Matt Campbell won just three games in his first season as Iowa State’s head coach, but there’s no question the Cylcones are headed in the right direction. This team was competitive regardless of the competition over the second half of 2016, so there should be an uptick in wins this fall. How many will depend upon the progress both sides of the ball are able to make, especially as it relates to winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Getting to a bowl game may seem like a stretch, but Iowa State may be able to pull off an upset or two in Big 12 play and open some eyes in the process.
Previewing Iowa State Football’s Offense for 2017
The first year for a coaching staff at a rebuilding program always brings a handful of challenges that come with transition. That was certainly the case for Matt Campbell at Iowa State in 2016. But despite finishing 3–9, there are reasons for optimism regarding the very near future of this program. Averaging 27.7 points per game, Iowa State finished Year 1 of the Campbell era ranked 71st nationally in scoring offense, which simply doesn’t cut it in the offense-happy Big 12. But the good news here is that the 2017 crew has the potential to be the most explosive offense in the history of Iowa State football, although a few key components certainly need to come together.
That starts with junior quarterback Jacob Park, who must continue to improve for the Cyclones to peak. Park beat out senior Joel Lanning late last season and handled the majority of the snaps in the final five games. Park threw for 1,791 yards and 12 touchdowns without having a spring to fall back on or first-team reps in preseason camp. There is reason for optimism for this former five-star recruit who began his career at Georgia.
Iowa State is loaded at running back and wide receiver. The one-two punch of David Montgomery and Mike Warren combined for more than 1,000 rushing yards a year ago and should only improve in the second season with Campbell’s system. At wideout, Allen Lazard will likely shatter every Iowa State receiving record with promising sophomore Deshaunte Jones on hand to complement him in the passing game.
For Iowa State’s offense to take that next step will require progress from an offensive line that should be much better in 2017. Getting senior tackle Jake Campos back from a broken leg is a great start. But sophomores Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker must step up.
Previewing Iowa State Football’s Defense for 2017
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Iowa State addressed a major need in recruiting by snagging three junior college defensive linemen — Matt Leo, Ray Lima and Kamilo Tongamoa. All three prospects were heavily recruited by other Power 5 schools but chose Iowa State because of the chance to see the field early on. If that trio exceeds or even meets expectations, it could drastically raise the ceiling for the defense. JaQuan Bailey, a sophomore, led the Cyclones with 3.5 sacks as a true freshman and has a ton of upside.
Linebacker is a major concern for this defense. Willie Harvey, who tied for the team lead in tackles a year ago, is back and will start on the weak side, but after him, it is all unproven guys. Lanning spent the first four years of his career at quarterback, so he is a major question as he transitions to starting middle linebacker.
Iowa State’s secondary starters are top-notch. Kamari Cotton-Moya, a senior free safety, is a major injury risk but when on the field is one of the best in the Big 12. Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne are a formidable duo at corner.
Previewing Iowa State Football’s Specialists for 2017
Senior Colin Downing is back and should be one of the best punters in the country. Cole Netten, the top placekicker in school history, is gone. A handful of walk-ons will compete to fill his shoes.
The Campbell era got off to a rough start, with a Week 1 loss to Northern Iowa followed up by a lopsided defeat to rival Iowa. But by the end of the year, Iowa State was competing with the best of the Big 12.
Now comes the most difficult task: winning some of those games and getting Iowa State back to the postseason for the first time since 2012. To make that happen, the Cyclones will have to show significant improvement in the trenches — on both sides of the ball.