We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 6-7 Iowa State Cyclones graded out in 2011.
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OFFENSE: Iowa State played through a lot this season. Coach Paul Rhoads picked an ideal time to make a switch at quarterback, handing the reins from turnover-prone juco transfer Steele Jantz to untested freshman Jared Barnett early in a loss to Texas A&M. Barnett responded by leading ISU to a blowout win against Texas Tech, a win against Kansas and a season-defining upset of Oklahoma State that sent the Cyclones to a bowl game. Well-played by Rhoads, who switched back to Jantz after benching Barnett in an ugly Pinstripe Bowl loss to Rutgers in which neither quarterback played well. ISU had to rebound from the loss of Shontrelle Johnson, the team's best running back, who missed most of the season with a neck injury. James White stepped in as the starter and thrived, and Jeff Woody had a few big runs late in the season, including the winner against Oklahoma State. Darius Reynolds also emerged as a big target, earning his nickname of "Money," with seven touchdown catches. He led the team with 695 yards on 43 catches, but Josh Lenz offers plenty of reason for optimism next season. He had great chemistry with Barnett and had 510 yards on 39 catches with two scores.
DEFENSE: The defense looked a bit better this seaosn, but still struggled to stop the run consistently. The linebacking corps of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein emerged as the Big 12's best this season, but neither is spending a lot of time in opposing backfields. Instead, they're making tackles from behind the defensive line. Sure tackling or not, ISU's defensive line wasn't fantastic this season. The Cyclones' underrated secondary quietly ranked third in the Big 12. Leonard Johnson was the best of that group, and played his best game of the season against Justin Blackmon in the win against Oklahoma State.
OVERALL: Iowa State is an interesting team. It's hard to give it grades that are too generous when it ranked outside the top half of the Big 12 in both total offense and defense. The Cyclones didn't truly excel at anything in 2011, but they're no doubt a tough team that isn't deterred by the odds. Once again, as they've done in all three seasons under Rhoads, they overachieved. It started with an amazing three-game run to start the season with wins against Northern Iowa, Iowa and UConn. The win against Oklahoma State offered Ames an unforgettable night, even if it led to a forgettable bowl loss at Yankee Stadium against Rutgers, a game in which ISU was clearly outplayed. Still, a bowl is a huge accomplishment for this squad, picked to finish ninth in the Big 12. You've got to give their "overall" grade a big bump for the big wins alone.