Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Spring superlatives: Iowa State
By ESPN.com staff
Today: The second in our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12.
Strongest position: Linebacker
Key returnees: Jake Knott, A.J. Klein, Matt Tau'fo'ou, Matt Morton
Key losses: None.
Analysis: Knott is already one of the Big 12's best linebackers after starting just one year for the Cyclones, and he's flanked by Klein and Tau'fo'ou. Knott and Klein combined for a staggering 241 tackles, more than any other pair of teammates in the Big 12. Tau'fo'ou will likely return to start at middle linebacker after missing the second half of the season with a broken leg. Knott and Klein should be a solid duo at outside linebacker once again as they return for their junior years, and though they were excellent in year one, the future is even brighter for both. They were the only sophomores in the Big 12 to rank in the top 18 in tackles.
Weakest position: Wide receiver
Key returnees: Darius Darks, Darius Reynolds, Josh Lenz
Key losses: Jake Williams
Analysis: In the offense-minded Big 12, it's never a good sign if a tight end is a team's leading receiver, with 19 more catches and 126 more yards than the team's best receiver. For Iowa State, though, that was exactly the case in 2010. The Cyclones unit lacked big-play ability and as a result, the offense suffered. Darks, the team's top returning receiver, ranked 38th in the Big 12 in receiving last year. Reynolds was 45th. Only Kansas was a worse passing offense, and the Cyclones completed just under 57 percent of their passes last year, the lowest number in the Big 12. The Cyclones had just 20 pass plays longer than 20 yards, the fewest in the Big 12 and 114th nationally. They were also the only team in the Big 12 without a pass play longer than 40 yards all season. Iowa State will be breaking in a new quarterback next year, and Darks, Reynolds or Lenz simply have to be better if those numbers are going to get any better in 2011. Paul Rhoads also signed three receivers in the 2011 class, highlighted by three-star recruit Tad Ecby, a Texas native. New quarterback Steele Jantz is competing to win the quarterback job, and if he wins, he'll have at least one familiar receiver. Junior college teammate Aaron Horne enrolled early at Iowa State alongside Jantz in hopes of boosting the receiving corps.