Previewing Week 1: Iowa State

You're counting down the days, I'm sure. We're so close, and yet so far from the season's opening weekend. I can't wait for it, and I'm sure every player in the Big 12 can't either. So, despite being a bit far off, we'll take a look at each team's opener, inspired by our friends over at the Big Ten Blog.

We'll start this series at the top of the alphabet.

Iowa State Cyclones

Week 1 Opponent: Northern Iowa

Coach: Mark Farley (82-32, 10th season)

2010 record: 7-5 (6-2, Missouri Valley)

Returning starters: 19 (eight offense, 10 defense, one specialists)

About the Panthers: Farley, the Panthers' coach, came to Northern Iowa after four years coaching linebackers at Kansas. Since coming in 2001, the Panthers have won the Missouri Valley Conference six times and won the league seven times during the 1990s.

The Missouri Valley powers are one of two in-state teams Iowa State will open its season with, but here's guessing the Cyclones will have a better time in the season opener against Northern Iowa than against the Iowa Hawkeyes in Week 2.

Iowa State's game against the Panthers last year wasn't broadcast on television, but it was easily one of their better performances. Any time a defense pitches a shutout, that's easy to see.

Leading tackler Jamar Thompson (99 tackles) is gone, but the Panthers return a lot on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Tirell Rennie returns after running for 1,291 yards and throwing for 1,526 more and scoring 23 touchdowns. None of those came against the Cyclones last year, of course, but Iowa State's solid linebackers will have a tough task in reining him in. Carlos Anderson returns as well after running for 974 yards and two touchdowns.

Ben Boothby and Will Eilert, a pair of senior defensive tackles, combined for 15.5 sacks last year and linebacker James Conley added six more. Iowa State's new quarterback, whoever it is on opening day, could get a personal meeting with one of the three if he struggles.

Random factoid: Northern Iowa beat Iowa State in 2007, 24-13. That was the last time it beat a team from the FBS. Its only other victory over a major conference team since 1901 came over Kansas State in 1986 when it beat the Wildcats, 17-0.

Totally unscientific percentage chance Iowa State wins: 92 percent. Iowa State will try to find out who its playmakers are on offense, but the defense pitched a shutout in last year's 27-0 victory.

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