After a rather disappointing 2021 campaign, Matt Campbell enters his seventh season at Iowa State in rebuild mode. However, the feeling in Ames is that for a program that prides itself on being developmental, Iowa State has young players who are ready to plug in and compete in the Big 12. Campbell, a three-time Big 12 Coach of the Year, has led Iowa State to bowl games in five of his six seasons in Ames. From the outside looking in, a cooling-off period wouldn't be much of a surprise. That isn't the expectation from within, though.
Previewing Iowa State's Offense for 2022
Iowa State loses star quarterback Brock Purdy, but the Cyclones did not look to the transfer market at quarterback in the offseason because of their belief in their Purdy protégé, former four-star recruit Hunter Dekkers.
"He was able to study behind a guy like Brock Purdy, who helped him with 'what to do' and watched how he paved the way and learned so much from him," Campbell says.
Dekkers saw some meaningful playing time during his redshirt freshman campaign, putting him in a good spot mentally leading into the fall. He has had time to mature behind the best quarterback ever to play at Iowa State. Dekkers, who has a stronger arm than Purdy, will be a threat with his legs as well.
How do you replace running back Breece Hall? That task is easier said than done, but junior Jirehl Brock will give it his best. Brock came in with Hall in the same recruiting class and was actually the higher-ranked prospect, according to some analysts. "Jirehl had to work through some failures at times, but he's really showed us he can play at a high level," Campbell says.
Iowa State needs to be better on the offensive line, and moving senior Trevor Downing to center is a good start. Across the board, veterans will start for Iowa State, which notably gets right tackle Jake Remsburg back after he missed 2021 with an upper-body injury.
The tight end and wide receiver positions will be fascinating to watch during fall camp. Iowa State loses two of the best tight ends ever to play in Ames in Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen. Youngsters Easton Dean and Tyler Moore will attempt to fill their shoes.
One gets a sense that Campbell's "Players, Formations, Plays" concept will be tested in 2022. With a plethora of talent and experience mixed with a bigger arm at quarterback, the Cyclones could look to open things up more this season.
Two-time first-team All-Big 12 receiver Xavier Hutchinson is back, as is promising sophomore Jaylin Noel, along with a host of other veteran wideouts.
Previewing Iowa State's Defense for 2022
Defense has been the staple of the Campbell era in Ames. As is the case on offense, Iowa State has plenty of talent to replace in 2022, but it is a blessing to have Will McDonald IV back for another go-round on the edge. Iowa State's all-time career sacks leader, McDonald is one of the top edge rushers in college football. Since 2020, McDonald's 22 sacks are second most nationally behind only Alabama's Will Anderson Jr.
New names will make up the rest of the three-man front, but Iowa State believes it is reloading on the first level. Isaiah Lee, a familiar name, is primed to start and take on multiple blockers in the middle. Blake Peterson is another guy who has a lot of reps and has earned his spot, and he should be the man opposite McDonald.
"There is so much flexibility with this group," Campbell says. "A lot of talent, a lot of guys that have played really good football and can go inside and out."
Replacing linebacker Mike Rose won't be easy on the second level, but getting O'Rien Vance back for an extra season is huge. Vance has started 32 games for the Cyclones, even after he missed much of 2021 to an injury.
Colby Reeder, a graduate transfer out of FCS Delaware, is a former All-CAA linebacker and should start immediately. Hunter Zenzen, Gerry Vaughn and Jacob Ellis should all see plenty of playing time, too.
On the back end of the defense, the loss of Isheem Young (transferred to Ole Miss) stings, as does the transfer of promising youngster Craig McDonald, although Beau Freyler played a lot at safety in the second half of last season. Iowa State loves its young cornerbacks Myles Purchase and T.J. Tampa. Veteran Anthony Johnson Jr. has moved from corner to safety for his extra year of eligibility.
Related: Big 12 Football Predictions for 2022
Previewing Iowa State's Specialists for 2022
Both the kicking and punting positions are totally open going into fall camp. The spots are so open that it's difficult to try to project starters out of the spring. It looks like Tyler Bittman and Tyler Perkins have the edge, but a full competition consisting of two or three prospects at each spot will commence in August. Noel is the primary return man, averaging 6.1 yards on punt returns and 26.0 on kick returns last season.
The 2021 campaign may have been a little bit of a letdown for the fans in Ames, but the good news for Iowa State is that a 7–5 season can now be considered disappointing. That was unthinkable five years ago.
One gets the feeling Campbell is enjoying the challenge of reloading his roster with young, hungry and talented players.
The expectations for this season will no doubt be considerably lower compared to last year's squad, but if a few things go Iowa State's way, the difference in wins and losses might be negligible.