For months, no one knew if college football would be taking place. The COVID-19 pandemic, the financials and the uncertainty were all one giant, dark cloud hovering over the country.
That cloud, at least temporarily, is gone.
Iowa State kicks off its season at 11 a.m. Saturday against Sun Belt conference member Louisiana at MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium.
Football is back.
Prior to the 2020 season kicking off, the four writers covering the Cyclones for the Iowa State Daily — Zane Douglas, Matt Belinson, Stephen McDaniel and Zach Martin — make their predictions for the season ahead.
All four made their predictions for who Iowa State's team MVP will be, who a backup to watch this season will be, who Iowa State's breakout player will be, what the best position group is on the Cyclones, what Iowa State's final record will be and who the Big 12 Conference champion will be.
Iowa State's MVP
Zane: Brock Purdy
I’m going to have to go with Brock Purdy here. I know there are a ton of impact players, but one of the two best quarterbacks in Iowa State history is hard to pass up.
The junior has aways to improve still, but Purdy has a chance to be drafted into the NFL after the season, and with the quarterback class as top-heavy as it is, he could be one of the first quarterbacks taken. He will lead the Cyclones as the most important and best player.
Matt: Brock Purdy
Yes, Purdy is the obvious answer here. But sometimes you don’t have to think too hard about these things.
Purdy is the end-all, be-all for how Iowa State’s 2020 season will shake out. If he repeats or possibly tops his 2019 season, the Cyclones will be flying high. If he stumbles and regresses, it's going to be a disaster.
But I think Purdy is due for a big 2020 season and will be close in the Heisman conversation come season’s end.
Stephen: Brock Purdy
As much as I don’t want to double down (or triple down) on these votes, I feel like you just have to go with Purdy for MVP here. He’s one of the best quarterbacks to have ever worn an Iowa State uniform, and he's the face of this Cyclone football team. If Iowa State really wants to take that next step this season, Purdy's performance is absolutely crucial.
Zach: Mike Rose
Give me Mike Rose for the Cyclones' MVP this season. The junior is one of the components for a deadly front seven that should have no problem getting to the quarterback this season.
Voted preseason second-team All-Big 12, Rose has consistently improved in Ames. He's posted back-to-back 75-plus tackle seasons and registered 9.5 tackles for loss in 2019. If he continues to progress, he'll be the main reason why Iowa State is in the top-10 nationally.
Backup to watch
Zane: Will McDonald IV
I think you’re a fool if Will McDonald isn’t on your radar this season. McDonald flashed his brilliance last season on the pass rush after he was moved inside and given enough reps.
McDonald was the monster that no one was talking about in the final four games, especially in the Texas, Kansas and Kansas State games in a row where he totaled five sacks and a forced fumble.
Matt: Jirehl Brock
I will go with Jirehl Brock on this one. The redshirt freshman showed flashes in almost every rush he had in 2019. Albeit, the rushes were very limited. Brock put up 48 yards on nine carries in 2019 and showed in the brief chances he got that he can be just as dynamic as Breece Hall in the backfield.
Matt Campbell always talks about how players with little experience need to take advantage of the opportunities they are given, and Brock did just that. If Campbell is true to his word, he will be giving Brock even more opportunities to shine in 2020. He was highly recruited in 2019, and Campbell will want to fit him into an offense that will be overflowing with untapped talent ready to breakout.
Stephen: Joe Scates
Give me Joe Scates here. There’s going to be some opportunities at receiver this season, but I feel that Tarique Milton, Xavier Hutchinson and Sean Shaw Jr. are going to be the ones shining out wide. Scates should come off the bench and get some reps that will provide Purdy with another reliable target.
Zach: Johnnie Lang Jr.
Switching running backs, especially with just a 53-man roster, is going to be so important for Iowa State to keep standout Hall fresh, so I'll take Johnnie Lang Jr. as a key reserve.
He separated himself from Kene Nwangwu and Brock last season to serve as the No. 2 option out of the backfield, and I expect 2020 to be similar. Lang had over 200 yards on the ground in 2019, a vast improvement from his first two years. I'd like the trend to continue, especially if Hall has to miss any time.
Time to breakout
Zane: Joey Ramos
It isn’t exactly pretty, but the breakout player for me is Joey Ramos. With the offensive line in "pick up the pieces" mode, the young lineman will likely have to fill in to an outside spot, but I think he will be much better than Cyclone fans think.
I will go as far as to say that Ramos will carry the offensive line this season — something the Cyclones would love to get out of one of their young linemen.
Matt: Tayvonn Kyle
Tayvonn Kyle come on down. Kyle emerged as one of Iowa State's best corners in the latter half of the 2019 season, and he showed his ball skill and ability to wrap up defenders in quick fashion. I like Kyle as a breakout candidate because, in year two, corners usually bring a lot more confidence with them on the field, and I think we could see the emergence of Kyle's skills in an already loaded secondary.
Stephen: Latrell Bankston
Iowa State already has some tremendous talent anchoring its defensive line, but I think the addition of Latrell Bankston will cement it as one of the best in the Big 12. Coming out of Hutchinson Community College, Bankston was not only one of the best junior college defensive tackles but one of the best junior college players in general. I think Bankston will make a huge impact for Iowa State in his first season and elevate an already great Cyclone defense.
Zach: Sean Shaw Jr.
After Milton and Hutchinson, the wide receiver group has a lot of unproven talent. They're a handful that could step out and be that third or fourth option in the offense, so I'll go with Shaw Jr. as the Cyclones' breakout player.
The true sophomore clearly developed chemistry with Purdy, catching five touchdowns in 11 games last season. He has the size to be a top-2 red-zone target and can make for a mismatch on the outside, opposite Hutchinson.
Best position group
Zane: Defensive line
In the same vein, the best position group is the defensive line. Along with McDonald, the line will have JaQuan Bailey back, plus an improving Zach Petersen, Eyioma Uwazurike and Bankston.
Finding reps on the line will be hard, but the pass rush and run defense are both well above average.
Matt: Defensive backs
Let me be clear: none of the other position groups on the Cyclones are far superior to another. I really like all of the other guys’ picks for the best position group for this season.
That being said, the defensive backs for Iowa State are criminally underrated and will prove their worth this season.
Yes, this group doesn’t have flashy interception numbers or insane five-star athletes. But this group is scrappy and has veteran leadership mixed with young talent at every position. They make tackles and hit hard. Not much more you can ask for.
A room with Lawrence White IV, Greg Eisworth II, Anthony Johnson Jr., Isheem Young, Datrone Young and Kyle — I like that group a lot.
Stephen: Tight ends
It’s pretty hard to go against tight end here, even though there’s a couple of positions that can give tight end a run for their money. Just like Purdy being one of the best quarterbacks in school history, Charlie Kolar is one of the best tight ends in school history, and right behind him are trusted veterans Dylan Soehner and Chase Allen. There’s also so much potential in that depth chart that this will be a very good position group for years to come.
Zach: Tight ends
In terms of depth, talent and potential productivity, I don't think there's a better group than the trifecta of tight ends. Kolar will be the beneficiary of a monster season from Purdy; Allen has a good chance to sneak in some really solid numbers; Soehner is just a big dude who can be put in multiple spots and be successful. All are underrated blockers as well, leading this group to being the key for Iowa State to have a productive offense.
Iowa State's record
This is an important year for Iowa State because the Big 12 is vulnerable. The Cyclones could steal some games and find themselves in a favorable position by the end of the season.
Despite this, I think it’ll be a 7-3 finish for Iowa State as two other teams — Oklahoma State and Oklahoma — get a chance at the Big 12 title.
I'd like the Cyclones to go 8-2 this year. I still think, until proven otherwise, Iowa State is not on the same level as Oklahoma and Texas in this conference. With that said, I think the Cyclones will knock off one of these top-tier teams on their way to a berth in the Big 12 title game.
I honestly feel that Iowa State can finish this season going 8-2. This all depends on if Iowa State doesn’t experience any major hiccups. The talent is there; it just comes down to the Cyclones not being their own worst enemy. If there was ever a year that the Cyclones could find themselves in the Big 12 Championship picture, 2020 would be the year.
Truly, this is the year for the Cyclones to reach the Big 12 Championship game. I think they could get there with a 9-1 record.
The offense is just too good, the defense has all the parts to be the best in the conference, the special teams unit has plenty of experience and Campbell has built it up for this year to be a special one. It's almost too perfect for Iowa State not to be in Jerry's World in December.
Big 12 Champion
Going off of my last answer, it’ll be a battle of the two Oklahoma teams in the Big 12, and it could be a close one, but the pedigree and coaching of the Sooners will take them over the edge to another conference title.
Oklahoma State is a solid team, and between the Cowboys, Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State, there are some good challengers to Oklahoma’s throne this season.
Matt: Iowa State
This has to be the year, right?
The Big 12 conference is as weak as it has been in a long time, and it seems the stars have aligned in Iowa State’s favor for the 2020 season. Yes, obviously, this year has a lot of uncertainty given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the constant week-to-week decision-making, but I think 2020 is Iowa State’s year in the Big 12.
Oklahoma should be considered the favorite because no one has proven to be a true challenger to the Sooners in a long time. Outside of Oklahoma, it’s a battle for second place, and I think the Cyclones can get into that spot with ease.
The Cyclones have talent across the board, talent that can go toe-to-toe with everyone in the Big 12. I will challenge anyone to tell me otherwise.
Sam Ehlinger of Texas is arguably the best quarterback in the Big 12, but give me Purdy over him for this season. Purdy is more athletic and has better weapons surrounding him than Ehlinger in 2020. Iowa State’s tight ends are the best in the conference, along with the Cyclones’ entire defense. And, in my opinion, Hall could overtake Pooka Williams Jr. of Kansas as the second-best running back in the Big 12 by season’s end.
I like my odds with that group.
As long as the Cyclones don’t get in their own way, the theme of the 2019 season and the previously mentioned talent on the roster continues to produce, the Cyclones will be Big 12 champions come December.
I think Iowa State will make it to the championship, but they’re going to fall to the familiar foe of the Oklahoma Sooners. Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley is no stranger to producing NFL-caliber talent, and combining that with the fact that the Sooners have historically had the upper hand on the Cyclones, I think they’ll reclaim the Big 12 Championship.
Zach: Oklahoma State
I've gone back and forth with this for the past week. I'm picking Oklahoma State to beat Iowa State and reach the College Football Playoff to represent the Big 12.
It comes down to Chuba Hubbard, who I believe is the best running back in the country this year, and that offense is capable of putting up 50 a night. The Cowboys have just too many weapons on offense, and that'll overwhelm the Cyclones.