Matt Campbell has quickly risen up the Big 12 ranks: he’s jumped to third on the league’s seniority list
Randy Peterson, firstname.lastname@example.org
AMES, Ia. — Oklahoma is the best team Iowa State will face this football season. Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa is the best player Matt Campbell’s fourth team will oppose. And as for the best quarterback Jon Heacock’s defense will prepare for?
Start with Alabama’s … I mean the Sooners’ Jalen Hurts.
And given that people love lists, here are some Iowa State-related rankings to analyze, criticize and save for the day when they all prove to be either right or wrong.
Ranking the schedule
It’s not the most daunting dozen regular-season opponents, but it’s still not among the softest. That’s because not only does it include the round-robin grinder that sets the Big 12 apart from loopholes the other Power Five conferences enjoy, it includes the annual Cy-Hawk game.
So there’s that …
And get this: Cy-Hawk 2019 on Sept. 14 at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames could be the first time the game will match two Associated Press-ranked teams. Both are in early pre-season rankings. Both have decent paths to maintain those rankings heading into the third Saturday of the season.
So, let’s assume both will be ranked. Oklahoma and Texas for sure will be among the Top 25. Maybe others in the Big 12 will be, too, but let’s go with the notion the Cyclones’ schedule will include at least three ranked opponents — two at home (Iowa and Texas), and one at Oklahoma.
1. OKLAHOMA: Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts and the game’s at Oklahoma.
2. TEXAS: Never count out Tom Herman’s team, especially if defensive coordinator Todd Orlando can successfully replace nine starters.
3. IOWA: The Hawkeyes have won four in a row in the Cy-Hawk series. They’ll legitimately contend for the Big Ten’s West Division title.
4. TCU: The Horned Frogs will be better than last season, if they dodge the injury bug that struck them.
5. BAYLOR: From 1-11 to 7-6 last season. Yeah, Baylor coach Matt Rhule has it going again in Waco.
The rest: 6. West Virginia, 7. Oklahoma State, 8. Texas Tech, 9. Kansas State, 10. UNI, 11. Kansas, 12. Louisiana-Monroe (this might be too low.)
Here are other Iowa State-related rankings while waiting patiently for the start of college’s premier season.
1. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma: Here’s almost all you need to know: Hurts had a 26-2 record as an Alabama starter before transferring, but if you need more, the Sooners have turned out the past two Heisman winners — quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
2. Sam Ehlinger, Texas: The 41 touchdowns Ehlinger accounted for last were second only in school history to Colt McCoy’s 45 in 2008. A shoulder injury forced Ehlinger into limited duty in last season’s Iowa State game — and the Longhorns still won.
3. Nathan Stanley, Iowa: He’s passed for 52 touchdowns over the past two seasons. NFL Draft analyst Gil Brant ranked Stanley No. 3 among seniors eligible for the 2020 draft.
4. Charlie Brewer, Baylor: Brewer finished a good sophomore season by being named the MVP of the Texas Bowl, after passing for 384 yards and two touchdowns while adding 109 rushing yards and a touchdown in the Bears’ 45–38 victory against Vanderbilt. He had 3,019 passing yards and 19 touchdowns while only throwing nine picks during the season.
5. Alan Bowman, Texas Tech: His impressive freshman season included passing for 605 yards and five touchdowns against Houston. His 69.4 completion percentage was good, too, while completing 227 of 327 passes for 2,638 yards and 17 touchdowns in only eight games against just seven interceptions.
Opposing running backs
1. Pooka Williams, Kansas: We’re assuming, of course, his current suspension is lifted after being arrested last December on suspicion of domestic battery. Williams rushed for 1,125 yards on 161 carries last season.
2. Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma: After gaining 1,056 yards in 2018, Brooks is so good that he pushed aside also-good Trey Sermon.
3. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State: This sophomore is now the Cowboys’ primary rusher, after gaining 740 yards on just 124 carries mostly as a reserve in 2018.
4. Kennedy McKoy, West Virginia: He’s the leader of the Mountaineers’ best position group, after rushing for 802 yards on 145 attempt last season. He has 1,870 rushing yards during the past three seasons.
5. Mekhi Sargent, Iowa: There’s a loaded running back room, however Sargent should be at the top after rushing for 745 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Top defensive opponents
1. A.J. Epenesa, Iowa defensive end: This guy isn’t just outstanding, he’s violent. The 6-foot-6, 280-pounder is a fierce pass-rusher with 15 sacks over the past two seasons. He also has 22 tackles for loss, he’s forced five fumbles and he’s scored a touchdown.
2. Caden Sterns, Texas safety: A freshman All-American last season, Sterns had 62 tackles, a sack, four interceptions and four pass breakups. His four picks tied the school record by a true freshman. Oh, by the way, he blocked a field goal attempt that was returned for a touchdown.
3. Reggie Walker, Kansas State defensive end: Walker has forced eight career fumbles, second nationally among active players. He had 7 ½ sacks last season and 12 ½ tackles for loss.
4. Adrian Frye, Texas Tech cornerback: A first-team All-Big 12 pick in 2018, Frye led the conference with five interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
5. Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma linebacker: One of only two Big 12 players to average double-digit tackles last season.
Top overall opponents
A.J. Epenesa: Iowa defensive end
Jalen Hurts: Oklahoma quarterback
Tylan Wallace: Oklahoma State receiver
Caden Sterns: Texas safety
CeeDee Lamb: Oklahoma receiver
So, there they are. Email me your picks, and we’ll compare after the season.
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 email@example.com or on Twitter at @RandyPete.
Source: Des Moines Register