To say Matt Campbell has been a home-run hire thus far is an understatement. You couldn’t pick a better fit for a Midwestern college with his work ethic and integrity. He has been killing it on the recruiting trail, and his staff is full of fun-loving assistants in their 30s and 40s just having a good time. What’s not to love?
And oh yeah, how about those kickass new helmets. You might as well already call us the Oregon of the Big 12.
Fans (including myself) are lining up to drink the kool-aid as fast as Cleveland Cavaliers fans are reaching for the bottle during the NBA Finals (though last night's game helped a bit).
And to think, Campbell has done all this without even coaching a game...
We are less than three months away from the first game of the 2016 season, and this man can do no wrong. Now I’m excited as anyone to chug Busch Light under the lights in Jack Trice for the first game, but allow me to lightly tap the brakes for a second.
This 3-9 team from a year ago returns 12 starters, but also lost a LOT of playmakers in the offseason, due to injuries and attrition, and not graduation. There are at least five to six players that would contribute to this team, but have left for reasons beyond our control.
I can’t explain how huge that is for a Big 12 program, especially one like Iowa State. ISU does not have the depth that the Texas schools carry. We may have the stallions on the front lines, but our horses backing them up are premature and not ready to carry the load for a full conference slate.
Without further ado, we go from best to worst grades for the each position on the depth chart for the offense.
Running Backs - B
|RB||2||Mike Warren||RS Soph||6'0||200|
|25||Sheldon Croney, Jr.||RS Freshman||5'11||212|
|22||Mitchell Harger||RS Senior||5'10||200
And we start with the strongest unit, led by returning Freshman All-American Mike Warren, who looks to piggy back off a stellar first-year campaign in which he rushed for 1,339 yards, and was the bell-cow back in 2015.
The biggest question mark is who fills Joshua Thomas’s void from last year? Sheldon Croney is the front-runner for the No. 2 spot, and Mitchell Harger shined in the spring game (although it was just a spring game). Don’t sleep on incoming freshman David Montgomery, whose 225-pound frame could be that short yardage back that we have needed for quite some time.
Wide Receivers – B-Minus
|WR (X)||5||Allen Lazard||Junior||6'5||223|
|14||Darius Lee-Campbell||RS Soph||6'2||214|
|18||Hakeem Butler||RS Freshman||6'6||202|
|WR (M)||19||Trever Ryen||RS Junior||5'11||190|
|WR (Z)||13||Dondre Daley||RS Senior||6'2||191|
Another unit with one stud and a lot of unknowns. Allen Lazard looks to take that next step into elite Big 12 receiver territory in his junior campaign. Keep in mind though, Campbell is not a spread-it-out and chuck-it-deep kind of guy. He likes to control the clock and manage possessions on the ground. With that being said, Lazard will see most of the targets come his way, even with double coverage.
The two players that will most likely take that pressure off Lazard are Dondre Daley and Trever Ryen. Daley is a stick-figure type-body that needs to bulk up his frame, but has the speed and quickness for underneath and bubble routes. Ryen is a jack-of-all trades athlete, evident by his "M" position, and will disguise the offense by playing in the backfield and going in motion.
Behind these top three is anyone’s guess. Carson Epps has been raved about in spring ball, and there are good things we’ve heard about Darius Lee-Campbell. Keep an eye on incoming transfer Marchie Murdock and 6-foot-6 Hakeem Butler. Both could step up for this team in 2016.
Quarterback - C
|QB||7||Joel Lanning||RS Junior||6'2||232|
Joel Lanning leads the charge at quarterback, and is the clear-cut starter for the first game under the lights against UNI. Lanning showed glimpses of greatness last year, but also was consistently inconsistent. He has yet to master the different level of throws to be called an above-average quarterback, and tends to tuck the ball and run too quickly. Backing him up will be incoming transfer Jacob Park, who started his career at Georgia. Zeb Noland will wear the redshirt this season, and it would be an absolute travesty if he takes it off this year.
Tight End – D-Plus
|TE||88||Justin Chandler||RS Senior||6'4||266|
We move into the death valley of complete mysteries – in other words, the tight end position. At Toledo last year, Campbell’s tight ends caught all of 27 passes. At ISU, it was an abysmal SIX. I see Chandler starting, only because he has been with the program longer, and he is the prototypical blocking tight end. Fernandez, a JUCO recruit is a bit faster and will be more utilized in the passing game. Your guess is as good as mine, but my look into the future is at least double digits in catches for this group.
Offensive Line - D
|LT||67||Jake Campos||RS Junior||6'8||297|
|79||Shawn Curtis||RS Junior||6'5||290|
|LG||62||Nick Fett||RS Senior||6'7||313|
|Center||51||Julian Good-Jones||RS Freshman||6'5||270|
|53||Patrick Scoggins||RS Senior||6'1||293|
|RG||53||Patrick Scoggins||RS Senior||6'1||293|
|RT||56||Jaypee Philbert, Jr.||RS Junior||6'5||314|
|74||Bryce Meeker||RS Freshman||6'5||303|
And we end with the unit with the most question marks - offensive line. Our bookend tackles are set in stone with Campos and Philbert, but backing them up are two players in Shawn Curtis and Bryce Meeker who have no experience on a Big 12 football field. The loss of Daniel Burton (quite possibly best run-blocker) and a utility man in Jacob Dunning completely stripped this group of any depth.
It appears as though we will garner some help with JUCO additions Oge Udeogu and Karson Green, but both will take awhile to grasp the speed and complexity of the game. A shoe-in at guard is Nick Fett, and the rest is all up in the air.
The bottom line, where the offensive line goes, so does the offense. Tom Manning has his work cut out for him, and can't afford any attrition with injuries moving forward. The good thing is with this offense and its running style, it is much easier to teach run-blocking over pass-blocking.
All in all, these 2016 Cyclones have three of the best playmakers they've had since the Sage/Ennis/JJ days. Remember, that team went 9-3 in 1999-2000, and all were peaking at the same time (senior years). All three (Lazard, Warren and Lanning) have at least two years of eligibility left.
The most important question is who do they have behind them. There will need to be role players that can step up when their name is called, and I look for the offensive line to be the biggest factor moving forward for the 2016 season.