About 3 weeks ago much was talked about how starting quarterback Joel Lanning will adjust to becoming “The Guy” in Ames. In his first start, Lanning led the Cyclones to a 24-0 victory over the Texas Longhorns (that likely saved Paul Rhoads’ job), throwing for 188 yards and a TD, adding 64 yards on the ground. More recently, he orchestrated a near-upset against the undefeated Oklahoma State Cowboys, rushing for 130 yards and 2 TD’s.
Although it hasn’t quite shown up in the wins column (1-2 since first start) Lanning has been a catalyst, along with sensational freshman running back Mike Warren. This past weekend against the Cowboys, Warren eclipsed the 1000 yards rushing yard mark, becoming the first 1000 yard rusher at Iowa State since Alexander Robinson accomplished it in 2009.
If there was any doubt left behind by former offensive coordinator Mark Mangino that Lanning wasn’t ready, you can throw that out the window. Of the last three opponents, Lanning has put up solid numbers. By no means were they extraordinary, however, of those games, two (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) are in the AP top 10, and both defenses rank in the top three of total defense in the Big 12. He was facing top competition in the conference, which is only going to help him improve heading into the last two games, and in the future beyond 2015.
Consider the future this Saturday when the Cyclones take on Bill Snyder and the Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan for Farmageddon. The Cyclones have not won in Manhattan since 2004 and have dropped seven straight games to the Wildcats (although six of those have been by eight points or fewer). Expect more of the same in this year’s game. The young backfield of Lanning and Warren (not to mention Joshua Thomas) will hopefully give the Wildcat D some fits. The season finale will be against West Virginia in Morgantown. The last time Iowa State visited Morgantown, the Cyclones came away with a thrilling come-from-behind win in triple overtime. These are two very winnable games for Iowa State to close 2015 on a very positive note.
Before the season began, I mentioned that the ceiling for this team is five wins, and if (a big if) the Cyclones can take care of business the next two weeks, they will have reached that. If that happens, the Cyclones will have won four Big 12 games for the first time since 2005 and will be trending upwards heading into 2016 with several key players returning offensively, including Lanning, Warren, Thomas, Lazard, among others.
Now, Iowa State isn’t going to a bowl game for the third consecutive year (we think), and it seems like us Iowa State fans are always playing the “What If” or the “Next Year” card, but it’s practical to say 2016 could be the year that Iowa State football gets back on track and back to a bowl game. As frustrating as the win-loss record is right now, at the end of the day this team fought all season long against what many believe is the most difficult schedule in college football and we have to recognize that. With two wins to end the season, 2015 could still be looked upon as a success.
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