It’s finally game week in one of the most anticipated seasons in Iowa State football history.
The Cyclones enter Matt Campbell’s fourth year as head coach expected to contend for a spot in the Big 12 championship game following an 8-5 season in 2018.
Gear up for the start of the season here with position previews, schedule analysis and more.
5 offseason reads
Here are a few stories you may have missed over the summer that you’ll want to catch up on or reread.
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Iowa State correspondent Ben Visser previews all 12 games on the Cyclones' schedule.
Aug. 31 — Northern Iowa, 11 a.m. (FS1)
Iowa State has turned the corner when it comes to FCS teams. While UNI always is among the nation’s best FCS football programs, Iowa State shouldn’t have a problem with UNI this time around. I have the Cyclones beating the Panthers by at least 17 points and some of the Iowa State true freshmen could get some playing time under their belt in the fourth quarter.
Sept. 14 — Iowa, 3 p.m. (FS1)
I’m not confident in predicting this game. 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.
Sept. 21 — Louisiana-Monroe
Iowa State shouldn’t have too many problems with Louisiana-Monroe. I think the Cyclones will actually have an easier time against the Warhawks than they will against UNI in the season-opener. I had Iowa State beating UNI by at least 17, so I see Iowa State beating Louisiana-Monroe by at least 20.
Sept. 28 — at Baylor
Matt Campbell has never lost to Matt Rhule and the game has never been within single digits, either. Baylor seems like it will have another high-powered offense in 2019, but Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock has been able to slow down even the most prolific offenses with his 3-3-5 defense (three linemen, three linebackers, three safeties). On the flip side, Baylor’s defense leaves a lot to be desired and, while Iowa State needs to replace key production from the losses of David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler, it appears the Cyclones have the pieces to keep their offense moving. Heacock’s defense has never given up more than 14 points to a Rhule-led Baylor team, but I think that streak ends in Waco with Baylor scoring somewhere in the neighborhood of three touchdowns. This one will be a bit of a barnburner, likely decided in the fourth quarter. Iowa State’s schedule is back-loaded but I think this is one the Cyclones could drop early in the season. It’s either this one or the Iowa game — take your pick. I have Iowa State at 3-1 after the first conference game of the season.
Oct. 5 — TCU
Other people are higher on TCU than I am. The Horned Frogs lost a lot of pieces on defense and replacing them will be difficult. I’m not sold on any of their quarterback options, either. This game will follow a similar path as the last two in the series. While TCU loses a lot, Patterson always has a good defense and that shouldn’t change next season. I’d be shocked if either team scored three touchdowns in this year’s matchup. I have Iowa State winning by single digits.
Oct. 12 — at West Virginia
Roster turnover isn’t easy to overcome, but every team in the nation goes through it. Program turnover is harder and takes much longer. It took Campbell a year-and-a-half to get Iowa State right, Rhule is on year three of his rebuild and Nebraska Coach Scott Frost even had a year of sub-.500 football in his first season. It’d be naive to think Brown will be immune to a down year, especially given all the pieces he’s lost. I believe West Virginia will finish in the bottom three of the Big 12 and may contend with Kansas for worst team in the league. While this is a road game for Iowa State, the Cyclones shouldn’t have too many problems handling the Mountaineers and winning by at least 10 points.
Oct. 19 — at Texas Tech
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Campbell has never lost to Texas Tech — including a 66-10 beatdown of Patrick Mahomes’ team in Campbell’s first year when the Cyclones went 3-9. Texas Tech just missed out on bowl eligibility last season, going 5-7. I don’t think it’s going to be worse, but I’m not sure it will be much better, either. In the Big 12 media preseason poll, Texas Tech was picked to finish seventh, which would put it in that 5-7 range. I don’t think Iowa State will be one of those five wins for Texas Tech. Matt Campbell will remain undefeated against the Red Raiders and improve Iowa State’s record to 6-1 right before the gauntlet of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Texas.
Oct. 26 — Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State appears to have two good options at quarterback and it has two all-Big 12/All-America caliber skill position players returning in Hubbard and Wallace. Where the Cowboys finish in the Big 12 will be determined by how the quarterbacks handle Power Five play and whether or not the defense can get some consistency and not be boom or bust. I like Gundy’s team this year. It was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12, just behind TCU. This could be a slip-up game for Campbell and the Cyclones with the likes of Oklahoma and Texas up next. But Campbell’s teams don’t often (if ever) look past an opponent. And, last I checked, this game is being played in the month of October and over the last two seasons, Campbell is 7-0 in October with three wins against teams ranked in the top six and four wins against top-25 teams. Campbell knows what he’s doing in October and he’ll have the Cyclones playing good football. Iowa State wins this one by a touchdown.
Nov. 9 — at Oklahoma
Oklahoma is an incredibly good football team and, frankly, it almost doesn’t matter what the defense does because its offense has been that much better than everyone since Riley took over as offensive coordinator, and subsequently head coach. The Sooners can score with anyone and it doesn’t look like that will change in 2019. If the Sooner defense makes one or two plays, OU will win the Big 12 again. Iowa State’s defense is good, to the point where defending national champion Clemson made the trip to Ames to learn from defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, but even the Cyclones have had trouble slowing down Oklahoma. The Sooners scored 37 points last season in a win, the third fewest they scored all season. The Sooners gained 8.4 yards per play last season. They gain nearly 10 yards every play, get lined up as fast as anyone to hike it again, and get 10 more yards. It’s fun to watch and, I’m sure, miserable to defend. Iowa State should be good in 2019, just not Oklahoma good. I have the Sooners winning by 10-14 points in Norman.
Nov. 16 — Texas
Texas has to travel to Ames on Nov. 16, when the average high temperature is 47 degrees and the average low is 28. I don’t think weather will make that much of a difference, especially when the pads get strapped on and the players start moving, but it is something to point out. The weather would play more of a factor if the game ended up being a night game, when the temperature would begin to drop to below freezing. I think the game will be cold and Jack Trice Stadium will be loud. I don’t know if Texas is actually back, but it feels like it could be. Tom Herman is a good coach and he has a really good quarterback at his disposal. Herman will have his guys ready for the potential cold and I have the Longhorns beating Iowa State by less than a touchdown in front of a rowdy Iowa State fan base on a frigid day.
Nov. 23 — Kansas
Prediction: Coaches and players can’t look past any team. Their preparation has to be consistent and steadfast even against the Kansas and Rutgers football programs of the world. Fans don’t have to do that. Fans can look past teams and live a stress-free week during football season. Feel free to have a casual Saturday in Jack Trice Stadium with plenty of hot chocolate on Saturday, Nov. 23, Iowa State fans. The Cyclones will win this game handily.
Nov. 30 — at Kansas State
Kansas State’s defense should be a good Big 12 defense in 2019. It’s the offense that’s the worry. Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham hasn’t proven to be a Big 12 play caller and Skyler Thompson hasn’t proven to be a Big 12 quarterback. On top of that, Kansas State’s only productive offensive player in 2018 – running back Alex Barnes – left for the NFL Draft. Chris Klieman is a good coach who is coming into a near-impossible situation — replacing a legend with a mostly bare offensive cupboard. Kansas State will be right down there with its Sunflower State neighbor Kansas in the Big 12 cellar.Iowa State should win this game handily, even though it’s at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan. With this win in the final regular-season game, I have Iowa State going 9-3 overall and 6-3 in the Big 12.
Starter: 15 Brock Purdy, 6-1, 210, so.
Backup: 6 Re-al Mitchell, 6-0, 195, R-fr.
As a freshman, Purdy was the primary quarterback for Iowa State in nine games. He threw for 2,250 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 146-of-220 passing.
Now in his second fall camp, Purdy is grasping the playbook and offensive concepts better.
“With his work ethic, it was only a matter of time before things start to get easier,” Iowa State passing game coordinator Joel Gordon said. “He’s worked really hard at trying to improve in all aspects of being a quarterback. It’s paying off for him.”
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Starter: 25 Sheldon Croney, 5-11, 206, sr.
OR 4 Johnnie Lang, 5-8, 193, so.
OR 3 Kene Nwangwu, 6-1, 205, jr.
OR 28 Breece Hall, 6-1, 205, fr.
OR 21 Jirehl Brock, 5-11, 200, fr.
For the first time since Matt Campbell arrived in Ames, he’ll have a running back competition.
David Montgomery was the Cyclones’ workhorse for the last two seasons, rushing for over 2,000 yards.
Iowa State now has five players in competition to get carries — redshirt senior Sheldon Croney, redshirt junior Kene Nwangwu, redshirt sophomore Johnnie Lang and true freshmen Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock.
Starter (M): 8 Deshaunte Jones, 5-10, 180, sr.
Backup (M): 82 Landen Akers, 6-0, 188, jr.
Starter (X): 14 Tarique Milton, 5-10, 183, so.
Backup (X): 9 Joe Scates, 6-2, 196, R-fr.
Starter (Z): 7 La’Michael Pettway, 6-2, 233, sr.
OR 17 Darren Wilson, 6-3, 198, so.
OR 2 Sean Shaw Jr., 6-6, 212, R-fr.
Starter: 11 Chase Allen, 6-7, 245, jr.
OR 88 Charlie Kolar, 6-6, 252, so.
‘F’ RECEIVER/TIGHT END
Starter: 89 Dylan Soehner, 6-7, 270, jr.
Backup: 45 Ben Latusek, 6-3, 248, so.
When it’s third-and-6, where does Iowa State go with the football?
That’s the question head coach Matt Campbell and receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase want answered during fall camp.
Last year it was Hakeem Butler. The year before it was Allen Lazard.
“Hopefully we can answer that question sooner rather than later, and hopefully we can answer it more names than one,” Scheelhaase said.
Starter (LT): 51 Julian Good-Jones, 6-5, 308, sr.
Backup (LT): 76 Joey Ramos, 6-5, 300, R-fr.
Starter (LG): 63 Collin Olson, 6-1, 290, sr.
Backup (LG): 52 Trevor Downing, 6-4, 300, R-fr.
Starter (C): 57 Colin Newell, 6-4, 297, so.
Backup (C): 64 Derek Schweiger, 6-3, 295, so.
Starter (RG): 66 Josh Knipfel, 6-5, 305, sr.
Backup (RG): 77 Robert Hudson, 6-6, 335, so.
Starter (RT): 74 Bryce Meeker, 6-6, 305, sr.
Backup (RT): 75 Sean Foster, 6-8, 310, jr.
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The Cyclones return every one of their O-line starters from last season, including four seniors. That continuity alone helps build and manifest the right mentality and chemistry.
Right guard Josh Knipfel was the one who helped spearhead the charge for change. He saw how close the defensive line room was and how closely they worked together, and he wanted the same thing.
“The offensive line room, when I first got here, we weren’t that close,” Downing, a redshirt freshman, said. “But (an offseason lakehouse vacation), that trip brought us all together. We spent three days together and we all had a great time.”
Starter (DE): 3 JaQuan Bailey, 6-2, 255, sr.
Starter (DE): 5 Enyi Uwazurike, 6-6, 285, jr.
Backup (DE): 55 Zach Petersen, 6-4, 262, so.
Backup (DE): 89 Matt Leo, 6-7, 275, sr.
Starter (NG): 76 Ray Lima, 6-3, 305, sr.
Backup (NG): 93 Isaiah Lee, 6-0, 290, R-fr.
OR 90 Joshua Bailey, 6-2, 285, jr.
Starter (DT): 92 Jamahl Johnson, 6-0, 300, sr.
Backup (DT): 95 Tucker Robertson, 6-3, 280, so.
Iowa State’s defensive line is the Cyclones’ best position group.
The line features two All-Big 12 players in JaQuan Bailey and Ray Lima and the third starter is the most physically impressive in Enyi Uwazurike, who is 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds.
The success of the Iowa State defensive line isn’t just based on its starters. The line is one of the most heavily substituted positions to keep players fresh.
Starter (WLB): 42 Marcel Spears Jr., 6-1, 218, sr.
Backup (WLB): 35 Jake Hummel, 6-1, 228, jr.
Starter (MLB): 23 Mike Rose, 6-3, 240, so.
Backup (MLB): 34 O’Rien Vance, 6-1, 231, so.
Starter (SLB): 9 Will McDonald, 6-4, 230, R-fr.
Backup (SLB): 36 Chandler Pulvermacher, 6-2, 223, R-fr.
Iowa State returns preseason all-Big 12 linebacker Marcel Spears and 2018 first-team freshman all-American Mike Rose.
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Spears, a senior, is the unquestioned leader in the linebackers room. He was fifth on the team in tackles last season with 69 and fourth in tackles for loss with eight. He also had five quarterback hurries and three pass breakups.
The other linebackers are relatively young. Middle linebacker Rose is a sophomore and whoever starts at the other outside linebacker spot, whether it’s Will McDonald or Chandler Pulvermacher, will be a redshirt freshman.
Starter (Star): 12 Greg Eisworth, 6-0, 205, jr.
Backup (Star): 4 Arnold Azunna, 6-0, 190, jr.
Starter (FS): 11 Lawrence White, 6-0, 196, jr.
Backup (FS): 17 Richard Bowens III, 6-0, 193, so.
Starter (SS): 33 Braxton Lewis, 5-11, 190, sr.
OR 7 Justin Bickham, 6-1, 199, sr.
OR 14 Tory Spears, 6-3, 200, R-fr.
Starter (CB): 26 Anthony Johnson, 186, so.
Starter (CB): 1 Datrone Young, 5-9, 176, so.
Backup (CB): 7 Amechie Walker, 5-10, 178, sr.
OR 13 Jaeveyon Morton, 5-9, 182, R-fr.
Backup (CB): 16 Keontae Jones, 6-0, 178, so.
OR 10 Tayvonn Kyle, 5-11, 176, R-fr.
You need a special mindset to play defensive back. Especially in the Big 12.
It’s inevitable, at some point during the game, a cornerback or a safety will get beat in a league that airs it out as much as the Big 12 does.
Iowa State sophomore Anthony Johnson emerged last season for the Cyclones as a true freshman. He played in seven games and started in four last season. In those seven games he had 28 tackles and five pass breakups. He had the second-most pass breakups on the team despite only playing in seven games.
“I believe in having short-term memory at the cornerback position,” Johnson said. “You can try to be perfect, but even the best get beat sometimes.”
Starter (PK): 96 Connor Assalley, 6-0, 195, jr.
Backup (PK): 90 Brayden Narveson, 6-0, 193, R-fr.
Starter (P): 7 Joe Rivera, 6-2, 186, jr.
Starter (LS): 39 Steven Wirtel, 6-4, 235, sr.
One player the Iowa State coaching staff is really high on in terms of having a future in the NFL is long snapper Steven Wirtel.
Wirtel, a senior from Orland Park, Kan., was the No. 6 long snapping prospect in the country as a recruit and chose Iowa State over Georgia and Illinois.
“Going through the recruiting process is when I realized I could be a professional,” Wirtel said.