Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell explains his team’s 27-17 loss to Kansas State on Nov. 30, 2019.
Danny Lawhon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s get real: Iowa State’s 7-5 football regular season wasn’t as disappointing as some fans say. I’m not referring to the obvious unsatisfactory last game, either, in which Matt Campbell’s team uncharacteristically didn’t play well at end or beginning.
After moving beyond the justified yet way too predictable knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Manhattan on Saturday night, let’s look at the bigger picture — all the valuable learning, bonding and precious on-the-job experience that happened during a tough seven-win season that, yes, very well could have ended 8-4 or even 9-3.
Look past the Iowa State side of the scoreboard at Bill Snyder Family Stadium and all the ugliness it represented. Look at what’s returning from that team — after playing in the program’s third bowl game in a row (maybe another trip to Beale Street?). Look at how good the 2020 season can be, and don’t forget that defensive end JaQuan Bailey is returning, too, after undergoing 2019 season-ending ACL surgery.
So, as we enter this intense week of trying to guess bowl destination and of wondering if the trickle-down effect of major job changes will officially (I repeat, officially) reach Matt Campbell, let’s remember this:
As unbecoming for a Campbell-coached team as Saturday night was, keep this in mind:
Iowa State’s football program is in the best shape it’s ever been. It’s on the brink of a breakout season.
Reason No. 1: Brock Purdy
The dandy sophomore will become the school’s best-ever quarterback by the time he flings his last pass, and if you don’t think that one will be for a touchdown — well, think again. He’s already starting to rewrite the record-book, he’s taken ownership of the offense, and get this:
Assuming nothing nasty happens between now and the bowl game, he’ll be the first Iowa State quarterback to start each game since Austen Arnaud in 2008.
During a season without security blanket Hakeem Butler catching almost everything thrown his way, Purdy still led Big 12 quarterbacks with 3,760 yards. His 295 completions were tops, too, as was the 313.3 passing yards he averaged each game.
He’ll top the Big 12’s returnee list next season, an impressive group that includes Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, Texas Tech’s Jett Duffey and Baylor’s Charlie Brewer — assuming those three return.
Reason No. 2: Breece Hall
No more early-season running back tryouts in 2020. This will be all-Hall, after a true-freshman season that included rushing for 760 yards against Big 12 defenses — and that’s behind only Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard.
Once he successfully transitioned on and off the field from high school to college, this guy was wonderful. See hole, hit hole with authority; that was his game. He wasn’t one of those undecided fancy dancers we way too often see. Most times, Hall trusted his blockers.
In the six games before last Saturday’s, he was seventh among Power Five tailbacks with a 116.5-yard average. He’s also the best freshman rusher in school history.
Reason No. 3: The Receivers
And, yes, this includes the school’s best collection of tight ends ever. Returning to catch Purdy passes are six of Iowa State’s 2019 Top 10, including Charlie Kolar, one of the nation’s top three tight ends — regardless what Mackey Award voters say.
Deep threats will include Tarique Milton and his 21.1-yard average per catch, Sean Shaw, Landen Akers, Darren Wilson and Joe Scates. Very dependable tight ends Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner return, too.
Translation: There’s no non-conference get-to-know you period in 2020. They should be operating at full-go from Game One to whenever next season ends.
Reasons No. 4 thru 7: Defense and special teams
Concerns about losing middle linemen Ray Lima and Jamahl Johnson are justified. The graduation of those standout seniors would be tragic, however, if Zach Petersen and Enyi Uwazurike didn’t get so much valuable playing time in 2019. They played very well, as did returnee Will McDonald, who flipped between defensive end and outside linebacker. And don’t forget Bailey’s return from injury, so the line could be just as good.
One of two of them could move inside, where Lima played so wonderfully.
They’re the strength of a defense that returns eight who started against Kansas State. O’Rien Vance, Mike Rose, Jake Hummel played extensively through the 7-5 season. Their backups played a lot, too, so the loss of Marcel Spears won’t be as brutal as it could have been.
Every starter except Braxton Lewis returns to the secondary. And given this much talent, there’s no reason coordinator Jon Heacock can’t come up with another dazzling defense.
The kickers, you wonder? Punter Joe Rivera was a junior. Place-kickers Connor Assalley and Brayden Narveson were underclassmen, but about senior long-snapper Steve Wirtel?
And finally …
Which brings me to Julian Good-Jones, Collin Olson, Josh Knipfel and Bryce Meeker starting their final games in a few weeks. They played a lot of snaps in 2019, but somehow backups like Joey Ramos and Robert Hudson played significantly, too. And don’t forget that Colin Newell, the starting center until a leg injury cut his season short, returns.
So, if you’re still stewing about last Saturday’s very un-Campbell-like game while trying to figure out the bowl destination and while covering eyes every time another significant Power Five job opens — move on.
Next season could be even better.
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of five decades. Reach him at email@example.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines Register.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.
Source: Des Moines Register