Another year, another .500-or-below start to the season for Iowa State.
With the loss to the Baylor Bears on Saturday, Iowa State dropped to 2-2 on the season and 0-1 in the Big 12, a frustrating start for a team that came into the season harboring aspirations of a trip to Dallas. This loss was especially frustrating for Cyclone fans as the win was firmly in Iowa State's grasp after a 20-point comeback, only for Baylor freshman kicker John Mayers to hit a late field goal.
But given the trajectory of Iowa State's teams under Matt Campbell, I don't see it as an issue — yet.
Campbell has made the point countless times that he wants Iowa State to be a developmental program. To his and the school's credit, the Cyclones have done a good job of it over the past four years, even making noticeable improvements in 2016 when the team finished 3-9 and lost to Northern Iowa in Campbell's first game with the team.
In 2017, Iowa State was 2-2 entering October, when the Cyclones captured the win that began their rise to becoming the trendy Big 12 Championship pick — a famous 38-31 victory over No. 4 Oklahoma on the road.
The Cyclones lost three games the rest of the season and had the Cyclones' best record (8-5) since 2000, when Dan McCarney's team went 9-3.
In 2018, Iowa State got off to a much worse start, losing 13-3 to Iowa and struggling with Akron before dropping two straight Big 12 games to end the month of September with a 1-3 record.
We all know what happened next. The Cyclones went 7-1 over the rest of the regular season and fell one game short of making the Big 12 Championship game, finishing 8-5 once again after a close loss to Washington State in the Alamo Bowl.
Now, Iowa State sits 2-2 again, with another eight-win season firmly in its sights as the Big 12 is in a state of transition, with four teams having new coaches and usual contenders such as West Virginia in rebuilding mode. It would be the first time Iowa State has won eight games three years in a row since Earle Bruce was the Cyclones' coach back in 1978.
Iowa State is becoming a sustainable program with a foundation of success, but why are the Cyclones consistently starting slow? A few reasons.
First of all, the Cyclones have had offensive play-calling changes in each of the past two years, with Tom Manning departing before the 2018 season and returning before this season. Switching back and forth between play-callers — although Manning and Campbell have similar offensive strategies — will lead to an adjustment period which, in both cases, led to a limited start to the season offensively.
What's different in this season's start from the last two years is the lack of a quarterback change. In 2017, Kyle Kempt kickstarted the Cyclones' season after Jacob Park was suspended indefinitely and never saw the field for Iowa State again. In 2018 it was slightly different, as an injury to Kyle Kempt and below-par performances from Zeb Noland presented an opportunity for Brock Purdy — then a true freshman — to steal the spotlight against Oklahoma State.
Always be prepared for the unpredictable, but unless something drastic changes, this season won't be turned around on a change behind center.
Likely, it'll happen naturally as the offense continues to gel together over the course of the season. Running back is a position where growth desperately needs to be seen — the by-committee approach has not been successful as of yet, and the Cyclones have been held without a 100-yard rusher. In fact, Purdy is the closest thing the Cyclones have had to a ball-carrier, reaching 75 yards against Louisiana-Monroe (when Kene Nwangwu isn't healthy).
The health of JaQuan Bailey will be key to what Iowa State does on defense. The senior has not had a sack or been on the stat sheet as much as in 2018, but he's critical to the 3-3-5 defense the Cyclones like to run. We'll know more this week, but losing him for any amount of time would be damaging.
All in all, I don't think there's too much cause for worry. I've seen this three straight years now — check back with me when November starts.