Here is everything you need to know about the Big 12 showdown between the Iowa State Cyclones and the West Virginia Mountaineers in our preview.
3:30 p.m. Eastern Time, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, Milam Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia
Records: Iowa State 6-2 (4-1 in Big 12); West Virginia 5-3 (3-2 in Big 12)
TV: ESPN2 (Mike Patrick, Tommy Tuberville and Paul Carcattera)
Radio: Sirius 108/XM 200 (check local listings for Iowa State and West Virginia affiliates)
Fun facts: For the Cyclones, 2017 marks the fifth season all-time they’ve beaten two ranked opponents. In fact, it’s tied for the most ranked opponents they’ve defeated in a single season. Plus, Iowa State’s only win over West Virginia in the teams’ all-time series came in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 2013. Iowa State’s goal on Saturday has to be holding the Mountaineers under 30 points. Since 1980 West Virginia is 193-18-1 when scoring 30 or more points in a game. WVU is also 24-4 when scoring 40 or more points under head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Iowa State Cyclones
QB Kyle Kempt
The senior hasn’t lost since taking over the starting job before the Oklahoma game for Jacob Park. As someone who was at that Iowa State-Texas game, the Cyclones’ last loss, this offense is like night and day. Kempt has provided the passing game a spark that Park wasn’t able to. He’s making great use of all of the weapons, including Allen Lazard, and is getting solid support from the run game led by David Montgomery. The key here is confidence. Kempt is brimming with it right now and as long as he can handle the inevitable adversity, the Cyclones have a quarterback that can keep them in the Big 12 race.
LB Joel Lanning
Now that Kempt has proven himself to be the firm No. 1 quarterback, perhaps it’s time to scale Lanning’s time back on offense and let him do what he does best — defense. The senior middle linebacker is coming off a nine-tackle game against TCU, part of a conference stretch that has seen Lanning net 20, 8, 10, 14 and 9 total tackles in his first five Big 12 games. And to think a year ago he was in the process of losing his quarterback job to Jacob Park. It’s been an amazing year for Lanning and he’s one of the key drivers of the Cyclones’ unexpected rise in the big 12.
DL Ray Lima
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell has mentioned on multiple occasions that the junior’s impact on the front four has been resonant. The 6-foot-4, 304-pound junior college transfer from Los Angeles, California (El Camino CC) has become a space-eating force for the Cyclones when it comes to run stopping. He demands double teams inside, which clears openings for players like Lanning, who might just owe a portion of any postseason awards he wins to Lima. Campbell told reporters earlier this season that the Cyclones didn’t have a player like Lima on their roster last year. Now that they do they’ve only given up six rushing touchdowns this season.
West Virginia Mountaineers
WR David Sills V
The one-time USC QB commit may end up winning the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top wide receiver. He has been unreal at times this year, scoring 15 total touchdowns and scoring multiple touchdowns in six of his eight games. But Oklahoma State shut him down last weekend, as Sills caught just three passes for 44 yards. You can bet Iowa State will be breaking down that film. The Cyclones have the talent in the secondary to keep up with Sills. But he has great hands and game-breaking ability. He doesn’t need much to create havoc.
S Kyzir White
The secondary’s most explosive playmaker, White is second on the team in tackles (48 total) and first in interceptions (3). He has also forced two fumbles. In the games that the Mountaineers have won this year, White has played a clear role in the victory, including his interception in the come-from-behind win against Texas Tech. He’s adept at finding open space to make plays and is never far away from the football, something the Mountaineers will need on Saturday against Iowa State wide receiver Allen Lazard, one of the league’s best.
QB Will Grier
Grier is in the Top 20 nationally in eight different categories and is clearly what the Mountaineers needed offensively in the post-Skyler Howard era. No player in FBS is responsible for more points going into this weekend’s games than Grier. Just a junior, he’s proven to be a quick study in West Virginia’s offense, gives them solid mobility inside and outside of the pocket and he’s helped elevate the wide receiver group’s play this season. It’s a highly-competitive conference when it comes to quarterback, and it will be interesting to see where Grier falls when the final All-Big 12 team is released in a month.
Iowa State Cyclones
How will Iowa State deal with success? It’s not just a winning streak now. It’s a national ranking, not just in the AP and Coaches’ poll, but also in the first College Football Playoff rankings (No. 15 in CFP). It’s the attention Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell is drawing as more jobs come open across the country (looking at you, Florida). The distractions will only grow as the Cyclones keep winning. That is what Iowa State must manage as they go into a road game in a tough environment as the favorite.
West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers’ Big 12 title game hopes are basically done with a loss on Saturday. So keeping those hopes on life support is job one for head coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff. The next job is to make sure the Mountaineers get to a bowl game, and a win on Saturday would secure that as well. The “Will Grier” and “David Sills” for Heisman campaign was fun for a week or two, but it’s not happening and it’s time for the Mountaineers to get back to business and try and spoil Iowa State’s season.
West Virginia 37, Iowa State 31
Yep, I’m taking the upset here. Morgantown is an absolutely tough place to play. West Virginia has the offense to give Iowa State some real trouble. After a month of emerging as one of college football’s darlings, a Cyclone fall is inevitable. And it’s usually against a team that looks like it’s on a downhill turn but has the talent and the home field, both of which West Virginia has this week.