Iowa State Season Preview
I am not lying when I say I am getting excited just writing this right now. It seems like a lifetime since we had college football and this time last year we were not even sure that there would be a season, so this right now is a great feeling. Also this time last year, the Iowa State Cyclones began getting some serious hype but this time around I think it needs to be even stronger, the reason for that you may ask? Two words: Breece Hall. Now, while Hall leads the offense and is expected to be the Cyclones biggest player they also carry strong talent on offense, defense, special teams, and on the sidelines. So, why not break everything down and give you all an insight to the future of the 2021-2022 ISU Cyclones. Let’s roll.
Without question, Senior QB Brock Purdy and even more so Junior RB Breece Hall are on their way to becoming historic names in the Iowa State football program for years to come. Since 2018, the Gilbert, AZ native Brock Purdy has led the Cyclones offense through good and bad, and on the way he has picked up school records, personal awards, but none are bigger than the one currently on his shoulders though as he starts the year as a legitimate Heisman trophy candidate.
It will not be easy for Brock however, as last year he seemed to have a performance setback and saw his yards per attempt drop for the 2nd straight year. It is going to be a season to watch for him because if he improves the holes in his game that we saw in both 2019 and 2020 he will likely forgo his extra year of eligibility and head for the NFL. While it is true that a Purdy leap from what we saw last year to the NFL is a big one, he is set up well to do it. The Cyclones are getting the star of their offense back in Breece Hall, the reigning Big XII Offensive Player of the Year. Hall has been one of my favorite players in all of college football since he was a true freshman, when he put up 900 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns.
Last year was what turned Hall, and his well deserved hype to a mainstream level: 1,572 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry. In short, the guy was consistently dominant and he is poised to be even better this year. Combine him with 19 returning starters, including star tight end Charlie Kolar and First Team All-Big 12 WR Xaiver Hutchinson and this offense has a ton of fire power. Both Kolar and Hutchinson are studs, and both will contribute in big ways to this ISU offense. This team will put up points in bunches this year and in my opinion, they will likely do it en route to a Big 12 championship.
Time to talk about a Big XII defense, usually not a very fun talk, unless you’re a Big XII offense of course. I think that this unit might just be different though, experience and great coaching goes a very long way. Just like the offense, the D is getting a ton of starters back from last year, including guys like LB Mike Rose, DB Greg Eisworth II, and DL Will McDonald IV. All three of those guys played a huge role last year and Rose specifically dominated the statsheet with 96 total tackles and a staggering 5 interceptions.
As the leader of the Cyclones defense he is also the leader of 18 linebackers on roster, the 2nd highest number of defensive players per position behind DB’s at 22. This group looks to be the centerpiece of the Cyclones success defensively and accompanied with good talent on the back end and up front with the big guys, ISU is well positioned to be one of, if not the best defensive unit in the conference. I also want to give a shoutout to a young guy on the defense, Philly native, Isheem Young.
Last season he burst on the scene with 3 forced fumbles, 35 solo tackles, 4 passes defensed and an interception as well. At 5-10 and 210 lbs he brings a unique build and big time hit power, he absolutely crushed some receivers over the middle last year. Players like Isheem are what Iowa State and HC Matt Campbell hopes to be the prototype for their defense heading into the future: young, fast, and powerful.
SPECIAL TEAMS PREVIEW
It is special teams time everybody. As Ravens HC John Harbaugh once said about this particular group, “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” Now, like most football coach quotes, I have absolutely no idea what that means yet it still seems to make sense for what special teams is. One portion of it is kicking the ball and having a group of your guys run full sprint into the other team, the other side is kicking the ball through some yellow sticks. From a general fan perspective it looks like the least important side of the ball but let me tell you college teams do not see it that way.
This is where most walk-ons earn their credentials and where precision is maybe the most important element. Earlier this month ISU columnist, Randy Peterson wrote about RB Rory Walling, maybe the most underrated member of this team and the coaching staff at Iowa State has no problem saying that; in the article I am talking about, RB and WR coach Nate Scheelhaase said “If there was a Heisman for special teams, Rory would be up for it.” Walling is the prototype, the guy you watch for 10 years under Bill Belichick yet you never see him on offense or defense, think Matthew Slater type. In his 4 years to this point at Iowa State, Walling has become the class valedictorian, First Team Academic All-Big 12, started as a walk-on, recovered an onside kick in a bowl game, led the special teams unit in tackles and did it all without ever recording a carry at RB. My point here is this, special teams are taken very seriously and at grit and grind programs like ISU it is basically a science.
To move away from the physical side of special teams, let’s talk about Fordham transfer Andrew Mevis, the expected starting kicker for the Cyclones. He is projected to take over for Connor Assalley, who started last year and saw his FG% drop from almost 80% to 68%, and while he has been incredibly consistent on extra points it seems his drop off last year may have cost him his starting role to Mevis. Kicking is in the blood it seems for the Mevis family as they now have two active CFB PK’s, obviously Andrew for ISU and his brother Harrison for the Missouri Tigers. Mevis brings experience and a big time leg to the kicking game. However, while currently leading the depth chart Mevis is not a lock for the starting job quite yet as the two continue to battle in camp but, Matt Campbell has publicly hyped up the powerful leg of Mevis and it seems he at least has the edge over Assalley right now. This is a storyline to watch for the diehard Cyclones fans.
Iowa State will lead the Big 12 conference this season. That might be bold considering where Oklahoma stands right now but I am willing to stick by it. This unit has every piece that a team needs to run the Big XII and now it just comes down to execution. Personally, I see this team as an 11-1 or 12-0 team, that one potential loss being to the Sooners.
Matt Campbell has been maybe the biggest rising star in college coaching for years now and I think this is his time to piece it all together and give Cyclones fans a season to remember. There is quite literally going to be one big piece to success for ISU this year, FEED BREECE HALL. If they can do that, have Purdy do what he needs to do and have the defense be at least bend but don’t break they will have a ton of success. It is going to be a high stakes year for Iowa State and I think they come out the other side very happy with the result.