Rhoads is pretty excited about that unit with Leonard Johnson and Ter'ran Benton at safety, and of course David Sims at safety, who won the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors in 2009. But they may get gashed pretty badly in Big 12 play up front. The defensive line is definitely in the Big 12's bottom third even though Rashawn Parker is a nice talent, and while the outside linebackers, A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, have big-time potential, they're still first-year starters and sophomores with a lot to learn. By the time they're both seniors, though, they could be among the Big 12's best.