ISU seemingly graduated from sleeper to contender in the offseason after the Cyclones put together a second straight season of outperforming expectations in 2018. The Bears and head coach Matt Rhule are looking to make a similar leap this year, buoyed in part by a 3-0 start to the season.
Iowa State stymied Baylor last season in a 28-14 victory on its home field. The Bears will try to get payback this weekend at McLane Stadium.
Iowa State at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Iowa State -2.5
When Baylor Has the Ball
The Bears have continued to produce on offense in their first three games of the year, with quarterback Charlie Brewer distributing the ball to dangerous weapons at the skill positions like wide receiver Denzel Mims and running back John Lovett. Having yet to throw an interception, Brewer appears to be operating on a higher level this season.
The Cyclones have a defense tailored to combating potent spread attacks like the one they will see on Saturday. A year ago, they held Baylor to just 14 points, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that they will have similar success in this meeting.
The difference in this game may come down to the Bears penetrating the Iowa State defense in the red zone, where the Clones have given up touchdowns on just four of opponents' eight trips.
When Iowa State Has the Ball
The Cyclones appeared to struggle early in the season as the offense adjusted to life without departed RB David Montgomery and WR Hakeem Butler. ISU sputtered to just 29 points in a three-overtime game against FCS foe Northern Iowa and 17 in their loss to Iowa in game two.
Last week, however, the offense busted out in a 72-20 win over ULM that saw QB Brock Purdy throw for 444 yards and three scores to go along with 75 yards and three TDs on the ground. While the Clones continue to sort through a crowded RB depth chart, Purdy is establishing a solid rapport with wideouts Tarique Milton and Deshaunte Jones.
For Baylor, the key to containing Purdy may be fencing him inside the pocket – he seems to be at his best on the move.
One aspect of this matchup that might be easy to overlook: the weather. Forecasts are calling for temperatures in the mid-90s when the Cyclones and Bears kick off on Saturday afternoon. That likely favors the Bears, who are more accustomed to dealing with the stifling Central Texas heat.
Assuming the Cyclones don't spontaneously combust, they will look to poke holes in a Baylor defense that has yet to show many so far in 2019. (Granted, the Bears haven't faced the stiffest of competition in Stephen F. Austin, UTSA, and Rice.) Head coach Matt Campbell may want to avoid getting into a shootout with Brewer and Co., which would mean getting his team to establish the run right away and stringing out possessions. A big weekend could be in store for one member of ISU's stable of RBs, such as junior Kene Nwangwu or freshman Breece Hall.
However, the signs are pointing to a Baylor upset here. The Bears have developed a well-rounded offense that can move the ball by land or by air. More importantly, their defense is finally starting to look like a unit crafted by Rhule and his lieutenant, defensive coordinator Phil Snow.
Look for Baylor to come away with arguably the biggest win of Rhule's tenure on Saturday.
Prediction: Baylor 33, Iowa State 30
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.