The football season is on the cusp of finally returning after a slight extension of the offseason thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes it incited in the 2020 season.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 will not play, but Iowa State and the Big 12 are ready to go as teams play their first and last games against a team out of their conference.
For the Cyclones, that is Louisiana — a team that beat up on small conference teams last season on its way to an 11-3 record.
Offense taking strides
The end of the 2019 football season marked the end for many Iowa State football careers. On the offensive end especially, Iowa State would have to find replacements at many offensive line spots and receiver spots.
Despite the new faces, the offensive line has made a solid impression on their signal caller.
"I think from summer till now they all collectively have grown," junior quarterback Brock Purdy said. "[...] Trevor Downing and Colin Newell have done a great job of having that experience and helping out everyone else."
Downing and Newell are the two returning members that started games on the offensive line last year, but with both of them in interior roles, the tackles were completely vacated with the losses of Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker.
Away from the line, the receiving core has been talked about with the same praise Purdy gave the offensive line, this time by Purdy, Head Coach Matt Campbell and members of that wide receiver room.
"I'm really confident in the receivers," Purdy said. "Obviously with the addition of Xavier Hutchinson and guys growing and stepping up like Sean Shaw and Darren Wilson and Tarique Milton, Landen Akers, you name it."
Purdy also commented on their physical developments along with a growth in maturity, citing new strength coach Dave Andrews as someone who has helped with that.
The third-year quarterback and his coach said maturity and skill weren't the only indicators of how the offense will be ready for the season, but also that the offense has done a good job meshing together, whether it be with a second full year of Tom Manning or off-the-field relationships — something Purdy said was important between him and his offensive line.
Lewis holds the key
The football season is coming and with it comes Big 12 Conference play and with Iowa State listed as the No. 23 team by the AP Preseason Poll and No. 15 among teams actually participating this fall season, Iowa State is on the map as a contender.
However, none of that starts until conference play begins Sept. 26. The first Iowa State game will be against the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana, who had a good season the year before with an 11-3 record and a bowl win.
A lot of this came from the year quarterback Levi Lewis put together.
The then-junior Lewis started all 14 games throwing for 26 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Lewis did this all with a 64.3 percent completion percentage while adding three rushing touchdowns.
"When you have a quarterback that can take advantage of that run game, you get the extra hat in and all of a sudden you have open players all over the field," Campbell said. "That's where Levi is so impressive is he's always making the right decision and dispersing the ball where it needs to go."
The left-handed Lewis adds some rushing to the table, but his strength came from his arm and his accuracy for Louisiana. Pairing his ability to throw the ball with a rushing game that scored 42 rushing touchdowns in 2019 is what will put pressure on Iowa State's defense.
Tight ends add depth and experience
The new faces in the wide receiver and offensive line groups could make it hard for Purdy and the Cyclones to mesh right away, but the tight ends could be the remedy for that.
In 2019, tight end Charlie Kolar took a leap forward and cemented his name among the top tight ends in college as he hauled in 51 receptions for seven touchdowns and 697 yards.
Behind him were Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner, who both return in 2020 as two solid depth pieces at a loaded position for the Cyclones.
Allen was originally in a fight for the starting job and would regularly run two tight end sets with Kolar, while Soehner filled in when needed as well.
All three caught passes from Purdy last season and with them returning, it could relieve some pressure on the junior quarterback.
"I think that us being so mature is gonna help bridge the gap kind of," Soehner said.
Soehner only caught seven receptions in 2019, but the redshirt senior scored a touchdown and totaled over 100 yards with those catches.
Allen's 17 receptions and two touchdowns were a little more involved than Soehner and while battling injuries, Allen added tight end depth behind the big year Kolar had.
With the first game approaching, Purdy will be looking for playmakers and the mesh of the tight end room could be something he leans on against Louisiana.