Matt Campbell invigorates struggling Cyclones
Rookie Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has already invigorated a program starved for signs of hope.
Turning that enthusiasm into sustained success will be a much tougher task.
Campbell, just 36 and the youngest Power Five coach in the country, has given a team long stuck in the Big 12 basement plenty of reasons to believe in his vision.
Campbell pulled together one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory last winter despite an extremely late start, and his 2017 class is currently among the top in the Big 12. Campbell has also promised flashy new uniforms – and he and his staff's ability to navigate social media has only added to the notion that Campbell is the key to a bright future for the Cyclones.
But Iowa State has won just five games over the past two seasons, and it'll have to replace nearly its entire offensive line from 2015.
The Cyclones open the season on Sept. 3 against Northern Iowa.
''I think our team and our football players within the program have really started to buy into the change,'' Campbell said. ''Our concentration points didn't have much to do with scheme, I'll be honest with you. A lot of it had to do with some core values that I believe in and attitude and effort, really understanding the ability to perfect your craft.''
SEASON OPENER: As strange as it might sound, winning the home matchup against the Panthers will be enormous for Campbell. Even though former coach Paul Rhoads said on his way out the door that Iowa State will make a bowl in 2016, the Cyclones will have to have a lot of things go right for that to happen. A loss to their FCS in-state rivals would dampen much of the enthusiasm Campbell generated in the offseason – especially with a trip to Iowa City to face the hated Hawkeyes looming the following week.
SKILL POSITION POWER: The Cyclones have two of the best skill position players in the Big 12 in sophomore running back Mike Warren and wide receiver Allen Lazard. Warren – who in an ironic twist nearly committed to Campbell when he was at Toledo before Iowa State swooped in – led all freshmen nationally with 1,337 yards rushing in 2015. ''I recruited the heck out of him and at one point he was this close to committing to me at the University of Toledo. So I was fired up to see that face in the locker room when I came to Iowa State,'' Campbell said. Lazard, a former four-star recruit who passed up an offer from Notre Dame to stay at home in central Iowa, caught 56 passes last season with six touchdowns.
LINED UP?: The biggest concern for Iowa State is whether or not its patchwork line will open enough holes for Warren or keep quarterback Joel Lanning upright enough to get the ball in Lazard's hands. Tackle Jake Campos is the lone returning starter
KEY GAMES: Iowa State has a chance to finish strong if it can survive a front-loaded schedule without getting demoralized. The Cyclones close the season with a trip to woeful Kansas, followed by home games against Texas Tech and West Virginia – all games they should have a chance to win. But road trips to Iowa and TCU in September will make getting off to a strong start very difficult for Iowa State.
PREDICTION: Iowa State moves to 3-2 with a home upset of Baylor to open October. But the Cyclones get buried under the weight of the Big 12 season and finish 4-8 – despite giving vaunted Oklahoma a major scare during a Thursday night home game in November.