If any of you have read the Best-Selling book Good to Great, you understand the intricacies of how a business flourishes amongst the many pressures, competitors and in the later stages - ultimately dealing with success. The same can be said of a college football program. When Matt Campbell was hired on at Iowa State, he had a vision – one that started with the infamous phrase “Trust the Process.”
Well the Process has been trusted, and before the 2019 football season has even started, this program has carried with it the most hype we have ever seen. Now, I hear a lot of fans out there, holding their breath, proclaiming “I’m just waiting for a punch to the gut”, or “We’ve been here before.” That simply isn’t the case in this regime – and I am here to explain why.
Every year before the season starts I put a sticky note on my desk and write down what ISU football has to do to achieve success. In Year #1 (of the Campbell era) – the goal was to play in a bowl game; Year #2 – win a bowl game; Year #3 – Compete for a Big 12 Championship. Now in Year #4 it is WINNING a Big 12 Championship!
I have always been a realist, and never allowed my expectations to get the best of me. If you read any of my previous columns on this website, you realize I get right to the point and don’t sugar coat much. If I truly think this football team does not match up well or is unable to overcome their opposition – I will tell you. Case in point, I hate losing to the “Team Out East,” and any other diehard Cyclone fan writing previews for their HOMETOWN blog would never, ever choose their Cyclones to lose to those damn Hawks. Given the circumstances of last year’s weather cancellation in week one, the cards were stacked against us, and I picked our boys to lose.
In other words – with all the hoopla, media buzz, and crazy amount of expectations, I am confident this year will be special. Cyclone fans ENJOY THE RIDE!
REASONS WHY the 2019 Iowa State Football Team CAN WIN THE BIG 12
Every program wants to win their conference (let alone every game), but not every team is equipped with the right resources, athletic ability or roster to make it happen. This ISU team has been built from the ground up, and without question has its deepest depth chart in the history of this program.
Backup linebackers O’Rien Vance and Jake Hummel would start at other Power 5 programs, and the same could be said for defensive linemen Matt Leo and Jamahl Johnson. By sheer numbers, the recruiting classes have gotten better each and every year, and we are finally reaping the benefits.
In the Dan McCarney era, Iowa State could compete with their first 22, but if one or two players went down, the talent drop off was evident. That is simply not the case now – as Campbell and company have exploited avenues to utilize the redshirt rule of playing freshmen up to four games, and have built a solid foundation. Joel Klatt said it best at Big 12 Media Days, “Everybody has a handful of really good players, but you win and lose games with the middle of the roster. And I think for the first time you are seeing Iowa State has a legitimate middle of their roster.”
2. Quarterback Brock Purdy
Let this stat sink in
Most Iowa State QB Wins Over Conference Opponents (Since 1985)
1. Bret Meyer, 2004-07 11-20 (35.5%)
2. Seneca Wallace, 2001-02 8-8 (50%)
3. Bret Oberg, 1988-89 7-7 (50%)
4. Brock Purdy, 2018 6-1 (85.7%)
5. Alex Espinoza, 1984-86 6-8 (42.8%)
6. Sage Rosenfels, 1997-2000 6-10 (37.5%)
Everyone has been worried about the loss of Hakeem Butler and David Montgomery to the professional level, and rightly so. This Cyclone team wouldn’t be where they are today without those two. With that being said, this offense (and Big-12 winning potential) all starts and ends with the quarterback position – and Brock Purdy is up to the task.
I knew we had someone special when after two first-quarter interceptions in the Alamo Bowl, Purdy rose to the occasion. Any other true freshman would have faltered – but not this Arizona product. He went on to complete 12 of his next 13 passes, and brought Iowa State right back into the thick of the game. That takes courage and conviction, and this man has the IT FACTOR written all over him.
3. Winning in the MARGINS
Analytics are sweeping the nation, not only in the business world, but also in sports. There are a ton of key factors when it comes to winning a football game, but some of the most important (in my opinion) are as follows – third down conversions, rush offense/defense, and winning the turnover battle.
I end almost every preview with the crazy stat about Campbell’s positive correlation with winning turnovers wins games. Thus far, he is 12-3 when ISU comes out on top of the turnover battle, and 7-17 when tying or losing it.
Ever since the mad scientist Jon Heacock implemented the 3-man front, Iowa State has been one of the best at stopping the run, and was 14th in the nation last year. Not only that, but in a pass-happy league like the Big 12 Conference Heacock has been able to slow down the offensive masterminds, allowing only 5 teams in the last 22 games to score more than 24 offensive points.
I can bore you with the statistics, but the fact of the matter is – this game is razor thin in the margins. Iowa State simply does not beat themselves, and we can use the mastermind from Manhattan, KS as a perfect trend-setter – WIN THE BILL SNYDER WAY!
4. This Team Gets Better as Season Wears On
Make no mistake, the 12-game slate is grueling for any 18- to 22-year old student athlete, but ISU has done a tremendous job at making systematic changes and tailoring roles for their best players. It’s easy to say just put in different sub packages or replace a starter when he is tired. This program is to the point now that when those backups do come in, they don’t miss a beat.
We have seen improvements as the year goes along in the Campbell era, most notably during October, as ISU has knocked off two top-5 teams in successive seasons in that month. But with the kind of depth the Cyclones have, it not only keeps fresh legs on the field, it also lowers the risk of injuries.
Where this masterfully comes into play in 2019 is the schedule. If ISU can eek one out against in-state foe Iowa, they have a legitimate shot to run the table until they face Oklahoma and Texas. Now both of those games are in November, but if the momentum train gets to rolling, it will be hard to keep it off the tracks.
5. The Big 12 is DOWN this Year
Needless to say, the Big 12 has three legitimate teams who can contend for the crown – as Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State are clearly at the top. Enter in FOUR head coaches instilling their new regimes and systems, and I would say there is never a better time than now for Iowa State to take full advantage.
Everyone is picking OU as their winner, but how will Lincoln Riley fare with a new defensive coordinator AND without the services of Bob Stoops’ previous players on the roster? It is year three for Riley, and will be interesting to see how he tries to use Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts into his pass-heavy attack.
Texas is the other sleeping giant who has improved under coach Tom Herman, but lost 8 of their defensive starters from a year ago. They do have Preseason Offensive Player of the Year Sam Ehlinger, but the quarterback has never been able to play a season fully healthy.
Aside from those two games, ISU should be favored in just about every other contest. The opportunity is right in front of us.
6. Matt Campbell
How many times do you see an assistant coach leave for the NFL, only to come back a year later to the same program he left? For Tom Manning, the continuity and relationship he had with Matt Campbell was unparalleled, and there was an itch he wanted to scratch back in Ames. A Storm was brewing, and he was right.
The continuity of the coaching staff has been key for taking the next big step at Iowa State. I can’t speak higher of the administration and work Jamie Pollard has done to retain (and pay) the assistant coaching staff.
If you were to line up all conference coaches side-by-side, I would be hard-pressed to say Matt Campbell isn’t one of the best. Now match him up on the field for every game of the 2019 schedule, and chances are this 39-year old will run circles around the majority of his opposing coaches.
Advantage Iowa State
There you go – the synopsis for what can be one of the most exciting and successful seasons in school history. So do me a favor, throw the nut cups away, drink some more kool-aid, and jump along for the ride!
I’ll see you all in Dallas on December 1st for the Big 12 Championship Game!