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Iowa State Football: 2018 Cyclones Preview and Prediction

David Montgomery, Iowa State Football

David Montgomery, Iowa State Football

Iowa Statewent to a bowl game in Matt Campbell's second year, now the question is can the Cyclones continue to improve? Both the offense and defense return plenty of starters but each will have to replace some key pieces as well. The offense has the potential to be even better this season while the defense should be deep up front. A return to the postseason is well within reach for this team, which also could climb in the Big 12 standings if all of the pieces come together.

Previewing Iowa State Football's Offense for 2018

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Kansas State Football/Big 12 Magazine

Replacing Allen Lazard at wide receiver isn't easy, but Iowa State's offense seems to be very capable of moving forward and even improving in 2018. The Cyclones caught a break from the NCAA this offseason when quarterback Kyle Kempt was gifted a sixth year. Kempt competed 66 percent of his passes in 2017 and threw 15 touchdowns to only three interceptions. Kempt's arm strength is questionable, but he's one of the smartest players in the Big 12 and will manage the offense the way coach Matt Campbell wants.

He's got a great guy to hand the football off to in David Montgomery. The junior ran for 1,146 yards last season, good for third in the Big 12. Iowa State gets a boost from the return of sophomore running back Kene Nwangwu, who missed last season with a torn Achilles.

The key is what happens up front. Guards Julian Good-Jones and Josh Knipfel and tackle Bryce Meeker are nice pieces, but an army of young players needs to step up to allow Montgomery's talents to truly shine. "The greatest challenge to this football team is, can this offensive line grow?" Campbell says. "I think it will allow our running backs to grow."

The wide receivers are big and talented, led by 6'6" junior Hakeem Butler. Matt Eaton, a 6'4" senior, will start on the other side. Junior Deshaunte Jones is a playmaking threat on the inside. Sophomore tight end Chase Allen was named second-team All-Big 12 a year ago and put on 25 pounds in the offseason.

Previewing Iowa State Football's Defense for 2018

Nobody saw the defensive turnaround coming. Two years ago, Iowa State finished 86th in scoring defense at 31.3 points per game. Last year, the Cyclones improved to 26th at 20.9 points per game, the second-best mark in the Big 12.

It started with Ray Lima, who will return as a junior at nose tackle. He was so good in 2017 that it allowed Iowa State to make a switch to a 3-4 set, which turned the season around. JaQuan Bailey, a junior, was fifth in the Big 12 in sacks with seven. Iowa State's defensive line might be its deepest position group in 2018 as Kamilo Tongamoa, Jamahl Johnson and Matt Leo should all take steps forward.

Junior linebacker Marcel Spears returns after finishing sixth in the Big 12 in tackles. Senior Willie Harvey is one of the most experienced players on the team. Youngsters Tymar Sutton, O'Rien Vance and Jake Hummel must replace Joel Lanning in the middle.

Senior cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D'Andre Payne bring 54 combined starts. Peavy is Iowa State's active career leader in tackles, interceptions and starts. Lawrence White started Iowa State's Liberty Bowl victory over Memphis and will get the nod at free safety.

Previewing Iowa State Football's Specialists for 2018

Iowa State has to replace its placekicker and punter from a year ago. Brayden Narveson, a freshman, was one of the top prep kickers in the country. Corey Dunn was ranked as one of the top junior college punters in the country. Both were on campus in the spring.

Final Analysis

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Campbell was a year ahead of schedule in getting Iowa State back to a bowl game. The program seems poised to maintain its momentum. The Cyclones should be better in the trenches on both sides of the football, and across the board, this is a deeper and more athletic team than the one that went 8-5 a year ago. Another trip to the postseason seems likely in Ames, and finishing in the upper half of the Big 12 is possible.

National Ranking: 36

Big 12 Prediction: 6