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Drake Bulldogs vs. Iowa State Cyclones Prediction and Preview

Drake Bulldogs vs. Iowa State Cyclones Prediction and Preview

Drake Bulldogs vs. Iowa State Cyclones Prediction and Preview

It's certainly strange to see Iowa State, an FBS team, play Drake, an FCS program, on Championship Saturday. But that's what we have in Ames, Iowa, as the 23rd-ranked Cyclones will host the Bulldogs to close out their regular season.

For Iowa State (7-4, 6-3 in the Big 12), this game is to make up their Sept. 1 season opener against South Dakota State (another FCS program that's hosting a second-round playoff game on Saturday), which was canceled due to weather. The Cyclones originally scheduled Incarnate Word, but the Cardinals had to back out when they made the FCS playoffs, although they lost their first-round game last week to Montana State.

So then Iowa State turned to Drake, which is located in Des Moines. The Bulldogs are members of the Pioneer Football League (the only non-scholarship league in FCS) and are 7-3 overall this season.

These two teams have quite a bit of history between them with their first matchup dating all the way back to 1898. Iowa State leads the all-time series with Drake 48-17-4, but the Bulldogs won the last meeting, a 20-17 victory in Ames in 1985. That also was the last time Drake played an FBS team. (The Bulldogs defeated South Florida 23-22 in 1997, but that was a few years before the Bulls transitioned to the FBS ranks.)

This also will be the first-ever December game played in Ames.

Drake at Iowa State

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 1 at 12 p.m. ET

TV: Cyclones.tv

Spread: Iowa State -42

Three Things to Watch

1. The start for Drake

Part of the attraction for the Bulldogs to accept the game in Ames is because of the opportunity to play an FBS program in a big stadium. But this could work two ways for an FCS team that hasn't faced an FBS opponent in more than 30 years.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs could come out nervous, leading to a bevy of mistakes early that could help put them in an early hole that would seem impossible to dig out from against a team of Iowa State’s caliber. 

Or maybe the Drake players will be jacked up, giving the Bulldogs the kind of jump they need to put up a strong fight.

Hopefully it's the latter so those that show up at Jack Trice Stadium are treated to an entertaining game. 

2. Cyclones' offense improving

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With freshman QB Brock Purdy at the controls and junior running back David Montgomery pounding the ground, the Cyclones sport an offense that’s rising up to equal the backbone of its team, the defense.

Purdy has 1,782 passing yards and 15 touchdowns on the season. Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell really liked what he saw last week from his young quarterback, who had 337 passing yards and two touchdowns in the 42-38 come-from-behind win over Kansas State.

“Brock’s best football game of his career,” Campbell said after the victory. “Even the ball he throws that gets intercepted … holy smokes … what a throw! The receiver has to make a better play on the ball and catch it, but what you saw from that guy … pretty powerful. Really special, great poise …”

Purdy is 5-1 since taking over the starting job at the beginning of October. His emergence was one of the reasons why the Cyclones hung around in the Big 12 title chase until a 24-10 loss at Texas two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Montgomery could make it back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on Saturday. He enters this game just 53 yards shy after running for 149 against Kansas State.

Iowa State is ranked near the bottom of FBS teams when it comes to offense, but is coming off one of its best showings, putting up 493 yards against the Wildcats. Saturday gives the Cyclones another chance to build on this momentum as they get ready for their bowl game.

3. Drake’s solid defense

On paper, the Bulldogs boast a pretty stout defense. Drake is eighth in the FCS in in scoring defense (18.3 ppg), 13th in total defense (198.3 ypg), sixth in rushing defense (95.1 ypg), eighth in interceptions (16) and seventh in tackles for a loss (8.3 per game).

The anchor of the unit is defensive end Nathan Clayberg, who was named Pioneer Football League Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week. Clayberg has 30 tackles this season, including 9.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks. He's also credited with six pass breakups and two blocked kicks.

Clayberg is one of five Bulldogs that were named first-team All-PFL, including safety Will Warner, who has recorded eight interceptions, and linebacker Kevin Severa, who leads the team in both tackles (67) and tackles for a loss (10.5).

Final Analysis

It's been more than 30 years since these two teams faced each other and the only reason this game is happening is because Iowa State's season opener got canceled due to weather. Drake wasn't even the Cyclones' first choice as a makeup game, but here we are.

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The Bulldogs haven't played an FBS-caliber team since beating Iowa State back in 1985. Drake returns to Ames looking to pull off another upset, which would be even more impressive considering the schools non-scholarship status.

The Bulldogs will no doubt be motivated and fired up to play, but don't expect the Cyclones to simply go through the motions in this one, even though they have a bowl game to look forward to.

The one thing the Big 12 has learned over the last few years about Iowa State under head coach Matt Campbell is that this is a team that is always ready to play. So don't expect the Cyclones to let their guard down at home on Saturday. Besides, they need a little payback for that loss 33 years ago.

Prediction: Iowa State 45, Drake 17

— Written by Todd Saelhof, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports editor/writer for Postmedia in Canada. Follow him on @ToddSaelhofPM at #CollegeFootballFrenzy.