With the Big 12 Conference allowing football players to return to campus for voluntary workouts in two weeks, the likelihood of the college football season not being canceled due to COVID-19 seems likely. However, things can change depending on the case numbers.
Because football players can return to campus in two weeks, Iowa State should be able to play its regular season in full, if the university and the Big 12 Conference deem it safe to play.
If the season is played as scheduled, Iowa State could win eight or nine games and could reach heights it hasn’t before.
Iowa State looks like it’ll be one of the best teams in the Big 12 and may make the program’s first Big 12 Championship Game appearance.
This is because of its defense (that finished in the top half of the Big 12 scoring defense and total defense) returning seven starters. Iowa State is also returning offensive weapons All-Big 12 Coaches Second Team junior quarterback Brock Purdy, two All-Big 12 tight ends in redshirt senior Chase Allen and redshirt junior Charlie Kolar and All-Big 12 Coaches Second Team sophomore running back Breece Hall.
However, it’ll have some tough matchups to get through and will need to avoid a costly upset.
So let’s look at each of the Cyclones' 12 games and forecast how difficult those matchups will be in my opinion.
Note: The games are ranked from least difficult to most difficult
Sept. 5: vs. South Dakota
For the Cyclones to start the season off on the right foot, it needs to come out strong against the South Dakota Coyotes.
In the last four seasons, South Dakota has a 1-3 record against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents, with a win against Bowling Green in 2017. In 2018, South Dakota gave the Kansas State Wildcats a run for its money, leading at halftime 24-12, but would lose 27-24.
Seventeen of 22 starters from the Coyotes roster return from last season's 5-7 team and should improve.
However, the Cyclones' talent should be too much for the Coyotes.
Sept. 19 vs. UNLV
University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) is a rebuilding program. UNLV has won just 20 of its 60 games in the last five seasons.
This season, they have a new head coach in Marcus Arroyo. Arroyo should lead UNLV to three to five wins this season.
One of those wins will probably not come against Iowa State.
Iowa State should control this game.
Oct. 3: at Kansas
It’s still too early to tell if second-year head coach Les Miles, who won the 2007 BCS National Championship at LSU, will turn around this struggling program.
Kansas has finished in the bottom half of the Big 12 for the last decade and that probably won’t change in 2020.
While it does have 1,000-yard rusher Pooka Williams, there doesn’t appear to be enough talent to keep up with Iowa State in this game.
Sept. 26 vs. Texas Tech
The Texas Tech Red Raiders have almost always been an offensive juggernaut and this season should be no different. Texas Tech returns three out of their four wide receivers and starting quarterback redshirt sophomore Alan Bowman will come back healthy this season.
Defensively, the Red Raiders have struggled, giving up 30.3 points per game, which was ninth out of ten in the Big 12 last season. With the departure of All-Big 12 selections linebacker Jordyn Brooks and safety Douglas Coleman, the Red Raiders' defense will likely struggle again.
The Red Raiders finished 4-8 but will improve and have the potential to return. Their offense should pose a threat to Iowa State’s defense, but their defense may struggle to contain the Cyclones’ offense.
Nov. 27: vs. West Virginia
Last season, the West Virginia Mountaineers were a young team with a new head coach in Neal Brown.
However, the Mountaineers were competitive in Brown’s first season as they nearly earned a spot in a bowl game (finished 5-7, needed to be 6-6 to make a bowl game) and lost their last two out of three games of the season by seven points or less.
While there are some questions about their running game (averaged only 2.63 yards per rush), they’ll have a good passing attack with redshirt junior quarterback Jarret Doege returning and a solid group of young wide receivers.
Their defense remains mostly intact, with the cornerback position being the only spot with questions heading into the season. Their defense will likely be the strength of the team.
Because of their potentially high-quality passing game and their unproven backfield, West Virginia will likely perform well at home. Still, it should struggle on the road against good defenses.
Nov. 7: at TCU
After winning at least 11 games three seasons in a row, Texas Christian University (TCU) has gone 12-13 in the past two seasons.
Six starters on offense and five starters on defense are gone from last season's team, which makes improving drastically from their 4-8 season last year a difficult task.
TCU will be competitive in the Big 12 this year and should be in contention for a bowl game. Still, Iowa State’s experience puts them a tier above TCU.
Oct. 29: vs. Kansas State
Kansas State Head Coach Chris Klieman had the best season among the four first-year coaches in the Big 12, leading Kansas State to an 8-5 record. Kansas State should have one of the better defenses in the Big 12 once again, which will keep them in most games.
However, Kansas State is losing all five of its starting offensive lineman from last season and their top two running backs, which likely lead to losses in road games against teams with a good defense, like Iowa State.
This game should be a somewhat low scoring contest that could be decided by one possession. Coming off of a bye week, Iowa State is more likely to come out on top in this one.
Nov. 7: vs. Baylor
Baylor has lost Head Coach Matt Rhule, wide receiver Denzel Mims and defensive tackle James Lynch to the NFL, as well as nine out of its top 11 tacklers from last season.
However, Baylor returns enough talent on offense that it should give Big 12 defenses something to worry about — their top two running backs and two out of their three wide receivers.
Baylor’s defense could struggle to keep offenses like Oklahoma’s, Oklahoma State’s and Iowa State’s in check. However, their offense could lead them to still finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12.
This game will be intense as both teams seem to not like one another.
This seems like the kind of game where Iowa State can't afford to lose in order to get to the Big 12 Championship.
Sept. 12: at Iowa
Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell has yet to get his first win against in-state rival Iowa in four seasons.
Iowa returns four out of five of its starting offensive lineman from last season and has a strong group of receivers returning, which should give Iowa State’s defense a challenge.
While Iowa State’s offensive line only returns only two players with starting experience — redshirt junior Colin Newell and redshirt sophomore Trevor Downing — they could be able to hold up well against Iowa, as Iowa is losing three starters on the defensive line.
This game could go either way because these two teams seem to be evenly matched.
Nov. 14: at Texas
This game, along with the one listed below, could go a long way in deciding who makes it to the 2020 Big 12 Championship (to likely face Oklahoma).
Texas returns a lot of talent on offense, including All-Big 12 senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who is ranked as the 63rd best NFL draft prospect (around 240 players get picked in the draft each year) in the 2021 class, according to CBS Sports.
On defense, the Longhorns are only losing three starters from last season's squad that finished in the bottom half of the Big 12 in points allowed and yards allowed.
The improvement (or potentially the lack thereof) of the Texas defense could make the difference in this one.
The Cyclones haven’t won in Austin, Texas, since 2010.
Oct. 10: at Oklahoma State
This matchup is the first of Iowa State’s toughest two games of the season.
Oklahoma State’s offense is going to be one of the best in the Big 12 as they return the Big 12’s leading rusher from last season, senior Chuba Hubbard, who rushed for 2,094 rushing yards and scored 21 touchdowns, and senior wide receiver Tylan Wallace, who finished fourth in the Big 12 in receiving yards with 903 receiving yards in nine games.
Sophomore quarterback Spencer Sanders is also expected to make another stride after throwing for 2,065 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Oklahoma State returns almost all of its starters from a 2019 team that gave up 26.8 points per game on defense, which was fifth in the Big 12.
The last five matchups in this series have been high scoring (both teams scoring 30 points or more) and all have been decided by one possession. 2020 should be no different.
Oct. 17: vs. Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Sooners have won the last five Big 12 Championships and they have remained to be the team to beat in the Big 12.
Oklahoma averaged 42.1 points per game, which led the Big 12 and was sixth out of 130 in the NCAA.
While talented quarterback Jalen Hurts and wide receiver CeeDee Lamb are both gone to the NFL, Head Coach Lincoln Riley has had to replace highly talented players in years past and has been successful.
Their offensive line will probably be the best in the Big 12 and one of the best in the NCAA, which should give freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler time to find his talented group of receivers.
Oklahoma’s defense should have some new pieces on the defensive line and at linebacker, which Iowa State should take advantage of in Ames. Still, Oklahoma’s offense has the talent to overpower most defenses, potentially Iowa State’s.