AMES — Iowa State football has undergone a makeover in the last eight months with new coach Matt Campbell.
Spikes in recruiting and an increased social media presence have been beacons of progress for a program that has won eight games the last three seasons. Now with Iowa State’s first game less than a month away, it’s time to talk football.
Here are five things to watch in the 2016 Cyclones football season:
1. Can off-field success translate to wins?
When Matt Campbell arrived in Ames — on his 36th birthday — he and his staff got right to work and assembled a Scout.com top-45 recruiting class in a matter of 65 days. Through the first week of August, the 2017 ISU class has 19 commitments and is ranked No. 34 according to 247Sports.
As refreshing as the numbers are for Iowa State, they don’t mean as much if the team can’t find some wins. The Cyclones haven’t ended the season above .500 since 2009.
Iowa State lost three games last season by one score or less — including one to Campbell’s Toledo team — and took its lumps from Big 12 opponents. A similar gauntlet awaits this season, but there are wins to be had, particularly with four of the last five games of the season at home, the lone road trip coming at Kansas.
A reinvention of the ISU offense — a more power football and run-style — with a defensive emphasis on the line of scrimmage and secondary will make the Cyclones look just different enough to combat some of what the Big 12 offers.
2. Offensive line will have its work cut out for it
Iowa State offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Tom Manning had to replace his entire offensive line a year ago at Toledo. His challenge with the Cyclones won’t be much different.
The Cyclones offensive line, on paper, is its weakest unit with Jaypee Philbert Jr., Nick Fett, Julian Good-Jones, Patrick Scoggins and Jake Campos listed as starters on the summer depth chart. That group has a combined 24 starts, but all of those belong to Campos and Fett, who has just one start.
Manning, who was named FootballScoop 2015 Offensive Line Coach of the Year, has chops as a line coach and will have sophomore running back Mike Warren to help out. Newcomers Oge Udeogu (6-3, 325 pounds) and Minnesota transfer Brian Bobek (6-2, 298) add a bit of depth to a position that will be tested early and often throughout the year.
3. Mike Warren hopes to build on breakout year
Iowa State entered last season without much of an identity at running back. It couldn’t be further from that situation now. Sophomore Mike Warren rushed for 1,339 yards in 2015 — the first 1,000-yard rusher for Iowa State since 2009 — and is starting to shoulder more responsibility this fall.
Warren added a few pounds to his 6-foot frame and now sits at 205 pounds. He has 2,000 yards as his goal. The new ISU offense won’t ignore weapons like Allen Lazard on the outside, but don’t be surprised to see Warren catch some balls out of the backfield too.
4. Joel Lanning as the clear-cut quarterback
Since 2011, Iowa State has had a quarterback controversy in some form. Not in 2016. The job belongs to Joel Lanning.
Lanning started the last five games in 2015 and was 107-for-193 passing for 1,247 yards and 10 touchdowns in his 11 games played. With Sam Richardson (graduated) and Grant Rohach (transfer) gone, the red-shirt junior is the only quarterback on the roster who has started a Division I game.
Jacob Park, a JUCO transfer who spent a season at Georgia, and Zeb Noland, a true freshman, are Lanning’s backups with an “OR” in between. Lanning showed his running ability last season and with his cannon-like arm, an improvement in accuracy would be a big step in the ISU offense’s growth.
5. A 4-2-5 defensive scheme against Big 12 offenses
The Big 12 is known for its explosive, high-octane, potent offenses (or whatever other buzzword one might think of), but Iowa State is bringing in a new scheme to counter it: the 4-2-5. Emphasis within a 4-2-5 is placed on the defensive line and secondary with the linebackers acting as fillers.
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Four Big 12 schools (Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and TCU) ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring offense, with a lot of that success happening through the air. Demond Tucker, D’Andre Payne, Kamari Cotton-Moya, Jomal Wiltz and Brian Peavy are some of the names to pay attention to as the Cyclones try to improve upon their 453.4 yards and 32.7 points per game allowed last season.
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