Iowa State can be a tough place to win. Luckily, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell seems prepared to overcome the odds.
In his second season, Campbell led the Cyclones to an 8-5 record. It was just the eighth time Iowa State won that many games. Two of those seasons were 1903 and 1906. Now, Campbell’s greatest test looms.
Plenty of coaches have produced a great season. Campbell is tasked with building something special in Ames, Iowa. With a 6-year contract extension, Campbell is committed for the long term. However, the task is tough.
The Cyclones have never played bowl games in more than three consecutive seasons. Dan McCarney is the most successful coach in program history, and he had five seasons with 3 or fewer wins. Campbell is trying to build a roster to do it.
Iowa State returns 58 percent of its team-wide production. Losing wide receiver Allen Lazard is critical. However, many of the roster’s other top playmakers on both sides are back.
Running back David Montgomery was named a Pro Football Focus All-American after rushing for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns behind an inconsistent offensive line. In fact, the line ranked No. 113 nationally in creating yardage, per Football Outsiders.
Quarterback Kyle Kempt is back to lead the Cyclones under center. He completed 66.3 percent of his passes to set an Iowa State record in 2017. More importantly, Kempt led two of the biggest wins in program history – wins against top-5 ranked TCU and Oklahoma.
Defensively, there are more openings to fill. However, the Cyclones proved they can be an elite defensive team with some work.
It’s hard to build a program at Iowa State. Ames doesn’t have many natural recruiting advantages, and the program has fewer resources than other Big 12 teams. However, Campbell appears ready to work around it.
Here are three key takeaways from spring camp:
Iowa State didn’t lose too many starters. However, the players who left are among the most beloved in program history.
Wide receiver Allen Lazard, the leading receiver in school history, produced 3,360 yards and 26 touchdowns in his Cyclone career. Linebacker/quarterback Joel Lanning is equally as loved after doing whatever it took to win games.
It’s impossible to replace personalities like that. Unfortunately, Iowa State has to try.
The Cyclones don’t have a handle on the breakdown of staff responsibilities on offense yet. They lost offensive coordinator Tom Manning to the NFL and haven’t named a replacement. It appears Campbell might take over play calling responsibilities.
Iowa State hired former Illinois quarterback Nate Scheelhaase as its running backs coach. How everyone meshes will be critical. Luckily, Campbell has a full offseason to coordinate everything.
Iowa State has a tough schedule.
The Cyclones face Iowa on the road and Oklahoma at home in the first three weeks.
It gets a little more manageable afterward. The Cyclones get Texas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas State at home. There are tough road games against Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU.
If Iowa State finishes with more than 8 wins, it’ll be time to officially crown Campbell.