In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
No. 24 Iowa State
The dust has settled from the Cyclones' unexpected destruction of the Big 12's top teams last season. And while it was a wild ride that will be forever engrained in the program's history, it'll mean a hell of a lot more if they take another step toward annual Big 12 contention.
A win increase seems highly unlikely given their losses and a difficult schedule but they have enough to win seven or eight games again.
2017 Record: 8-5 (5-4, Big 12)
Iowa State won eight games for the first time since 2000 and only the eighth time in program history. They were ranked for the first time since 2005 (and the highest since 2002), beat Oklahoma in Norman for the first time since 1961, and were legitimate Big 12 title contenders entering November.
Head Coach: Matt Campbell (3rd Year, 8-5)
When you win eight games at Iowa State, you'll be inundated with interview requests and job offers. Matt Campbell was rumored to be a potential candidate at just about every Power Five program with an opening.
Those rumors were squashed with a new six-year, $22.5-million contract.
WR Allen Lazard, WR Trever Ryen, WR Marchie Murdock, OT Jake Campos, DE J.D. Waggoner, LB Joel Lanning, S Kamari Cotton-Moya, S Reggie Wilkerson
Iowa State's receiver room was gutted, losing one of the best players in program history in Allen Lazard and two productive players in Trever Ryan and Marchie Murdock. The offense also lost tackle Jake Campos, a three-year starter who rebounded from a missed 2016 season to have an all-conference 2017 season.
Gone from a defense that improved dramatically last season is leading tackler Joel Lanning, disruptive end J.D. Waggoner (13.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks), and reliable, hard-hitting safeties Kamari Cotton-Moya and Reggie Wilkerson (140 combined tackles for loss).
Returning Offensive Players
QB Kyle Kempt, RB David Montgomery, WR Hakeem Butler, TE Chase Allen, OT Bryce Meeker, G Josh Knipfel, C Julian Good-Jones
Fifth-year senior Kyle Kempt was thrust into action when Jacob Park took a leave of absence in early October. Kempt entered his first career start (at Oklahoma) with two career pass attempts and was supposed to get annihilated by the Sooners' defense and crawl back to Ames with his tail between his legs — if Oklahoma didn't rip off his tail…and his legs.
Nah, said Kempt, instead opting for an 18-for-24, 343-yard, three-touchdown day in leading Iowa State to one of the biggest wins in program history.
“He’s proved that his arm is good enough to make throws to beat some really good teams so we’re trying to push through any of that and let him go out there and play," quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon said of Kempt, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility."
With three of his top four receivers gone, the top target is Hakeem Butler, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior averaging nearly 17 yards per reception over his first two years. Playing mostly in the slot (though he'll play outside more often this year), Butler has deceptive speed for a big man, routinely sneaking behind the secondary for huge plays. The catch rate needs to improve (57 percent in 2017), but he's ready to be one of the Big 12's top pass-catchers.
As good as David Montgomery was last year (which we've touched on numerous times including here and here), it's shocking that the Iowa State rushing attack was really poor. They averaged just 3.4 yards per carry (112th in the FBS) and their backs were constantly facing immediate backfield penetrations. While the offensive line has improved under Campbell — and he's optimistic about a group that returns three starters and has a promising freshman at center — it's not good enough.
"This is the most concrete of an offensive line that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Campbell said at Big 12 Media Days. “When you look at the overall depth — especially after getting [true freshman and early enrollee] Trevor Downing into spring practice — we actually have a real two-deep for the first time since I’ve been here."
Returning Defensive Players
DE JaQuan Bailey, DE Eyioma Uwazurike, DT Ray Lima, LB Will Harvey, LB Marcel Spears Jr., CB Brian Peavy, CB D'Andre Payne, S Lawrence White
The defensive improvements from 2016 were astonishing, among them:
Points Per Play: 0293 (2016) to 0.416 (2017)
Yards Per Play: 6.0 to 5.2
Red Zone: 91.3 percent to 82.9 percent
Third Down: 47.1 percent to 41.3 percent
Yards Per Rush: 5.1 to 3.5
Sack Rate: 4.5 percent to 6.1 percent
Yards Per Completion: 12.2 to 10.9
Takeaways Per Game: 1.1 to 1.4
Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock ran a multi-look system that uses both 3-4 and 4-3 fronts and uses an effective nickel package (removes a defensive tackle for a safety while keeping three coverage-capable linebackers on the field) to combat the Big 12's fast-paced offenses.
Despite the departures of Waggoner and Lanning, Iowa State returns one of the conference's best front sevens, a group led by "Leo" end JaQuan Bailey (10.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks in 2017) and outside linebacker Willie Harvey (12 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks). Harvey (below) is smaller (6-foot, 224 pounds) but is quick and deadly on the blitz.
They're fine at corner with the return of seniors D'Andre Payne and Brian Peavy, but they're breaking in new starters at both safety spots. Sophomore Lawrence White started at free safety in the bowl game (Kamari Cotton-Moya was suspended).
Eight different Cyclones had at least one interception last year.
QB Re-al Mitchell, C Colin Newell, TE Charlie Kolar, WR Tarique Milton, LB O'Rien Vance
Iowa State has a quarterback in Kyle Kempt but all eyes are on true freshman Re-al Mitchell, a three-star recruit who's been wowing coaches and players with his dual-threat ability and will have a role in 2018, especially with the NCAA's new redshirt rule that allows players to retain a year of eligibility if they play in four or fewer games.
“He has the mindset that he’s been here for a couple of years, which is pretty cool and pretty neat to see,” David Montgomery said of Mitchell. “Just seeing him come in and be able to take charge at the quarterback position and be a general and be the captain of the offense when he’s in is definitely an incredible sight. It just shows what he can be and what he’s doing.”
After spring ball, Campbell said redshirt freshman and Ames native Colin Newell is their starting center. There is no reason to believe that will change in August.
Redshirt freshman O'Rien Vance is competing with sophomore Tymar Sutton to replace Lanning at middle linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound former three-star recruit was the subject of some enormous praise from Campbell, who said, "His end potential is maybe as good as anybody in our program."
Elsewhere, Iowa State has plenty of talent and depth at tight end, but redshirt freshman Charlie Kolar could get some snaps. He reportedly impressed the coaches in the spring. Another redshirt freshman, receiver Tarique Milton, is also looking to break into the rotation.
For the sixth straight season, Iowa State opens against an FCS foe, this time South Dakota State.
After visiting Iowa City in Week 2, they get Oklahoma at home in Week 3. Is that game big enough to attract College GameDay over USC-Texas, LSU-Auburn or Ohio State-TCU? Probably not but it'd be fun to see the crew in Ames for the firs time ever.
|Saturday, Sept. 1||vs. South Dakota State|
|Saturday, Sept. 8||at Iowa|
|Saturday, Sept. 15||vs. Oklahoma|
|Saturday, Sept. 22||vs. Akron|
|Saturday, Sept. 29||at TCU|
|Saturday, Oct. 6||at Oklahoma State|
|Saturday, Oct. 13||vs. West Virginia|
|Saturday, Oct. 27||vs. Texas Tech|
|Saturday, Nov. 3||at Kansas|
|Saturday, Nov. 10||vs. Baylor|
|Saturday, Nov. 17||at Texas|
|Saturday, Nov. 24||vs. Kansas State|