AMES, Iowa (AP) Iowa State has been so down for so long that winning a bowl game - any bowl game - is the program's biggest goal.
The Cyclones might have enough talent to reach the postseason for the first time in five years this fall.
Iowa State (3-9 in 2016) heads into coach Matt Campbell's second season with as much skill position promise as they've had in recent memory. The Cyclones are also deep in the secondary, a must in the pass-happy Big 12, and quarterback Jacob Park locked down the starting job last fall despite hardly any previous experience.
Iowa State's biggest concern is a defensive line buoyed by junior college transfers and an offensive line that's unproven.
Still, the Cyclones haven't looked this poised to push for a bowl bid in a long time.
''The future of the program has zero to do with winning and losing,'' Campbell said. ''Obviously at the end of it, winning and losing will take care of itself. No greater competitor in this room than Matt Campbell. I'll cheat in golf if I have to to win, right? But at the end of this, the deal in football, winning and losing takes care of itself.''
Here are some of the story lines to follow as Iowa State gears up for 2017, with the Sept. 2 opener against Northern Iowa:
THEY'VE GOT SKILLS
Park, a Georgia transfer who joined Iowa State last fall, averaged 264 yards in his final five games last season and prompted the Cyclones to move deposed starter Joel Lanning to linebacker. Senior wide receiver Allen Lazard (1,018 yards receiving in 2016) headlines one of the Big 12's deepest units, and sophomore running back David Montgomery and junior Mike Warren should be a formidable duo. If Iowa State can cobble together a decent line after losing four starters, it should be able to keep up with many of the league's explosive offenses.
One of Iowa State's biggest issues historically has been a lack of push from its defensive front. For the Cyclones to prevent that from happening in 2017, they will need a trio of junior college newcomers to provide immediate contributions: Ray Lima and Kamilo Tongamoa and Matt Leo, who is 25.
The Cyclones secondary will feature a pair of Big 12 honorees from 2016: senior safety Kamari Cotton-Moya and junior cornerback Brian Peavy. Cotton-Moya had 58 solo tackles last season, sixth-best in the Big 12, to go along with a pair of interceptions. Peavy had 12 passes defended, ranking fourth in the league, and three interceptions. Starters D'Andre Payne and Evrett Edwards also return to give Iowa State one of the more experienced defensive backfields in the country.
Iowa State will be fired up to host rival Iowa - which whipped the Cyclones 42-3 last year - on Sept. 9. A Thursday night home showdown with Texas on Sept. 28 could give the Cyclones a chance to show how far they've come under Campbell, and Oklahoma State might be putting its season on the line when it visits Ames on Nov. 11. Six years ago, the Cowboys blew a shot at a national title by losing at Iowa State.
Park has a breakout season and the Cyclones get off to a fast start, winning one or two of the close ones that got away from them in 2016. Iowa State goes 6-6 and reaches a bowl, giving the program valuable extra practice time and inserting Campbell's name into the rumor mill for a more prestigious job.
''Our goal is to be Big 12 champions someday. But for us to get there, we have to learn what the process is...and I think we've laid a really good foundation,'' Campbell said.
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