Spring football is drawing to a close throughout the Big 12, and teams have started gaining more clarity as to what their 2021 squads are going to look like. As they head into summer workouts, we’ve gotten into some tentative impressions of all the teams, providing a projection of offensive and defensive starters for the upcoming season (returning starters in bold) as well as some post-spring observations.
For the past couple of years, it has to have felt, at least for some Iowa State fans, like this program is playing with house money. There have been other good times to be an Iowa State fan – Earle Bruce (1973-1978) remains the only coach to have won at least eight games three times in a row, and Dan McCarney (1995-2006) put together five winning seasons in six years. Yet, Matt Campbell era has been historic, especially for the way the Cyclones have bolted into the national conversation. Iowa State is on the precipice of starting the 2021 season ranked in the AP Top 15 (if not the Top 10) for the first time ever. If everything goes right, this upcoming year could surpass 2020 as the best season in the history of Cyclones football.
What decidedly different about this year is that Iowa State is expected to go the Big 12 championship yet again and battle Oklahoma for the conference crown. Almost every starter is back from the team that came within six points of the Big 12 trophy last year. Merely repeating last season’s 8-1 record in league play would land them in Arlington again, while even if they were to falter along the way, it’s hard to see Iowa State falling much further than third in the conference. The only question that really lingers is whether last year’s success was somehow due to the quirkiness of 2020, or is it time for the college football world to just believe what they’re seeing?
Projected 2021 Iowa State
|QB||Brock Purdy (Sr.)||E||Will McDonald (Sr.)|
|RB||Breece Hall (Jr.)||NG||Isaiah Lee (Jr.)|
|TE||Charlie Kolar (Sr.)||DT||Enyi Uwazurike (Sr.)|
|F||Chase Allen (Sr.)||WLB||Jake Hummel (Sr.)|
|WR||Xavier Hutchinson (Sr.)||MLB||O’Rien Vance (Sr.)|
|WR||Sean Shaw (Sr.)||SLB||Mike Rose (Sr.)|
|LT||Sean Foster (Sr.)||STR||Isheem Young (So.)|
|LG||Darrell Simmons, Jr. (So.)||FS||Jaquan Amos (Sr.)|
|C||Colin Newell (Sr.)||SS||Greg Eisworth II (Sr.)|
|RG||Derek Schweiger (Sr.)||LC||Anthony Johnson Jr. (Sr.)|
|RT||Jake Remsburg (So.)||RC||Tayvonn Kyle (Jr.)|
The Passing Game Might Need To Be More Explosive
If opposing defenses didn’t notice Breece Hall in 2019, there’s no way they missed his 1,572 yards in a shortened, twelve game season. That likely means the person who most needs to elevate their game, to keep defenses from keying to closely on Hall, is Brock Purdy, whose passer rating has fallen every year since his freshman debut. It would behoove the Cyclones for Purdy to have a senior season where he’s able to make more downfield passes while also eliminating the odd ill-advised throw.
Iowa State is renowned for having a wealth of tight ends on the roster, including Mackey Award finalist Charlie Kolar. Getting more production out of the wide receivers would make the offenses even more dangerous, and that could come from Xavier Hutchinson, who could field a 1,000 yards receiving in 2021 if his senior season mirrors his 12 yards per catch from a year ago.
Defense Could Be Even Better
Like the offense, the defense is a senior-laden group with developed players all throughout the two deep. What’s more, they’ve got All-Big 12 players at every level of that unit, a testament to what defensive coordinator Jon Heacock has been able to do in Ames. Names like Mike Rose, Will McDonald, and Greg Eisworth will be household names once again, as the Cyclones go into the fall with relatively few questions on that side of the ball. One of the few areas to nitpick would be the 7.5 yards per pass attempt given up in Big 12 play last year. With graduate transfer Jaquan Amos added to the secondary, however, and nine starters returning, defensive play should expectedly be even better in 2021.
This Is Solidly A Top Two Team In The Conference
Should Iowa State not beat Iowa this year, it’s a mystery as to when that will actually happen under Matt Campbell. Besting the Cyclones’ in-state rival hasn’t been Campbell’s only early season challenge, though. His squad seems to always start off slow, as evidenced by last year’s early double digit loss to Louisiana. They normally turn things around just in time for Big 12 play to start, but if the Cylcones, who could be favored in almost all of their games this season, can put together a whole season, they can expect a Top 10 or possibly a Top 5 finish.
And if they were to run the table? A 13-0 finish doesn’t seem likely for this team, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. This is a program that’s had more sustained momentum in the past five years than any other in the Big 12, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see that type of “dream season” come to fruition. To do that, though, they’d likely have to beat Oklahoma twice. That’s probably not something most people would anticipate for the Cyclones, but with everything returning from that 9-3 team last year, they’re definitely the presumptive “number two” in the conference.