Matt Campbell has quickly risen up the Big 12 ranks: he’s jumped to third on the league’s seniority list
Randy Peterson, email@example.com
AMES, Ia. — Defense is Iowa State’s football strength right how, and I’ve been trying to tell everyone that for a long time. While the offense can hold its own in a Big 12 that’s very offensive, it’s the guys on the other side that make the Cyclones a legitimate threat for a third season in a row with at least eight victories. I even mentioned it on Andy Staples’ SiriusXM radio show Monday morning — and then not long after we signed off, got an email from someone saying I was crazy.
The Big 12 doesn’t play defense?
Jon Heacock’s guys do — and people around the conference know it.
Defensive end JaQuan Bailey and tackle Ray Lima were first-teamers on the just-released all-Big 12 preseason team. So were linebacker Marcel Spears and safety Greg Eisworth.
Two defensive Iowa State players on the preseason team — like Bailey and Brian Peavy last year, and A.J. Klein and Jake Knott in 2011 — are one thing. But four?
No wonder some schools were coming after Heacock after last season.
I hear ya. Pre-season all-conference selections aren’t worth a hoot. They’re just a guide to which team has who and what players are expected to be pretty darn good. It’s nothing more than that.
In Iowa State’s situation, though, the four selected to the first team are another notch in the program’s credibility belt that already includes:
Consecutive eight-win seasons for the first time since the mid-70s — way back to when Earle Bruce was the head coach.
Multiple NFL Draft picks for the for the first time since Klein and offensive tackle Carter Bykowski were picked in 2013.
Victories against highly-ranked Oklahoma on the road and TCU at home during the same month in 2017.
And now more first-team pre-season all-conference picks since I don’t know when, but all four on defense?
Iowa State fans probably not-so-fondly recall the days when their team couldn’t stop anyone — like when the 2014 Cyclones went 2-10 and finished 128th out of 128 in Division I with a defense against whom opponents frolicked for an average of 528.9 yards a game.
The national and Big 12 rank improved gradually, not overnight, to where last season’s average yield of 349.2 yards a game was second in the Big 12 and 33rd in the nation.
I actually thought Campbell’s team could have had a fifth preseason pick — offensive guard Josh Knipfel. Had he made the team, it would have been the first time an Iowa State offensive lineman made the preseason first team since Kelechi Osemele in 2011.
Osemele was a hulking guy whose last name means Ancient Warrior in his Nigerian heritage and who Paul Rhoads and his staff turned into a four-year starter, a first-team All-American, and second-round NFL Draft choice of the Baltimore Ravens.
I don’t know what Knipfel’s last name means, and no one’s saying he’ll be as good as Osemele. That’s not the point here.
What’s significant is the respect Matt Campbell’s program is continuing to receive, but again …
It’s still just preseason hype.
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been with the Register for parts of five decades. Randy writes opinion and analysis of Iowa State football and basketball. You can reach Randy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @RandyPete.
Source: Des Moines Register