FACTS & STATS: Site: Jack Trice Stadium (55,000) -- Ames, Iowa. Television: FSN. Home Record: Tulsa 0-0, Iowa St. 0-0. Away Record: Tulsa 0-0, Iowa St. 0-0. Neutral Record: Tulsa 0-0, Iowa St. 0-0. Conference Record: Tulsa 0-0, Iowa St. 0-0. Series Record: Iowa State leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: A couple of bowl-eligible teams from a year ago try to get the 2012 season off on the right foot when the Iowa State Cyclones play host to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Saturday afternoon.
It was a rocky start to the 2011 campaign for Tulsa, with losses in three of its first four games to national powerhouses Oklahoma (47-14), Oklahoma State (59-33) and Boise State (41-21), but once it entered the Conference USA schedule it performed much better. First-year head coach Bill Blankenship led his team on a seven-game win streak, which allowed the Golden Hurricane to qualify for the C-USA championship game. Although they lost their final two games -- 48-16 to Houston in the conference championship and 24-21 to BYU in the Armed Forces Bowl -- they still finished with an impressive 8-5 record.
Iowa State had an up and down season in the rough Big 12 Conference, finishing with a 6-7 record and a 3-6 mark in league play. After winning their first three games, the Cyclones dropped four in a row in October. They followed up that stretch with another three-game win streak, which was punctuated by a huge home win over nationally-ranked Oklahoma State, 37-31 in double-overtime -- the Cowboys only loss of the season. That would be the high point of the season however, as ISU closed out the year with three more losses, including to Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl, 27-13.
Iowa State defeated Tulsa (27-6) back on Nov. 18, 1961 in the only other meeting between these two programs.
Tulsa had one of the best offenses in C-USA last season, finishing third in both total offense (440.4 ypg) and scoring offense (33.1 ppg), although with three-year starting quarterback G.J. Kinne now graduated, the state of the offense moving forward remains in question.
Taking over the duties under center is Nebraska transfer Cody Green, who threw 5 touchdowns to 3 interceptions as a backup in Lincoln the past couple of seasons. Green is an imposing figure (6-4, 247) with a big arm and he is expected to continue with the vertical passing attack that Kinne was so successful with in 2011.
The Golden Hurricane use a running back-by-committee strategy in the backfield to great success, and they return their three leading rushers from a year ago. Ja'Terian Douglas (7.9 ypc) and Trey Watts (5.6 ypc) are big-play runners who each gained more than 800 yards in 2011, and Alex Singleton thrived in goal- line situations, plunging in for 8 touchdowns.
Adding to the running back carousel is Willie Carter. Although the fullback carried the ball just 13 times a season ago, he is still an integral part of the offensive game plan, as he was the team's leading receiver (61 rec, 868 yds, 7 TDs). Carter is just one of several veteran pass-catching options at Green's disposal. Bryan Burnham (54 rec, 850 yds, 9 TDs) is an imposing threat in the red zone, and Jordan James (31 rec, 391 yds, 1 TD) will be used in underneath routes and is reliable in moving the chains.
The Tulsa defense was spotty a year ago, allowing opponents to put up 27.3 ppg, but the unit should benefit from key returning starters at each position.
Cory Dorris, Daeshon Bufford and Jared St. John all bring valuable experience to the defensive line. All will need to pitch in order to replace the production of the departed Tyrunn Walker (13.5 TFL, 8 sacks). The Golden Hurricane also returns one of their most explosive playmakers in linebacker Shawn Jackson, who hopes to improve upon a spectacular sophomore season (101 tackles, 11 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 2 INTs).
The secondary also appears to be in good shape. Safety Dexter McCoil picked off a team-high six passes in 2011, and he comes into this season tied for the program record with 13 career interceptions. Safety Marco Nelson finished fourth on the team in tackles with 73, and cornerback John Flanders should also give the unit a boost after missing the 2011 season due to academic ineligibility.
In the high-powered Big 12, Iowa State's offense did not stand out as one of the elite. In fact, it was sub par by almost any conference's standards, as it averaged just 22.7 ppg. The good news is that a solid core of seven starters returns to Ames this season.
A pair of quarterbacks -- Steele Jantz and Jared Barnett -- split time in 2011 and combined for less-than-stellar numbers (2,720 yards, 16 TDs, 17 INTs). Although Barnett took over the job in the final five weeks of last season, head coach Paul Rhodes has chosen Jantz to be his starter for this opener. The senior will need to improve upon his .533 completion percentage and lower his high sack total if he wants to hold on to the job throughout the fall.
Regardless of who is under center, the Cyclones plan to run more often than they throw once again in 2012. James White (743 yds, 8 TDs) returns as the leading ball-carrier, and Jeff Woody (381 yds, 6 TDs) figures into the backfield mix as well. Shontrelle Johnson, who has been cleared to play following a neck injury suffered last season, could also have an impact.
The ISU receiving corps doesn't boast many game-breakers, especially considering the loss of Darius Reynolds (43 rec, 695 yds, 7 TDs), but it returns four receivers who caught at least 23 balls last season in Josh Lenz, Aaron Horne, Jarvis West and Albert Gary.
The Cyclones defensive unit really struggled in 2011, allowing more than 427 total yards per game. They also managed to record just 17 sacks, and the return of just one starter on the defensive line (Jake McDonough, 2 sacks) may not help that number.
The linebacking crew figures to be much stronger than the defensive line, with A.J. Klein and Jake Knott each coming off 100-tackle seasons.
The secondary also has plenty of leadership with the return of senior cornerback Jeremy Reeves (70 tackles, 2 INTs) and junior safety Jacques Washington (90 tackles, 1 INT).
Tulsa did not fare well against the Big 12 last season, allowing a total of 106 points to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but it's safe to say that the Cyclones offense is no where near as potent as those two teams. With both squads having question marks at the quarterback position, it's difficult to predict how each will respond on the field in this one. Give Iowa State the slight advantage working in front of its home crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Iowa State 28, Tulsa 27Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 1, 3:30 p.m. (et)