Kansas junior running back Devin Neal (4) yells out with fans after an interview on the field at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium Saturday. © Evert Nelson/The Capital-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht described his performance as far from his best. His head coach, Matt Campbell, stressed that “it wasn’t perfect.” Still, the resurgent Cyclones (5-3, 4-1 Big 12) jetted out of Baylor last Saturday with a satisfying 30-18 win and now they’re among five teams tied atop the conference standings. That’s largely because this week’s foe, Kansas, knocked off previously unbeaten Oklahoma for the first time since 1997. So the outcome of Saturday’s 6 p.m. matchup with the No. 22 Jayhawks (6-2, 3-2) will go a long way toward determining if ISU can remain in contention for the league title — a possibility that would have seemed outlandish six weeks ago after a troubling 10-7 loss at Ohio. With all that drama in mind, here are five Kansas players to keep an eye on in Saturday’s nationally televised (ESPN) clash at Jack Trice Stadium:
QB Jason Bean (or Jalon Daniels)
First things first: Something strange is going on with the Big 12’s preseason offensive player of the year, Jalon Daniels. He hasn’t played since guiding the Jayhawks to a 38-27 win over BYU a month ago — and his ongoing back issues could continue to keep the dynamic junior out of the lineup. Enter Bean, who also replaced an ailing Daniels at quarterback late last season and performed admirably. The sixth-year senior threw 14 touchdown passes and was intercepted just four times in 2022, and has picked up where he left off while Daniels heals this season, totaling nine touchdown throws to just four picks. All four of those interceptions have come in the past two games, but even though Bean struggled in last week’s huge win over No. 10 Oklahoma, he also rushed for 62 yards and a touchdown. So like many Big 12 quarterbacks, he’s a threat to make big plays with both his arm and his legs. ISU is tied for third nationally with 13 interceptions and it’s likely they’ll need to continue to shine in that area to beat Bean (or Daniels) and the Jayhawks.
RB Devin Neal
The 5-11, 210-pound junior is averaging a robust 6.7 yards per carry and has already amassed 771 rushing yards in eight games. Neal’s rushed for 91 yards or more in each of Kansas’s three conference wins while running for a combined 111 yards in the team’s two league losses, making him a bellwether of sorts. In other words, when he has room to roam, the Jayhawks tend to win. Neal has rushed for seven touchdowns this season, but has reached the end zone just twice in conference play. The Cyclones rank third in the Big 12 in rushing defense and must keep Neal under control in order to have a chance to notch a fourth-straight victory.
S Kenny Logan
The Jayhawks’ leading tackler is very good in pass coverage, but shines the most against the run. Logan’s tallied double-digit tackles in 12 games in his career and is coming off his first such effort this season against the Sooners. The 6-0, 205-pound senior from Saint Augustine, Fla., also leads his team in solo stops with 34 and boasts one interception and one forced fumble. His lone pick this season turned into a 30-yard touchdown.
CB Cobee Bryant
The 6-0, 175-pound junior from Evergreen, Ala., is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has also forced a fumble. Bryant also picked off a pair of passes last season — and returned one for a touchdown. He’s one of the Jayhawks’ but tacklers in space and 20 of his 21 total tackles have been solo efforts.
DE Austin Booker
The burly transfer from Minnesota is tied for the Big 12 lead in sacks with six and can also move inside to help stifle an opponent’s rushing attack. Booker has notched at last half a sack in five of the seven games in which he’s played this season. He’s also the Jayhawks’ fourth-leading tackler with 37 stops. The 6-6, 245-pound sophomore has amassed six or more tackles in four of Kansas’s five conference games.