As we countdown the days and weeks until the beginning of the Iowa football season, we’ll be previewing each of Iowa’s opponents in 2020. While the season may seem far in the distant, we’re currently 11 weeks from our first game week of the year.
Our second entry in our series of previews is Iowa’s Week 2 matchup against the in-state Iowa State Cyclones.
Iowa State Cyclones
2019 Record: 7-6 (5-4), T-3rd in Big 12
A season with high expectations for Matt Campbell and the Iowa State Cyclones finished in a somewhat deflating fashion, after suffering a loss at Kansas State to close the regular season, and a one-sided, 33-9 defeat against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Camping World Bowl to end the 2019 campaign.
Along the way also came a 3OT thriller against Northern Iowa to open the season that was followed by a devastating, last second, rain delayed loss at home against the Iowa Hawkeyes, in which two cyclones collided in hilarious fashion.
It was a game that also featured a marching band controversy that put the future of the Cy-Hawk rivalry game in doubt. The Cyclones opened conference play with a loss against Baylor, and went on to lose to Oklahoma State, had a close loss to Oklahoma, and lost the aforementioned game to Kansas State, ending conference play with a 5-4 record. But the Big 12 continues to be the conference of chaos, and that was a good enough record to cement them in a four-way tie for third place, along with Texas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. The team’s signature win was a 23-21 last minute field goal win over then No. 19 ranked Texas.
The Cyclones will return a lot of talent in 2020 across the board, but especially on offense, except for two areas of large importance: wide receiver and offensive line. True senior Deshaunte Jones and redshirt senior transfer from Arkansas, La’Michael Pettway, were the team’s two respective leaders in receptions on the year. On the offensive line front, center Josh Knipfel graduated as well, with a 38-game starting streak under his belt, along with linemen Bryce Meeker, and Julian Good-Jones.
Defensively, Iowa State lost quite a bit more talent (while also retaining quite a lot as well): DTs Ray Lima and Jamahl Johnson, linebacker Marcel Spears, one of the conference’s best linebackers, and safeties Justin Bickham and Braxton Lewis graduated as well.
With such a deep roster returning overall, Iowa State’s graduate transfers are limited this season. But to fill the experience gap at safety, the Cyclones brought on former North Carolina Tarheel Greg Ross, who started 11 games over the last two years. His stat line includes 57 tackles over the course of playing 24 games.
I’d say this is probably the most experienced roster that Matt Campbell has had during his time at Iowa State. Brock Purdy will return for his third season under center for the Cyclones after a pretty solid sophomore campaign in which he tallied nearly 4,000 yards on 65% completion rate. While his offensive line will be relatively new, but sophomore running back Breece Hall had a solid campaign as a freshman where he accumulated just under 900 yards. Tight end Charlie Kolar enters his junior season coming off a sophomore campaign that saw him earn first-team All-Big 12 and second-team All-American by Pro Football Focus, and the wide receiver crew will be anchored by Tarique Milton.
The defensive unit will be led by a loaded defensive end position that sees the return of JaQuan Bailey from an injury suffered in conference play last year, along with Zach Peterson, who stepped in to play in Bailey’s absence. It seems like fellow senior Enyi Uwazurike will also compete for playing time as well. Linebacker O’Rien Vance (that’s a dope name) was ranked fifth nationally in sacks last season for linebackers, and started 12 games. He’ll be joined by middle linebacker Mike Rose, who stepped in as a sophomore to replace Joel Lanning. Rounding out the returning defensive players are cornerbacks Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young, who have over 20 combined starts under their belts. Two time first-team All-Big 12 DB Greg Eisworth returns as well, although he’s struggled with injuries during his career. Last but not least, safety Lawrence White returns, who led the team in interceptions and was second in tackles.
On special teams, the Cyclones bring back two seniors in the kicking game with place-kicker Connor Assalley and punter Joe Rivera.
That’s a lot of returning talent. But what about their schedule?
With this much returning talent, it’s clear that Iowa State expects to contend for a Big 12 title next year. The Cyclones lost a lot of close games in the 2019 season, and are banking on the experience on both sides of the ball to turn those close losses into close wins in their favor.
Tough road matchups on the schedule include Iowa, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas, while they’ll host Oklahoma, Baylor and West Virginia. The team’s non-conference matchups besides Iowa include South Dakota State and UNLV, which both will most likely be wins. Throw in games against Kansas, Kansas State, and Texas Tech, and there’s definitely opportunity for 8 or 9 wins, or another 7-5 campaign, just depending on how the cards play out, and how teams like Texas, OSU and TCU perform.
But on paper, the experience and talent is certainly there for this to be a successful season for the Cyclones, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. I’m guessing the squad will make its fourth bowl game in a row, but from there, I honestly have no clue — they’re still Iowa State.
Iowa/Iowa State Prediction
I hate this game so much every year. Honestly, the possibility of having fewer fans in the stadium — or none at all? — makes me feel a little better about this game as far as all of the controversies from last year go. It might give the fan rivalry a year off to simmer down a bit.
It definitely makes me nervous that quarterback Spencer Petras’ second career start will be against an Iowa State squad that returns a lot of talent, but hopefully the relative inexperience at defense, particularly in the secondary, will be able to open things up a bit with all the talent returning at receiver.
This game is literally impossible to predict, but I’m going to give Iowa the home field advantage win, fans or not. It just might be closer than we want it to be — again.
Iowa 24, Iowa State 17
Oh, and just in case you missed it: