AMES — Iowa State’s 2019 football schedule is unquestionably backloaded with games against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas all after Oct. 25.
The Cyclones’ toughest test in the front half will likely come from in-state rival Iowa.
Matt Campbell has never beaten Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeye football team. Iowa State lost 13-3 last season, 44-41 (OT) in 2018 and 42-3 in 2017.
If history recent history tells us anything, it’s that the game could be an offensive explosion for one or both teams or a trench-warfare affair where offensive gains are measured in inches, not yards.
So long story short, recent history doesn’t help us indicate what’s going to happen in 2019. It just shows that if trends continue, Iowa will win. But that’s the beauty of college football, players graduate, and new players come in. Every year is completely different.
Let’s take a look at some key departures for Iowa. The Hawkeyes made history in the 2019 NFL Draft by having two tight ends (T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant) get drafted in the first round.
Iowa has gained a reputation around football as “Tight End U,” especially when you add in the success George Kittle had with the San Francisco 49ers last season.
To add on to key receiving departures, wide receiver Nick Easley also graduated. He led the Hawkeyes in receptions with 52 and also added 494 yards and five touchdowns.
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On the defensive side of the ball, the Hawkeyes lose their four leading tacklers from the 2018 team. Defensive back Jake Gervese led Iowa with 83 tackles and tied the team lead in interceptions with four, defensive back Amani Hooker declared early and went in the fourth round of the NFL Draft to the Tennessee Titans, linebacker Jack Hockaday produced 62 tackles and defensive lineman Parker Hesse had 58 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. To add to that, defensive lineman Anthony Nelson also declared early for the NFL Draft and was taken by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth round.
Iowa was stout defensively in 2018, allowing just 17.8 points per game, but the defense has big shoes to fill.
Luckily for the Hawkeyes, they return almost their entire offense intact (sans the two first-round tight ends).
The enormous Nate Stanley (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) returns to lead the offense. Stanley threw for 2,852 yards and 26 touchdowns with a 59-percent completion percentage last season. Mel Kiper Jr. has Stanley as the second-best sennior quarterback pro prospect, behind Oregon’s Justin Herbert.
Iowa also returns all three of its primary running backs. Mekhi Sargent led the team with 745 yards and nine touchdowns, Toren Young had 637 yards and five touchdowns and Ivory Kelly-Martin rushed for 341 yards and two scores. All three running backs are juniors.
Lastly, the position group Iowa is most knowns for — the offensive line. The Hawkeyes return future NFL linemen in Tristan Wirfs and Alaric Jackson, who bookend the line at right tackle and left tackle, respectively.
The rest of the Iowa offensive line will seemingly fall into place like clockwork because that’s how Ferentz-coached teams work.
Way-too early prediction: I’m not confident in predicting this game. I’m not confident picking this game two-plus months out from kickoff and I won’t be confident picking this game two hours away from kick off.
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Iowa State is clearly on the rise and Iowa has been at this level for the better part of 15 years.
Whether we get a final score in the 40s or a final score in the teens, it’s going to be a fun one.
It’s in Ames this year and that’s what I’m offering as the tipping point. Iowa State wins by single digits.
Iowa State football look ahead
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