Editorial note: KFGO is covering NDSU in-depth all-season-long at Bison Central.
AMES, IA (KFGO-AM) The final Friday before NDSU starts the 2014 campaign with a road game against the Cyclones of Iowa State. The game is early on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Kick-off from Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa.
If you have been paying attention, the last several Fridays I have had Pinto's Pre-Season Previews. Check them out, get caught up on what NDSU has been doing this pre-season and come back here to get ready for NDSU/ISU.
July 25: They Hold The Keys
August 1: Headaches
August 8: High Importance
August 15: Predictions
August 22: The 2014 Bison Football Team
The last two years, I have done my Friday Pinto's Preview on video. We are going to switch things up a little bit. At the top, you will notice a video from Mike McFeely and myself, talking about the Iowa State game.
That will be included with this preview article every Friday from now, up until the end of the season. In this article, I will bring up my three things to look for during the game (Pinto's Points, if you will allow the alliteration) and an X-Factor in the game.
I will also give my prediction at the end and keep a running tally throughout the season. So, without an further ado, here are my three things to look for.
Pinto's Point #1: NDSU Defense vs. ISU Offense
The Cyclones return 13 players who started for the offense at some point last season, including four of the five starting offensive line from last season. The o-line for ISU is huge. Left tackle Brock Dagel is 6'8", 305 pounds and right guard Daniel Burton is 6'6", 328 pounds.
Center Tom Farniok has started 35 career games for ISU, the most of any current Cyclones' player. The experience and size will be an advantage for Iowa State as they try and control the line of scrimmage against an inexperienced defensive line.
Still, NDSU brings back a load of experience and talent in their linebackers and the secondary. Safeties Christian Dudzik and Colten Heagle will be the key to NDSU's defensive success on Saturday.
I mentioned the key match-ups already this week , but it is worth mentioning again. E.J Bibbs, Iowa State's massive tight end, will ruin NDSU if they are not careful. Look for him to be targeted at least a dozen times, if not more, on Saturday.
Pinto's Point #2: NDSU's Offensive Line
The Bison will have four new starters on the line. The Bison had two players graduate, one of those going to the NFL, another regular starter from last year having to sit out this year due to needing surgery on his knee and Josh Colville, last year's starting center, retire from football due to injury.
That left Joe Haeg, a starter at right tackle last season, the lone starter returning for NDSU. Haeg will play left tackle this season with seniors Jesse Hinz (center), Adam Schueller (left guard), junior Jeremy Kelly (right guard) and sophomore Landon Lechler (right tackle) making up the rest of the offensive line.
Those four combined for two starts all of last season. NDSU has long been known for churning out dominate line after dominate line so my level of worry is not that high on how good this group will be. Still, it is something to watch for in Saturday's game.
The best way to get a new offensive line comfortable is to run the ball right away. Make them go out and hit somebody. Get the adrenaline flowing and create some positive yardage plays for the team to feel good about. It helps when you have an All-Conference type back in John Crockett carrying the rock for you.
Pinto's Point #3: Carson Wentz
The redshirt junior quarterback will finally give us all a chance to see how good he really is. I'm excited to watch him play because the tools are there for him to be great. Strong arm, strong mobility and a prototype for his position when it comes to size (6'6" 231 pounds).
The Bison will try to keep it simple for Wentz as the game starts but if Wentz confidence starts to build, don't be surprised to see them sling it a little more. Understandably, a lot of this depends on score and situation. If NDSU is up by a couple scores, they are going to run it as often as they can in order to melt clock.
My hope is that we see NDSU with the ball towards the end of the first half with about four minutes left on the clock. Calling play action passes, allowing Wentz to roll out of the pocket. Giving him the opportunity to either throw or run, depending on what he sees.
I don't care how big you are, the last thing you want to try and do is take down a player as big as Wentz, bearing down on you with a head of steam. There were times last year Brock Jensen would punish a cornerback. I can see Wentz doing the same thing on Saturday.
Pinto's X-Factor: Tyler Wrice
NDSU's redshirt freshman is listed as the number one punt returner on the depth chart, but won't be out there on the first punt return opportunity, according to head coach Chris Klieman.
In games like this, it can sometimes come down to a special teams play that will turn the tide one way or the other. NDSU has had great luck with under sized punt returners (i.e. Shamen Washington, Ryan Smith). Wrice, who is listed at 5'7", could be another name to add to this list.
I can see him getting at least one shot at trying to make an impact at returner. Hopefully he has a chance to show off why the coaches wanted him as their top punt returner.
Pinto's Prediction: Iowa State 17 NDSU 14
I was wrong last year when I predicted the Kansas State game and I have a small feeling I may be wrong this time around. Still, from the outset, I have never felt comfortable picking NDSU in this game.
1) ISU returns a lot of starters on offense. That is a big advantage, especially since you will be asking them to pick up a new offense. Veterans will have an easier time picking up on the nuances of a scheme than a younger, inexperienced players.
2) I don't think the Cyclones are looking at this game as just playing "another FCS team." They lost to the University Northern Iowa last year. They know how good the Missouri Valley Football Conference can be. They are not taking NDSU for granted.
3) NDSU is breaking in a handful of new players on both the offensive and defensive lines. The Bison also have a new quarterback and, let's not forget, trying to find a new play-maker like they had in Marcus Williams. Even though Williams was not the best corner last season, he was still they one guy you could look at and go, "He's going to make a play and it is going to be huge." Who is going to do that for NDSU this year?
I wouldn't be surprised if I was wrong with my prediction but I'll stick with it and see how it pans out.
You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly sports talk show on 740 The Fan and 740thefan.com called Fan Sports Saturday from 8-10 a.m. Pinto is a radio producer and talk show host within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.