ISU has gone from 3-9 last year to this year’s 6-4 roller coaster. But in the last two weeks the Cyclones have dropped nip-and-tuck games at West Virginia and at home against Oklahoma State, both decided in the last heart-wrenching minute. Despite these hard-luck losses, the Cyclones still hold out faint hope for making the Big 12 title game with their 4-3 record in conference play, so they shouldn’t be lacking in motivation here.
The biggest question is QB Kyle Kempt, who left the OSU game with an undisclosed injury and it is still unsure if he’ll suit up this week (he is listed as day-to-day). If he can’t go, the Cyclone offense will fall into the hands of freshman Zeb Noland, who filled in ably to nearly upset Oklahoma State last week.
At 1-9, Baylor is in total rebuilding mode, obviously. But that’s not an unfamiliar role for head coach Matt Rhule. He made a total program turnaround at Temple, starting out at 2-10 in his first year (2013) and then finishing his third and fourth years with 10 wins each.
Iowa State at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 18 at 2:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FSN
Spread: Iowa State -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. The greenhorns at QB
Man alive, talk about “Next man up.” It looks like both teams will be starting freshmen at quarterback. Redshirt frosh Zeb Noland came out of the woodwork last week for ISU and filled in for injured Kyle Kempt with appreciable aplomb. He led the Cyclones to the doorstep of an upset over a top-10 team, going 17-of-28 for 263 yards on the day. This week, he should have an even easier time against the porous Bears defense, ranked last in the Big 12 at 465 yards per game allowed. BU counters with Charlie Brewer, who is starting his second game after going 43-of-63 for 417 yards vs. Texas Tech. One thing ISU has in its favor is more playmakers. Four different receivers have at least 400 yards and five players have caught 30 or more passes. Conversely, the Bears are running out of pass catchers. Injuries to Chris Platt, R.J. Sneed, Pooh Stricklin and now Gavin Holmes, means that the number of difference-makers is depleted.
2. The 1,000-yard man
Cyclones running back David Montgomery is 64 yards away from becoming a 1,000-yard rusher for the season. Now second in the conference in rushing behind Justice Hill of Oklahoma State, Montgomery has been a workhorse back the last four weeks, with exactly 100 carries for 458 yards. If his agile feet stay active and he can get another 100-yard or better performance, then you know the ISU running game has done its job, establishing the run and setting up the pass. By the way, BU is last in the Big 12 in rushing defense (195.3 ypg).
3. Baylor linemen
One of the few bright spots this season has been the Bears’ offensive line, which isn’t spectacular (as noted by Texas Tech’s goal-line stand last Saturday), but is steady. Unlike the rest of the squad, the O-line hasn’t had a rash of injuries, in fact this group has had seven straight games of the same starting front. If the line can keep Brewer upright on passing downs and help BU establish some running lanes, just as was mentioned for ISU above, offensive diversity will be huge for the Bears and their chances of success.
There is no escaping the fact that Iowa State is the better team here. Baylor is trying to build something after all the fallout from the Art Briles era. Plus the huge amount of injuries hasn’t helped. Baylor has started 11 freshmen this season and used almost every one of their freshman class in one way or another.
The only thing stopping the Cyclones here are the Cyclones themselves. They have a knack of beating top-five ranked teams, but can they avoid a third straight late-game loss? When it comes to padding stats, there is no better tonic for that than facing Baylor.
Prediction: Iowa State 42, Baylor 17
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.