The hype has never been greater in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State football program reached unprecedented heights last season making the Big 12 Championship Game. Head coach Matt Campbell signed another extension, turned down at least one NFL offer and brings back the bulk of his 2020 team for another run this season. But like every team, there are questions, and there needs to be a few breaks along the way to get to where they want to go. Here are the three things that will define the Iowa State offense in 2021.
1. Brock Purdy’s Ceiling
Is Brock Purdy going to come out of the 2021 season viewed at as a mid-round NFL Draft pick or a potential Top 10 NFL Draft pick? That answer will likely give you some idea as to how the 2021 season went for the Cyclones. Heading into the 2020 season, there was speculation that Purdy could have a big year and head off to NFL. That obviously didn’t end up happening. But there’s no doubt that Purdy wants to take that next step and play at the next level.
For Brock Purdy, can he clean up on some of the impatience that leads to avoidable mistakes? If so, he has a Baker Mayfield vibe about him thanks to the athletic ability, comfort is moving in the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield, and embracing the chaos. He’s also not afraid to take a hit. If Purdy is able to take that next step, that will go a long way to determining how the 2021 season goes in Ames.
2. Breece Hall for Heisman?
It’s never easy to duplicate a season like Breece Hall‘s in 2020. Hall put together one of the best rushing performances in Iowa State history after leading the nation in rushing with 1,572 yards. It was the third-highest single-season total behind Troy Davis, who rushed for 2,010 yards in 1995 and 2,185 yards in 1996. The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year is all but gone after 2021, so what does he have in store for his final season on campus? We’re all hoping it’s an encore. But it’s always easier said than done. Just ask Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, who did not come close to duplicating his 2019 season in 2020.
But for Hall, he will be the the No. 1 threat every defense is going to try and stop in 2021, and he will have to be prepared for that. This may open up other opportunities for the Iowa State offense, even if it means Hall’s stats don’t look as glamorous. Hall doesn’t seem like the guy who would be as concerned about that, but it will be a determining factor in what the upcoming season looks like for the Cyclones.
The good news is that the offense line returns all its starters and is in the best place its been during Matt Campbell’s tenure.
3. The Go-To Wide Receiver?
We know Brock Purdy has his favorite target back in Charlie Kolar, but he is technically a tight end. Who is the No. 1 at wide out? The obvious choice would be Xavier Hutchinson, who finished the season as Iowa State’s leading receiver and Hutchinson caught 64 passes for 771 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games. He was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2020. Does his rapport with Purdy continue to grow? Or is Tarique Milton, who missed most of the 2020 season with a leg injury, the favorite of Purdy? As a sophomore in 2019, Milton caught 35 passes and averaged 20.6 yards per catch. Of course there’s still Sean Shaw Jr., Joe Scates, Darren Wilson, along with guys like Daniel Jackson and Jaylin Noel.
Heck, maybe none of this matters and Iowa State will have so many weapons for Purdy the idea of having that “go-to” or “No. 1” guy is overstated. But knowing you have a favorite guy in a big spot can certainly have its benefits for any program. We’ll see what and how that develops for the Cyclones in 2021.