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Our 11th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 17 Iowa State aims to maintain its recent rise

We’re 49 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We kick off our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked 1st, 2nd, 8th and 13th in our 2018 poll.

Our No. 17 team: Iowa State

The Cyclones’ best-case scenario: The Cyclones, with an experienced offensive line, field a defense designed to thwart the conference’s big-play attacks. It finally helps the team win big games late in the season to land a spot in the Big 12 championship game.

And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? Iowa State can’t come up with steady replacements for former offensive stars David Montgomery (tailback) and Hakeem Butler (receiver).

Iowa State didn’t crack our preseason top 25 poll last year.

Inside the Cyclones

Coach: Matt Campbell (4th year, 19-19; 54-34 overall, 8 years at Toledo and Iowa State)

2018:  8-5, 6-3 in the Big 12 (lost to Washington State in the Alamo Bowl). After going 3-9 his first year, Campbell has produced back-to-back 8-5 seasons in Ames. That’s the best since Iowa State went 8-3, 8-4 and 8-4 in 1976, 1977 and 1978.

Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense

Shoes to fill: RB David Montgomery (1,216 yards, 13 TDs); WR Hakeem Butler (1,318 yards, 9 TDs); LB Willie Harvey (2nd on team in tackles); LB Brian Peavy

Spring cleaning: Campbell has been a buzzy name in coaching searches the last two years. The Des Moines Register reported that six NFL teams contacted Campbell, who is headed into his fourth season in Ames. Plus Ohio State reportedly looked at him before elevating Ryan Day to replace Urban Meyer. Iowa State rewarded Campbell with another contract extension, although he didn’t receive a pay raise. Instead, $1 million was added to the salary pool for his assistants. It’s now almost $4 million, placing Iowa State’s collective assistants’ salaries among the nation’s top 30. Campbell’s deal is good through 2024. … Iowa State took some significant hits in the draft, losing stars Montgomery, (third round, Chicago) and Butler (fourth round, Chicago). Both players still had eligibility remaining. … The Cyclones might’ve found Montgomery’s replacement in this year’s recruiting class. They signed two four-star tailbacks in Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock. There are four possible candidates in mind for Butler’s big spot — Tarique Milton, Deshaunte Jones, La’Michael Pettway and Darren Wilson. Milton, a sophomore, caught 34 passes last season. Jones, a senior, posted 43. Pettway and Wilson are newcomers who signed in May. Pettway is a graduate transfer from Arkansas. Wilson is a former JUCO player.

AMES, IA – Quarterback Joel Lanning #7 of the Iowa State Cyclones high fives head coach Matt Campbell of the Iowa State Cyclones after scoring a touchdown in the first half of play against the Baylor Bears at Jack Trice Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (led team), 51-93-1,026 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs

RUSHING: QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr. (1st), 208-1,017-17

RECEIVING: RB Kell Walker (2nd), 11-170-1

TACKLES: LB Cole Christiansen (2nd), 77

SACKS: DL Edriece Patterson (T-3rd), 2.0

INTERCEPTIONS: DB Jaylon McClinton (2nd), 2

Returning All-Big 12 (10)

Offense: TE Charlie Kolar (2nd team), RET Kene Nwangwu (2nd), OL Julian Good-Jones (hon. mention), OL Bryce Meeker (hon. mention), QB Brock Purdy (hon. mention)

Defense: DB Greg Eisworth (defensive newcomer of the year), DL JaQuan Bailey (2nd), L Ray Lima (2nd), LB Mike Rose (hon. mention), LB Marcel Spears (hon. mention)

FYI

One stout defense: Jon Heacock, the Cyclones’ defensive coordinator, has fared well in shutting down opposing offenses. He calls his scheme a 3-3-3, meaning Iowa State will use three down linemen, three linebackers and three safeties. It’s worked the past two seasons, with the Cyclones ranking second in the Big 12 in 2018 in total defense, allowing 349 yards per game. In 2017, the Cyclones were third at 366.2. The most important stat probably is scoring defense. Iowa State topped the league in allowing only 22.9 points a game. Heacock will be able to build this year’s defense around safety Greg Eisworth, last year’s Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year, and linebacker Mike Rose, whose 75 tackles were the third best among freshmen from Power 5 teams.

Rewarding the fans: It’s a good time to be a Cyclones fan. Iowa State won five straight league games last season for the first time in school history. The streak, which launched after the team was 1-3 to start the year, lifted them to a second straight eight-win season. For context, from 1979-2016, Iowa State had only one season of at least eight wins.

Purdy good: Quarterback Brock Purdy will try and continue his winning ways as a sophomore. He helped turn the Cyclones’ season last year. His marquee game was an upset of then No. 6 West Virginia. Overall, he completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,250 yards. His stats are third best in the Big 12 among returning quarterbacks, behind Texas’ Sam Ehlinger and Baylor’s Charlie Brewer. Purdy won’t have the luxury of having Montgomery and Butler. But he does have the protection of five returning starters on his offensive line.

2018 national stat rankings

Scoring: 82nd (26.8 ppg)

Total offense: 95th (371.0 ypg)

Passing: 57th (240.9 ypg)

Rushing: 111th (130.1 ypg)

Red zone offense: 9th

Time of possession: 91st (28:53)

Scoring defense: 37th (22.9 ppg)

Total defense: 33rd (349.2 ypg)

Pass defense: 72nd (234.2 ypg)

Rush defense: 14th (115.0 ypg)

Red zone defense: 16th

Turnover margin: T-84th

The schedule

DATE OPPONENT LAST YR’S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 31 Northern Iowa
Sept. 14 Iowa L, 13-3
Sept. 21 Louisiana-Monroe
Sept. 28 at Baylor* W, 28-14
Oct. 5 TCU* L, 17-14
Oct. 12 at West Virginia* W, 30-14
Oct. 19 at Texas Tech* W, 40-31
Oct. 26 Oklahoma State* W, 48-42
Nov. 9 at Oklahoma* L, 37-27
Nov. 16 Texas* L, 24-10
Nov. 23 Kansas* W, 27-3
Nov. 30 at Kansas State* W, 42-38
* Big 12 game

The key game? Nov. 9, at Oklahoma. The Sooners are the big dogs of the Big 12 and it’ll be one of the final road tests of the season.

The last 5 years

Year W-L/Conf. Rank Bowl
2014 2-10 / 0-9 — / — No bowl
2015 3-9 / 2-7 — / — No bowl
2016 3-9 / 2-7 — / — No bowl
2017 8-5 / 5-4 — / — Liberty Bowl, W
2018 8-5 / 6-3 — / — Alamo Bowl, L
Total 24-38 / 15-30 2 bowl games (1-1)

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Stanford will need its experienced defense to lead the way early

No. 24: Can Nebraska carry its end-of-2018 momentum into 2019?

No. 23: Was 2018 a one-time thing, or is Syracuse back as a program?

No. 22: A run to last year’s Big Ten title game has Northwestern wanting more

No. 21: Mike Leach hopes Clemson’s quarterback loss is Washington State’s gain

No. 20: With no proven quarterback, Wisconsin will ride the legs of Jonathan Taylor

No. 19: With Jarret Stidham in the NFL, Auburn must choose a freshman quarterback

No. 18: Army might end up throwing a real wrench into the CFP’s plans this year

No. 17: Iowa State

Our Top 25, by conferences

3 schools:

Big Ten — No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska

2 schools:

Pac-12 — No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford

1 school:

Big 12 — No. 17 Iowa State

Independents — No. 18 Army

SEC — No. 19 Auburn

ACC — No. 23 Syracuse

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 16 team

Want a hint?

This school’s 25-game winning streak came to an end last season.

Source: HookemPlus.com