- The spotlight will be on quarterback Brock Purdy this year, but Iowa State's success will hinge on a defensive unit that led the Big 12 last season.
Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which will be collected here. Next up, it's No. 23 Iowa State.
THE BIG STORY
Can Iowa State make a serious run at the school's first Big 12 title? The Cyclones face uphill climbs against Texas and Oklahoma, but coach Matt Campbell has the program's best team in two decades. Coming off two straight eight-win seasons, the Cyclones are the rare Big 12 team that's built to stop the high-powered spread offenses that populate the conference.
The Cyclones boasted the conference's top defense last year. No player was more dominant than defensive end Jaquan Bailey, who as a junior terrorized opposing backfields with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Powerful off the edge, Bailey was a big reason why Iowa State ranked ninth nationally in yards allowed per rush (3.26). He's already the best defensive end the Cyclones have ever had.
After a 1–3 start in 2018, quarterback Brock Purdy stepped in and led Iowa State to a 7–2 finish. He's poised for big things in his second year, but he lost his top receiver, Hakeem Butler, to the NFL. Who will emerge as Purdy's top target? It may turn out to be sure-handed tight end Charlie Kolar, who caught three TDs as a freshman last season.
The spotlight in Ames will be on Purdy and the offense, but Iowa State's success will hinge on a defensive unit that led the Big 12 last season. Three-year starter Willie Harvey is gone at linebacker, but Marcel Spears Jr., who had 69 tackles last season, is the heartbeat of the front seven, patrolling the middle of the field with a ferocity perhaps unmatched in the conference. The senior is a true sideline-to-sideline linebacker, with the speed to chase backs and the frame to bully tight ends, a key role against the spread offenses of the Big 12. Spears is such a difference-maker at the position that he will make-or-break the season for the defense-first Cyclones.
OVER OR UNDER?
Over 8 wins. The Cyclones should be favorites in every game before their Nov. 9 date in Norman. A 10-win season is within reach.
THE BOTTOM LINE
They are still a few good recruiting classes away from seriously challenging the Sooners and Longhorns in the Big 12, but there's no doubt that the Cyclones are one of the country's programs on the rise.