Yesterday, we talked with the glass half full, and today we go with half empty.
Matt Campbell has brought in a lot of new players in his last two recruiting classes, but will they live up to the hype? It usually takes a few years for 18- and 19-year olds and their lights to turn on. Big 12 football is faster, the players are bigger, and that playbook is always a challenge.
The good thing is we haven’t seen the attrition from previous years, with players leaving the program and 4- and 5-year student-athletes hanging it up, but there are still a lot of unknowns with this roster.
If you’ve ever heard Coach Campbell speak, he preaches doing things the right way – and that doesn’t happen overnight.
Here are FIVE reasons to be not-so-optimistic about the 2017 season.
OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE LINE
I’m going to get straight to it – you win and lose games in the trenches. Iowa State has a plethora of outstanding skill position players (on both sides of the ball), but they’re lacking consistent talent on both lines.
The offensive line lost FOUR starters from a year ago, and we’ll see if Jake Campos can come back to full strength after a broken leg. Hell, if the season started today, Robby Garcia (a former defensive tackle) will be starting at offensive guard for the Cyclones. That’s crazy.
The defensive line lost two of their best in the interior (Demond Tucker and Jhaustin Thomas), and every day I don’t see Kamilo Tongamoa on campus makes me go to the fridge for another beer. While I pull for these guys, both J.D. Waggoner and Spencer Benton (listed as possible defensive end starters) weigh in at a paltry 248 pounds. That just isn’t going to cut it at the Big 12 level.
Quite possibly the weakest position group of all is the second line of defense for the Cyclones. Willie Harvey, bless his heart, played as hard as he could last year, and it still wasn’t enough. Reggan Northrup has been replaced by redshirt sophomore Marcel Spears, Jr., and it got to be so bad that we moved last year’s opening day starting quarterback to linebacker.
It’s all up to you, LANRAM.
YOUTH ON ROSTER
I touched about this briefly in the opening. It will take a few years for Campbell’s recruits to become household names, as well as time in the weight room building their bodies into Big 12 shape.
Looking at the depth chart, I counted 11 high school recruits (not counting transfers) from the 2016 recruiting class in the 2-deeps. That’s astounding. We haven’t even seen any names from the 2017 class, but if you read my article from earlier this summer, you can see there are many more who are too good NOT to be on the field.
So, what does this mean?
Well, when your talent is green, you go out and get JUCOs and transfers – and that’s exactly what Coach Campbell did, ala Ray Lima, Kamilo Tongamoa (fingers crossed), Matt Leo, Reggie Wilkerson, and Mackenro Alexander.
The great Wally Burnham said it best: “For as long as a player was in a JUCO program, it takes just as long to get him out of it.”
Or something like that.
We will see if defensive coordinator Jon Heacock can make lemonade out of lemons in the next month.
KAMILO TONGAMOA SHOWING UP
I’m going to beat this dead horse like its never been beaten more.
This team can ill afford to lose anybody (I mean anybody) on its defensive line at the moment. At the time of writing this, the highest-ranked recruit in Iowa State’s 2017 class is still MIA.
Campbell touched on this the moment he set foot in Texas for Big 12 Media Days.
“He’s finishing up some course work and we hope to have him here before the start of camp,” said Campbell. “I don’t have any worries, he’ll be on our campus at some point.”
Now, take a deep dive into that last comment. Campbell is very careful about how he words things to the media. “On campus” are the words you want to hone in on. He didn’t say on the field, just on campus. It sounds like Tongamoa will make it to Ames at some point, but the 6-foot-5, 320-pound defensive tackle will be completely behind the eight ball, if (and when) he does finish classes.
Enter the example of Cameron Lard. If Tongamoa is unable to complete his course work in time, he will still be on campus, just not playing for the Cyclones in 2017. Then, he’ll have to wait until the next year…
“ONE TRUE CHAMPION” SCHEDULE
The Big 12 prides itself on having “One True Champion,” and that involves a round-robin schedule with a plethora of perennial powerhouses. Add in Iowa, and ISU is guaranteed a top-10 spot in one of the toughest schedules each and every year. I’m not making any excuses, it’s just the way the cookie crumbles.
There are still a lot of question marks for some Big 12 teams, but there are also many that have had their way with ISU over the years. Kansas State (great matchup for the Clones) is back up to where they used to be talent-wise, Oklahoma State (beatable the last two years) should be a front-runner along with Oklahoma (never takes their foot off the gas vs. ISU) for conference champs.
It comes down to winning the games you’re supposed to win, and for ISU to make a bowl game, it will have to do that and steal one away from another opponent when everyone least expects it.