Matt Campbell’s second season at Iowa State was a surprise success, at least to many outside the program. Campbell’s squad knocked off both Big 12 championship participants in consecutive weeks, then managed to get an elusive eighth win by beating Memphis in the Liberty Bowl.
In his third year, Campbell will hope to continue to improve upon that success. Is his team ready to make another great leap forward or do they need to stockpile some more talent before getting there?
Taking a look at Iowa State’s schedule gives us a good indication of just how good they might need to be to reach lofty goals or to maintain their elevated level of play. Below, we take a look at Iowa State’s lineup and offer some thoughts on how many wins and losses are likely for them in 2018.
Here wins and losses are broken down into “Highly Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner should be favored by more than two possessions – and “Likely” Wins/Losses – games in which the projected winner will probably be favored by about two possessions. A “Toss Up” is any game that has a good chance of being decided by one possession.
2018 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
SEP 1 – South Dakota State
SEP 8 – at Iowa
SEP 15 – Oklahoma
SEP 22 – Akron
SEP 29 – at TCU
OCT 6 – at Oklahoma State
OCT 13 – West Virginia
OCT 27 – Texas Tech
NOV 3 – at Kansas
NOV 10 – Baylor
NOV 17 – at Texas
NOV 24 – vs Kansas State
HIGHLY LIKELY WINS: SOUTH DAKOTA STATE, AKRON, KANSAS
There are two wins you can almost assuredly chalk down in the first four games for the Cyclones. South Dakota State has traditionally been a pretty good FCS team, but the Cyclones will be a higher level of competition and the Jackrabbits will likely be a 16 or 17 point underdog in Iowa State’s home opener.
Akron went 7-7 last season as members of the Mid American Conference, but ESPN’s FPI thinks the Cyclones are more likely to beat the Zips than any other team on their schedule. Go ahead and pencil that one in as a fairly safe bet.
It’s widely believed that David Beaty could be coaching his last season for Kansas, given that the Athletic Director who hired him has just been let go. The Jayhawks return a ton of experience, but many of those same players were party to the shutout they suffered at the hands of Matt Campbell’s Cyclones last season.
That game could be close if Iowa State doesn’t come out ready to play, but I think Campbell will have his team prepared. As much progress as they’ve made, Iowa State still isn’t a program that can count on making a bowl game year in and year out, so taking care of business in Lawrence will be key to success in 2018.
LIKELY WINS: TEXAS TECH, BAYLOR
After defeating Baylor in Waco last season 23-13, Iowa State will likely be favored to beat the Bears, who were one win team a year ago. Matt Rhule’s guys might well be improved in his second season there, but this is a game the Cyclones should still win at home.
Iowa State has won the game against Texas Tech by an average of 37 points per game the last two seasons, so that will likely factor into how this game is viewed. Questions about Kliff Kingsbury’s job security still remain, especially considering the lack of known quantities on his team at quarterback.
Also keep in mind that Iowa State gets a bye week before they take on the Red Raiders in this home game. For that reason, the Cyclones could feasibly be favored by a little over a touchdown in this one.
TOSS UPS: IOWA, TEXAS, KANSAS STATE, WEST VIRGINIA
Because of their improvement under Matt Campbell and their style of play, it’s reasonable to expect up to half of Iowa State’s games to be Toss Ups next season. Predicting them to win all of those contests might be asking too much, though.
They have to play Texas and Iowa away from Jack Trice Stadium, so the Cyclones probably won’t be favored there. Farmaggedon against Kansas State will be a home game for Iowa State, something that could tip the game in favor Campbell’s group.
The game against West Virginia is intriguing. When the Moutaineers arrive in Ames in mid-October, they’ll bring one of the best offenses in the conference. Even if they’re the underdogs here, having home field advantage could tilt this game in favor of the Cyclones.
Iowa State travels to Austin for their matchup against the Longhorns, a team that it’s hard to know much about at this point. Given how late in the season this one is played, though, it could be a game that potentially secures a second straight bowl birth for the Cyclones.
LIKELY LOSSES: OKLAHOMA, OKLAHOMA STATE, TCU
Last season, Campbell’s team showed why they should be taken seriously by beating the Sooners in Norman. Oklahoma was a 31-point home favorite in last year’s early kickoff and were handed their only regular season loss by Kyle Kempt in his inaugural start.
This year, the Sooners and Cyclones will meet for the first conference game of the regular season. Given last season’s result and Oklahoma’s losses on offense, the line on this game probably won’t get into the 30s. Lincoln Riley’s team will almost certainly be favored by a couple of touchdowns, however, seeing as this will be viewed as a revenge game for the players in crimson and cream.
Consecutive road games for Iowa State against Oklahoma State and TCU will be tough, but the Cyclones won’t be massive underdogs in those contests. Even if they are only nine or ten point underdogs, though, Iowa State will have a good chance against both the Horned Frogs and the Pokes. Each of those games were decided by a touchdown last year, after all.
HIGHLY LIKELY LOSSES: NONE
Campbell has raised the level of expectation in Ames to the point where it’s difficult to see any team just rolling right over the Cyclones. Iowa State will be a tough test for most anyone they play next season and should be competitive in every game.
PROJECTED WINS: 6-7
Iowa State has some significant senior leadership that they need to replace in 2018. Linebacker Joel Lanning and wide receiver Allen Lazard helped provide the emotional core to last year’s team that allowed the Cyclones to have historic success. There’s reason to believe that Campbell can put a good product on the field again in 2018, but such a repeat is far from assured.
If Iowa State continues to improve in Campbell’s third year, the ceiling could very well be higher than what we’ve projected here. There are some tough games (particularly on the road) in the early part of Iowa State’s schedule, though, so it might be a challenge for them to get to their bye week above .500.
Winning the games that they’re supposed to win and finding victories in around half of their Toss Ups would put Iowa State in position to have two winning seasons in a row. Even though things are improving in Ames, it’s hard to say that the Cyclones will be a legitimate title contender next season. Going 7-5 again, though, will show that this team is on its way.