7. South Dakota State at Iowa State (Aug. 28)
Iowa State struggled tremendously in their first year under former Texas defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, going only 3-9 despite having a veteran quarterback in Brett Meyer back.
Chizik’s team did show improvement down the stretch, as they won two out of their last three games against Big 12 competition, including a stunning 31-28 upset over Colorado.
Nevertheless, they lose a four-year starter at quarterback in Brett Meyer, as well as big play wide receiver Todd Blyth, who moves on after becoming Iowa State’s all-time leading receiver. The Cyclones do 14 fourteen starters for 2008, including their three top rushers from 2007 and four starting offensive lineman.
However, this was an offense that averaged a paltry 18.2 points per game, and was held under 20 points per game on eight separate occasions last season (including games against Kent State and Northern Iowa).
Chizik is a great defensive mind, but he’s never had to gameplan for an FCS team with the kind of talent he had at Auburn and Texas, so it was no surprise that his Cyclones fell to Northern Iowa in week two last season.
While he has seven starters back to work with, he loses his two best assets in linebackers Alvin Bowen and Jon Banks, and with them the heart and soul of his defense. He’ll need more than scheme if he’s going to stop South Dakota State’s offense; he’s going to need to inspire effort and intensity.
South Dakota State won the Gateway Conference in their first year of conference competition last season and finished the year ranked 19th in the country after pulling off an upset of powerhouse North Dakota State in the finale.
South Dakota State loses a number of key players off of the offense and the defense but does return their starting quarterback Ryan Berry, who came on strong after a shaky opening to the 2007 season.
The Jackrabbits have a core group of underrated skill position players, including receiver JaRon Harris, who is widely considered one of the best “small school” draft prospects in the country.
I’m also very high on running back Kyle Minett, who excelled during spot duty for departing senior Cory Koening last season. Major losses from the defensive side of the football could hurt the Jackrabbits, but that’s assuming Iowa State’s Austen Arnaud and company are in a position to strike early and often (a big “if” at this point)
One thing I look for when predicting upsets are FCS teams that have a mentality of winning and FBS teams which have struggled against FCS competition in recent years.
This matchup is clearly a case, of both as South Dakota State comes off of a 7-4 season and a 4-0 record in conference play while Iowa State is coming off of a 24-13 loss to Northern Iowa last season and a 3-9 record.
South Dakota State’s main problem over the last few seasons has been inconsistent quarterback play, but with Ryan Berry coming back they should be able to more easily disseminate the ball to their playmakers, including potential NFL prospect JaRon Harris.
I think Chizik will have Iowa State headed in the right direction sooner rather than later, but he’s just not an offensive mind, and considering just how poorly Iowa State’s offense started last season (not to mention a new quarterback replacing a four-year starter) there isn’t precedence for Iowa State to score many points against even a rebuilding South Dakota State defense.
South Dakota State is a talented FCS team, and after a strong finish last year I give the Jackrabbits a decent shot at knocking at an Iowa State team which is undergoing an identity change.