Midseason review: Iowa State

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Iowa State Cyclones

Record: 4-3, 1-2

The Cyclones were picked to challenge for the North Division cellar under new coach Paul Rhoads. But the plucky team started the season 3-1, giving Rhoads the fastest start by any first-season ISU coach since George Veenker in 1931. His team has gravitated behind a formidable ground attack with new coordinator Tom Herman’s spread offense. Tailback Alexander Robinson has become one of the most valuable players in the league as the Cyclones have surprisingly developed more of a running attack than a passing philosophy so far. Veteran defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has had his mark on his unit, which ranks 42nd in scoring defense and has limited opponents to 17 points or less four times this season. The Cyclones face a punishing finish, but can qualify for a bowl berth by winning two of their last five games. If they can do that, Rhoads would deserve some strong support for coach of the year honors -- if he doesn't already.

Most valuable offensive player, TB Alexander Robinson: Allen Iverson was right about practice. Robinson has been limited in his practice during the past month after tweaking his groin muscle in the Army game on Sept. 26. But he still leads the conference with 737 rushing yards, including four 100-yard games. He’s also been strong as a pass protector in the Cyclones’ spread offense and a versatile performer all season long.

Most valuable defensive player, LB Jesse Smith: The senior linebacker – like most of his teammates – is an undersized defender who won’t fill out the NFL scout’s prototypes for many draftees. But all he does is make plays with 75 tackles, 29 more stops than any teammate. He’s also notched three quarterback hurries, broken up two passes and produced an interception as he’s thrived in Burnham’s defense.