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Iowa State: The Big 12’s sleeping giant

Allen Lazard

The Iowa State Cyclones won’t be going bowling in 2016. But, when you look at the body of work and the progress made in Ames, there’s no doubt head coach Matt Campbell is building the foundation for a program that can have serious sustained success in the coming years.

Iowa State is coming off a 66-10 rout of Texas Tech, improving to 3-8 on the season and 2-6 in Big 12 play. But, outside of losses to Iowa and TCU in the first month of the season, the Cyclones have kept things very competitive with their fellow Big 12 teams.

When the Cyclones lost 5 straight conference games from early October to early November, 4 of the 5 (Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma) were by 10 points or less. The only one that wasn’t was a 21-point loss to Texas. But, ISU led that game at halftime, before the Longhorns dominated the third quarter.

 
Let’s be honest, if not for two fourth-quarter collapses against Baylor and Oklahoma State, the Cyclones might very well be playing for a trip to a bowl game this weekend against West Virginia.

There is no Big 12 team that has improved more than the Cyclones this season and that sets up this program to be a sleeping giant in the conference moving forward. Outside of Oklahoma, and arguably Oklahoma State, the other 7 teams in the Big 12 are facing various issues that may hinder success on the football field.

First, look at what Matt Campbell will bring back. QB Jacob Park, a five-star who transferred from Georgia, has two more years left in the program. I was wrong about Park. After watching him throughout the first 10 weeks of the season, I felt he was just another overrated recruit who was not going to meet expectations at the college level. That still may be the case, but Park is really looking more comfortable and confident in recent games, including a solid line against Texas Tech, completing 14 of 18 passes for 285 yards with 2 touchdowns to zero interceptions. Over his last 3 games he has thrown 6 touchdowns to just 1 interception. It’s been some time since Iowa State felt totally confident in their signal caller, but Park could very well be that guy.

Assuming QB Joel Lanning returns next season, he will be Iowa State’s version of the 18-wheeler at Texas with Tyrone Swoopes. But, Lanning is a better passer than Swoopes, so his package will keep defenses more honest than Swoopes’ ever did at UT.

The Cyclones closed the 2016 recruiting season with the 53rd ranked class in the country, according to Rivals. For the 2017 recruiting cycle, Iowa State is currently ranked 32nd in the country. Right now, that is higher than every team in the Big 12, outside of the Oklahoma Sooners. Granted, those final numbers will likely change, with teams like Oklahoma State and Texas jumping the Cyclones, but nonetheless, it’s very impressive at this point in the game.

Look at just some of the freshman who have received playing time this season and have made a huge impact. Guys like David Montgomery, Deshaunte Jones, JaQuan Bailey and Hakeem Butler, just to name a few, are going to be in Ames (barring a transfer) for at least two more years. Just two weeks ago heading into the Kansas game, the Cyclones had 14 freshman on their depth chart.

If Iowa State starts to have solid success in football, it could have a major snowball effect. Let’s not forget, Ames is often considered one of the top college towns in America. In fact, Best College Reviews put it in the #5 spot. The review writes, “Perennially listed on top places to live by organizations like CNN Money, Ames has a number of large employers, a 3.2% unemployment rate, and an average age of 23.8 … Small town vibes, large employers, and a vibrant night life make Ames a true college “town.” 

Can coach Campbell continue with his pipeline from his Ohio roots, while finding diamonds in the rough in Texas, and create Ames into a legitimate college football program? He definitely can. An ideal scenario for Iowa State would expecting and having a bowl-eligible team each year and if the pieces are just right, every few years there can be a special season that far exceeds expectations.

Of course, the key to all this: keeping Coach Campbell. But, since this was meant to be an inspiring, upbeat article around Iowa State football, we’ll save that topic for another time!

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