The madness of March is in full swing, but football teams all across the Big 12 are going back to work for spring. Drills, drills and more drills are the order of the day as college football players everywhere don their gear and go through practices.
As we turn our attention to what those practices might mean, we’ve been giving a preview of each Big 12 team and exploring the questions they’ll try to answer in spring.
After having a surprise season where they beat both teams that played in the conference championship, the Iowa State Cyclones are up next in this series.
In his second season in Ames, head coach Matt Campbell helped the Cyclones achieve a historic season in which they went 8-5 and defeated top ranked teams TCU and Oklahoma. Iowa State showed those games were no fluke, however, coming close to knocking off teams like Oklahoma State and West Virginia as well.
There were rumblings that Campbell might be headed on to a job at a program with a bigger name, but all that talk ended with him agreeing to a six year contract extension last November.
Now the question is whether Campbell can repeat last seasons’s success in year three. With a lot of veterans gone, Iowa State needs new leaders to emerge, especially on defense. That process begins this spring.
PRACTICE BEGINS: WED, March 21
SPRING GAME DATE: SAT, April 14
LOCATION: Jack Trice Stadium (Ames, IA)
In February, Iowa State lost offensive coordinator Tom Manning to the NFL, so it will be interesting to see how Campbell handles that side of the ball.
There was also good news for the offense, though – quarterback Kyle Kempt was granted a sixth year of eligibility last month. Given his experience and his 6-3 record as a starting quarterback, it might be assumed that Kempt is the starter going into next season. Keep an eye on redshirt sophomore Zeb Noland, though, who has more upside.
There are some questions on the offensive line, which will be coached by the recently promoted Jeff Myers. Myers had been a graduate assistant, so he’s got some familiarity with the unit.
The line loses only two starters, but it will still be relatively inexperienced, with 51 career starts coming back.
Most of the development of this group will need to come along the left side, where a guard and a tackle will need to be replaced. Bryce Meeker and Sean Foster both got starts at left tackle a season ago, so expect one of them to fill in that spot.
Guard is a bit more of mystery. Oge Udeogu is a senior who could easily take over there, but if he struggles he’ll get competition from redshirt freshman Robert Hudson.
With long time wide receiver Allen Lazard gone, there’s a void left for someone to step up. Matthew Eaton could make a name for himself there and Deshaunte Jones, who’s started for the Cyclones before, could earning a starting spot at another receiver position.
While the offense will have leaders like Kempt ready to go, finding leadership on defense will be more of a challenge.
Along the defensive line, Iowa State will have to replace a starting tackle and an end. On the interior, redshirt sophomore Enyi Uwazurike might earn the starting spot, although he could see competition from senior Kamilo Tongamoa. At end, look for senior Matt Leo to possibly step up and grab a starting spot.
At linebacker, the Cyclones will have to replace the veteran presence of two-way player Joel Lanning. Both Lanning’s backup, Tymar Sutton, and Jake Hummel will be sophomores and will likely compete to takeover for the departed senior.
Although Iowa State has experience coming back at corner, there remain questions at safety. There is very little in the way of game experience for the likely candidates to fill in three spots in the backfield. Look for Keontae Jones, Greg Eisworth and Lawrence White to emerge as names at those positions. White started for the Cyclones in the Liberty bowl, so he probably has the edge at free safety.
The Cyclones also will need to develop new players on special teams. Australian Corey Dunn redshirted last season but will probably take over punting. True freshman Brayden Narveson enrolled early and has his eye on becoming Iowa State’s next kicker.
All in all, Iowa State has the pieces to take some steps forward. The two keys to Iowa State sustaining their success will probably be the offensive line and the secondary. If Campbell’s squad can make strides in those areas during spring practice, there will be good reason for optimism in 2018.