We’ve already given you our “glass half-full” and “glass half-empty” outlook on the football season. Now, it’s time to take the engineer’s approach and realize the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. Let’s take a look at the upcoming football season and figure out what really needs to happen for 2017 to be a successful season, what would make it an outstanding season, and what would make this a season sent down from the football deities themselves.
First and foremost, Iowa State will need consistent production out of David Montgomery, Jacob Park, Allen Lazard, Deshaunte Jones and the offensive line.
The most important need in the “needs” section is consistent play from Jacob Park. He has a ton of talent and can really sling the ball. At times he showed arm strength, vision, and accuracy needed to be a legitimate NFL prospect after this season. Park also does an extremely good job at keeping his eyes downfield when under pressure or outside of the pocket. If the Cyclones can get end-of-2016 Jacob Park for an entire season, the offense has a chance to be really, really good. A completion percentage above 60 needs to be the minimum for this offense to reach its potential.
The offensive line is the biggest question on this offense going into the season, and has been since Kelechi Osemele graduated and became one of the top 5 offensive linemen in the NFL. The line returns only two veteran presences in Jake Campos and Robby Garcia, but does feature some promising young talent, highlighted by Julian Good-Jones, Sean Foster, and Bryce Meeker. Offensive line coach Tom Manning showed off some of his wizardry last year, turning a hopeless mish-mosh of lineman into an alright unit that improved tremendously throughout the year. Even average offensive line play shows improvement, and can make the offense that much more dangerous.
David Montgomery showed plenty of ability, flashing the speed, strength, vision, and pass-catching ability he was advertised to bring to the Cyclones. At minimum, he needs to duplicate his per game production to create some balance in this offense and take pressure off the passing game.
The two best, most reliable receivers on the team are are absolutely crucial to this season’s success. Allen Lazard is the closest thing to a sure bet for success and production, but that doesn’t make him any less vital to the offense. He can run every route in the book, has elite level catching ability, and creates space in the secondary for the rest of the receivers. Simply put, he’s the biggest and most consistent weapon this offense has at its disposal.
Talented sophomore slot receiver Deshaunte Jones is the guy whom most benefits from the space Lazard creates, but he is more than capable of creating his own separation or making plays in traffic. His skill set and superior athleticism allow him to be the short yardage/dink-and-dunk threat the passing game needs to achieve balance and take pressure off Lazard.
Undoubtedly, the defensive line and linebackers are the two biggest questions marks. Both groups have minimal returning experience and a lot of unknowns. JaQuan Bailey returns on the defensive line to improve on his promising freshman season, along with J.D. Waggoner and Vernel Trent. Eyimoa Uwazurike, Kamilo Tongamoa (whenever he shows up), Matt Leo, and Ray Lima are all newcomers, but are all highly regarded by the coaching staff. At minimum, the defensive line needs some improvement from Bailey, as well as at least one of the newcomers to produce at a Big 12 caliber level.
With Joel Lanning moving to linebacker and receiving rave reviews from coaches through spring camp and summer workouts, one can’t help but feel at least a little better about the linebacker group going into the season. That said, this group could make some fans a bit nervous at times. Willie Harvey and Reggan Northrup have flashed some ability, but are inconsistent, especially in pass coverage.
Spring camp surprise Marcel Spears Jr. has the opportunity to make this a solid unit. The coaching staff has been high on Spears since spring practice, and last season he showed some potential to be an asset in defending the running game. Defending the run was a weak point of last year’s defense, so Spears’ added contribution could be very important.
Colin Downing has been the model of consistency during his time at Iowa State and has been one of Iowa State’s greatest assets on special teams. He’s another near-sure-thing for this team, but he needs to be consistent. Field position will be extremely important to maintain given the inexperience on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps.
Overall (Schedule & Record)
The 2017 schedule doesn’t leave much room for mistakes, so games against UNI, Akron, and Kansas should and must be easy wins. After this, the debate about what defines a good season becomes much more dependent on individual optimism. Is a bowl berth necessary to be able to say this program took another step forward? Lost in last year’s record was a handful of close losses which could be attributed to a new coaching staff and a lack of experience throughout most position groups. Baylor and Oklahoma State should have been wins, UNI was clearly a fluke, and the Iowa game is much, much closer if we play them in October or November rather than week 2.
Given the upgrades in talent at almost every position group and the entire coaching staff returning (!!!!) a marked up-tick in quality of play and ability to close out games can be expected. Now, to find those three wins. To my calculations, only Oklahoma and Oklahoma State remain distant long-shot victories. West Virginia is also a tall task, but slightly more winnable than OU or the Pokes.
Iowa, Taco Tech, and Baylor represent the best opportunities on the schedule to grab those three wins. TCU is coming off a down year, but looks to be very talented. Farmageddon vs. K-State is always close, leaving us an opportunity to steal a win, but Snyder-ball somehow finds a way to destroy all happiness. Nobody has a clue what a Thursday night game at Jack Trice against Texas is going to look like. The Longhorns will undoubtedly improve under Tom Herman, but weird shit happens in night games at Jack Trice and this will be the new coach’s first Big 12 game.
The 2017 offense has the talent needed to be one of, if not the, best in Cyclone football history. Hakeem Butler started his career off with a sensational one-handed touchdown grab against UNI and showed some promise as a deep threat opposite Allen Lazard. If he can improve his route running and add some more intermediate routes to his route tree, he can create a great deal of space on the opposite side of the field and punish the Big 12’s smaller cornerbacks, hopefully eating up a safety on the deep routes as well.
David Montgomery can be the three-down workhorse back the Cyclones have been missing since Alexander Robinson, but Mike Warren returning to the form we saw in his incredible freshman season would be a huge boon to the offense, allowing for two-back sets and possibly giving Montgomery more opportunities to line up in the slot and take advantage of his pass catching abilities.
Before a string of bad luck, Chase Allen was on track to start at tight end last year. After redshirting, Allen seems poised to make a name for himself in the offense that has essentially ignored the position for the last two seasons following the departure of E.J. Bibbs. Anything he adds to the offense would be an improvement for the position. Seriously. Anything. However, given Allen’s athleticism, height, and receiving ability, it’s fair to expect him to be a significant contributor on an offense already gifted with a ton of weapons.
Iowa State’s secondary will be strongest unit on next year’s defense. My want here is not for the secondary to continue to play well, but for them to actually reach their potential. Brian Peavy can be a lockdown corner. No doubt about it. He is a certified, grade-A badass. He’s athletic, has great range, and isn’t afraid to drop his shoulders and lay someone out. DeAndre Payne is similarly talented and versatile enough to play the star position as well.
Kamari Cotton-Moya (as much as I hate to use this comparison) has a whole lot of Bob Sanders in him. He’s good in coverage, but his real strength is run support and making some poor slot receiver poo himself when he makes the mistake of trying to catch something in the middle of the field. Grad-transfers Reggie Wilkerson and Everett Edwards finish out the secondary with a plethora of talent and experience.
However, the biggest “want” on defense is for all the incoming defensive lineman to live up to their potential. Kamilo Tongamoa, Matt Leo, Ray Lima, and Eyimoa Uwazurike all have the potential to be high caliber players. If this group can play up to it’s potential, it will be the best and deepest defensive line the Cyclone faithful have seen in a very long time.
Cole Netten was Mr. Reliable at kicker, including an astonishing 94% success rate last season. Now, grad transfer Garrett Owens will take over. Assuming he make all of his PATs (which any kicker worth a damn will), an 80% or higher success rate would do the job and make pretty much everyone happy.
Kene Nwangwu proved to be one of the most dynamic kick returners in the conference last season, highlighted by a kick return TD in the last game against West Virginia. However, coming off an Achilles injury, it’s difficult to tell how long it will be before he can fully show off the lightning speed he showed last season. Assuming it takes him a little bit to regain confidence in his ankle (a legitimate psychological hurdle for those who come back from major knee and ankle injuries) and shake the rust off, a simple return to his 2017 form would be a big victory for the kick return unit.
Overall (Schedule & Record)
Here’s where we get to find out how quickly this program is improving. Given victories over UNI, Akron, and Kansas, along with three wins out of Iowa, Baylor, Texas Tech, and Texas, that puts us at six wins. Taking the fourth game out of that group would get us to 7 wins, which would exceed any reasonable fan’s expectations for this season and indicate that the program is really starting to turn the corner.
Cherries on Top
Disclaimer: This section is where we get to daydream a little bit.
Given the loads of talent this team has at the receiver and running back positions, a top half Big 12 quarterback (that felt weird to type), it seems the real key to this becoming an elite offense is the offensive line. Say Campos keeps doing what he does and the young talent fulfills their potential; that changes this from “hopefully they look like they deserve to play Power 5 football” to a legitimate top-half of the conference offensive line, and Tom Manning gets an offer to coach the Browns.
The final cherry on top would be to actually see some significant production out of the rest of the receiving corps. Notice I said production and not talent. I’m talking about putting up numbers beyond 2 catches for 18 yards. Between returners Carson Epps and Marchie Murdock, sneaky fast gym-rat Trever Ryen, and newcomer Matthew Eaton, Jacob Park will have more receiving options than he’ll know what to do with. With Ryen playing opposite Deshaunte Jones, the Cyclones have four good-to-elite receivers starting the game, and worthy reinforcements to back them up.
Overall (Schedule & Record)
GUESS WHAT. WE’RE GOING TO BEAT OKLA-F******-HOMA. SUCK IT SWITZER.