By Daniel Berk University Daily Kansan
Lawrence, KS (U-WIRE) -- Iowa State was the surprise of the Big 12 Conference last year, taking advantage of a weak division to earn a piece of the Big 12 North crown.

Last season, the Cyclones were picked to finish near the bottom of the conference. They hadn't captured a football trophy since 1912.

This season, Iowa State coach Dan McCarney said he was hopeful the Cyclones would continue to improve and contend for the Big 12 Championship again.

"We have rewritten the history books at Iowa State," McCarney said. "We have done things the school and program has never done in football, and yet we have lots and lots of room to improve. I am proud of what we have done."

Iowa State finished the season winning five of its last six games, including a victory against Miami of Ohio in the Independence Bowl. The only game the Cyclones dropped during that stretch was a 17-14 match against the Missouri Tigers in the final regular season game of the year.

A victory in that game would have given the Cyclones sole possession of the Big 12 North division, and would have sent them into the Big 12 Championship game against the Oklahoma Sooners.

Leading the charge for the Cyclones this season will be sophomore quarterback Bret Meyer. Meyer started all 12 games for Iowa State last season, and accumulated 122 rushing yards in the Independence Bowl.

McCarney said in order for the Cyclones to have another successful season, Meyer would have to continue to improve.

"There is a tremendous upside to Bret Meyer," McCarney said. "It is just a matter of improving, doing the little things right, and picking up where he left off last year."

Meyer will be joined in the backfield by junior running back Stevie Hicks. Hicks ran for more than 1,000 yards last season and will take the pressure off Meyer on offense.





Also important on offense will be sophomore wide receiver Todd Blythe. Blythe was named to the Big 12 Media Preseason Football Team after wowing opponents by catching nine touchdowns and leading the conference last year with 21.4 yards per catch.

Another target for Meyer will be junior wide receiver Austin Flynn. Flynn saw time at quarterback last year, but was moved to wide receiver in the off season to make room for Meyer.

On defense, the Cyclones will have to replace first-team All-Big 12 cornerback Ellis Hobbs. Hobbs was the only Cyclone chosen in the NFL draft. Senior safety Nik Moser will be expected to replace Hobbs as the leader in the secondary.

Another stand-out on defense will be senior defensive tackle Nick Leaders. Leaders is a four-year starter who coaches named second-team All-Big 12. Last season, Leaders racked up 50 tackles and led the team with 3.5 sacks.

The Cyclones open their season Sept. 3 against Illinois State. Their second game will pit the Cyclones against in-state rival Iowa in a game that could be a major test for both teams. Other key games on the schedule include an Oct. 15 trip to Missouri and a Nov. 12 home match-up with Colorado. Iowa State concludes it's regular season with a trip to Lawrence Nov. 26.

McCarney said the Cyclones would be more competitive this season, and that his team was no longer considered an automatic win for other teams.

"We all think we can win," McCarney said. "There are some real tangible things we can point to in our program saying Iowa State is a team you better be ready for."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the eighth of 11 articles previewing Kansas' competition in the Big 12 Conference. The articles will run every day from now until Sept. 1.

(C) 2004 University Daily Kansan via U-WIRE