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5 Things Iowa State Football Has to Accomplish to Reach a Bowl Game in 2017

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We are five months away from gameday, and licking our chops (and Natty Lites) for this upcoming season!

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Kansas
Captain Campbell is ready to shake things up in the Big 12
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Expectations for football at Iowa State typically revolve around one thing and one thing only — reaching a bowl game.

After last year’s 3-9 record, it seemed as though the Matt Campbell kool-aid drinkers sat their glasses down and looked at them half empty.

In the words of Lee Corso (who is clearly 25 years past his prime and needs to quit before he blurts out any more F-bombs): Not so fast, my friend!

While Iowa State lost a few key contributors from last season, they have a steady crop of redshirt (and true) freshmen that are just what your local travel agent ordered. Wait, do they still have travel agents?

Anywho, here are the five most important things that Matt Campbell and his staff have to do to reach six wins and attain the ultimate goal of a bowl game in 2017.

1. Put (MORE) Points on The Board!

In the history of ISU football, the year 2016 was record-breaking from an offensive standpoint. In fact, in the Big-12 era, their yards and points per game were the best this school has ever seen.

But compared to conference foes, they were in the middle of the pack. Remember, if you want to win in the Big 12, ya gotta put up points — and lots of ‘em. ISU brings back many key playmakers from a year ago, but what’s most important to me is the play of the offensive line.

In my opinion, the Cyclones have one of the best passing quarterbacks since Seneca Wallace graced us with his presence 15 years ago. Keep Jacob Park’s jersey clean and that man will find open receivers. Pave the way for both David Montgomery and Mike Warren, and the passing windows will open like Moses through the Red Sea.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Iowa State
Take us to the Promised Land
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Reasonable Expectations for ISU in 2017

2016 Albeit a school record, the Cyclones were second-to-last in the conference with 27.7 points per game. Average bowl participants in the Big 12 were over 35 PPG!

2017 In order for ISU to start knocking on some bowl bid doors, that number needs to reach at least 32, if not 33. Just a few more open fields for Deshaunte Jones, and a few larger holes for Montgomery/Warren to run through.

2. Get off the Field on 3rd Down

There are many moving parts to accomplishing this goal. Number one, you need to limit the amount of yards gained on 1st and 2nd downs. Gone are the days of Demond Tucker and Jhaustin Thomas holding up the interior, and enter in junior college products Ray Lima and Kamila Tongomoa, who have never played a down of Power-5 football.

This primary responsibility lies on the backs of the first two lines of defense. The defensive line has added depth, and immediate production in the form of those JUCOs. As for the linebackers, the only way they can go is up. They hit rock bottom so hard, that they converted last year’s starting quarterback into the number one Mike spot. Let that sink in.

Reasonable Expectations for ISU in 2017

2016 ISU was dead last in the conference, allowing opponents to convert on 44.8% of 3rd downs. Average bowl participants in the Big 12 were at 40.7%.

2017 A reasonable expectation would be to get that number down around 41%. Literally, that averages out to one more stop for every two games. One more!

3. Rushing Offense is the Name of the Game

Coach Campbell said it clearly in his opening press conference — the teams that run the ball effectively are the ones who win in this conference. This staff prides themselves on winning in the trenches, and there isn’t a better teacher up front than offensive line coach Tom Manning.

Last year started off slow in the run game, with atrocious performances against UNI and Iowa. As the season progressed, we threw out the quarterback read and added a single-back set (with a blocker in motion), and LANRAM in short-yardage situations. It started to work, and needs to take off in 2017.

We’ve got the horses in the backfield, just need the hog mollies up front to pave the way.

Reasonable Expectations for ISU in 2017

2016 ISU was third-to-last in the conference (second-to-last if you throw out Texas Tech, who never ran), with an average of 162.8 yards on the ground. Bowl eligible teams averaged 217.

2017 I want to see that number over 200 this season!

4. Force Turnovers

Last year, ISU had a lack of depth on defense, and started the year in a very conservative base defense — a bend-but-don’t-break, if you will. As the year went on and they knew they had strength in the back end (secondary), they began to force pressure from the corners and second line of defense. What that did was force turnovers, including FIVE against San Jose State. This year, ISU still has a strong secondary with a group of veteran defensive backs who have one more year of experience under their belt.

I see some more blitzing and mixed-up schemes that will allow our speed and linebackers to rush the quarterback. Enter Joel Lanning... Just ask Texas Tech about LANRAM’s straight-ahead speed – he will be killer rushing the A-gap!

Another way to force turnovers is by way of a 4-man pressure up front. There are a bevy of defensive ends capable of becoming the next Jason Berryman (AS A PASS-RUSHER), and I don’t care which one it is.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Iowa State
Look for JaQuan Bailey to have a big season in ‘17
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Reasonable Expectations for ISU in 2017

2016 The Cyclones tied for last in the conference, forcing only 13 turnovers (4 fumbles and 9 interceptions), while the average bowl team had 22.

ISU was second-to-last (last if you don’t count Texas Tech), averaging a paltry 1.58 sacks per game. Bowl teams averaged 2.37.

2017 Let’s see if we can get that number up to 20 turnovers forced and 2+ sacks per game. Both achievable in my opinion, if we can find that ONE edge rusher…

5. Win the Games You’re Supposed to, and Steal the Ones You Aren’t

If there was one thing I was impressed by last year, it was ISU always kept the games close, no matter the competition. In fact, they lost five games by less than 10 points. Putting my betting hat on, ISU came through in flying colors. They beat the spread by an average of 4.5 points per game, and kept games within winnable margins against the likes of Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

Looking ahead to the 2017 season, there are three games that ISU is SUPPOSED to win if they want to go south in December. Those are UNI, Akron, and Kansas. Take care of business, boys.

Then there are the toss-ups. ISU has to win the 50/50 games. I categorize those games below:

Iowa at Home (lost a lot of seniors)

Texas at Home (new coach)

Texas Tech on Road (Kliff Kingsbury’s Last Stand)

TCU at Home (Fighting chance in the Jack)

Oklahoma State at Home (See above)

Kansas State on Road (Wizard Bill Snyder Effect)

Reasonable Expectations for ISU in 2017

2016 ISU got TKO’d by UNI in game one, and lost heartbreakers to Baylor and Oklahoma State. Win those three, and they would have gone bowling.

2017 Looking at the 50/50 games above, there are four sitting right there for the taking on our own home turf. A lot of what-ifs and question marks as to what our opponents will bring to the table, but again, I’m not asking for all wins, all we need is three.

NFL: Las Vegas Views
Put in your over/unders now folks, we’re going bowling!
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports