The Iowa State Cyclones have been building for the 2020 college football season since Matt Campbell took over as head coach five years ago. Following back-to-back bowl games, Campbell's squad was an extremely competitive 7-6 last season, having lost four games by a total of 11 points. With one of the most experienced and productive starting 22's in the conference, Iowa State has a legitimate shot at making it to the Big 12 Championship Game.
Quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall, and tight end Charlie Kolar are back to lead an offense that ranked No. 17 nationally in yards per play (6.45) and No. 11 in passing (311.3 yards per game). Greg Eisworth II, O'Rien Vance, Mike Rose, and Eyioma Uwazurike headline the group of nine starters returning for a defense that ranked in the top half of the league in every major statistical category. The return of a healthy JaQuan Bailey following a redshirt season and the addition of North Carolina grad transfer Greg Ross only add to the strength and depth of the unit.
Yet despite the momentum Campbell and his program have built for 2020, outside factors have complicated matters. The coronavirus pandemic led to the Big Ten canceling its season, and as a result, the Cyclones will not play rival Iowa for the first time since 1976. Iowa State was originally scheduled to host both South Dakota and UNLV but was forced to make late changes, adding Ball State to the mix before eventually settling on Louisiana — meaning the Cyclones didn't even know who their season-opening opponent would be until August. But now that the Big 12 schedule is officially official (or so we think), we can offer our game-by-game predictions for Iowa State.
Iowa State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Of Iowa State’s six losses last season, five came by 10 points or less. The Cyclones were on the cusp of a better 2019 season than some may have realized, and thanks to the return of quarterback Brock Purdy, coach Matt Campbell’s team should factor into the race to get to the Big 12 title game. Purdy is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, with running back Breece Hall and tight end Charlie Kolar returning to anchor the supporting cast. The biggest question on offense rests up front with just one returning starter. Iowa State’s defense has ranked among the best in the Big 12 over the last couple of years, and nine returning starters should help Campbell’s team retain that position in 2020. Oklahoma visits Ames on Oct. 3, but road trips to Oklahoma State and Texas could decide whether or not the Cyclones get two chances to beat the Sooners.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Matt Campbell has done a fine job building Iowa State into a consistent contender in the Big 12, but the Cyclones haven't been able to get over the hump just yet. Campbell's team brings back plenty of talent and experience and is capable of pulling off a surprise or two, but I still have ISU a step behind the Oklahoma teams and Texas. The Cyclones will rack up their share of wins, but not enough to get them into the conference championship game.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@CFBWinningEdge)
It's been a long time since Iowa State made it through the non-conference portion of its schedule unblemished. Beating two-time Sun Belt West champion Louisiana is no sure thing, though the Cyclones should win. It's difficult to tell what home-field advantage will look like this year, but trips to TCU, Oklahoma State, and Texas might not be as intimidating as expected. Of course, on the flip side, hosting Oklahoma won't be, either — though the Sooners will rely on an inexperienced quarterback and will be without running back Kennedy Brooks and pass rusher Ronnie Perkins, so the Oct. 3 kickoff is good timing. CFB Winning Edge projections have Iowa State favored versus Texas Tech, Kansas, Baylor, Kansas State, and West Virginia by at least a touchdown, so if the Cyclones can take care of business in those game, win the coin flip in Fort Worth, and pull off a couple of upsets and/or turn last year's close losses into close wins, a conference title game appearance is possible. And in 2020, with a limited field and a great deal of uncertainty throughout the country, even a two-loss Big 12 champion is likely to make it to the College Football Playoff.