This is the sixth installment in a 12-part series previewing the 2019 West Virginia University football opponents.
Iowa State has spent a long time hovering around the middle of the pack in the Big 12, but 2019 could be the season that all changes for the Cyclones.
Matt Campbell is entering his fourth season as the head coach at ISU, and his teams have shown the ability to battle with the league’s big boys. Campbell has also done a very good job of recruiting and attempting to change the culture around the football program in Ames, and the results showed up on the field in a big way for the Cyclones in 2018.
Last season, ISU finished 8-5 overall with a 6-3 record in the Big 12 — good enough for a third-place finish (thanks to its head-to-head tiebreaker over West Virginia) in the league. The Cyclones will have to find some players to step up and replace standout running back David Montgomery and standout receiver Hakeem Butler after both bolted early for the NFL, but the pieces Campbell has in place for 2019 should have Iowa State right back in the thick of the race for a conference championship.
Let’s take a look at the roster:
Quarterback: Sophomore Brock Purdy returns after emerging as one of the top QBs in the league last season for the Cyclones. Purdy took over as the ISU starter and led the team to a 7-2 record down the stretch along with an Alamo Bowl berth. Needless to say, Purdy is a very good quarterback and as long as he stays healthy the Cyclones should have a chance in most games.
Running back: David Montgomery is gone, a the list of names up to replace the star running back is lengthy. Kene Nwangwu, Sheldon Croney and Johnnie Lang all have playing experience, while the Cyclones will also have freshman Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock coming in with the chance to get some carries this season.
Receiver: Finding someone to step in for Butler could be a significant challenge. Butler averaged an eye-popping 22 yards per catch last season and hauled in nine touchdowns. Tarique Milton and Deshaunte Jones should see an uptick in their targets, and tight end Charlie Kolar — who caught three touchdowns last season — can play. ISU is deep at tight end with Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner. Arkansas graduate transfer La’Michael Pettway could be in the mix for playing time at receiver also.
Offensive line: All five Iowa State starters return this season. Mark that as a big win for the Cyclones going into 2019. Purdy should be well-protected.
Defensive line: This is the strongest position group on either side of the ball for Iowa State in 2019. Standout defensive end JaQuan Bailey and tackle Ray Lima lead the way, with Matt Leo, Zach Petersen and Enyi Uqazurike along with Jahmal Johnson giving the Cyclones plenty of players that can contribute on the defensive line.
Linebackers: Marcel Spears and Mike Rose — one of the top freshman defensive players in the nation last season — are back to lead this group. ISU did lose standout Willie Harvey, but Spears and Rose — behind that line — should be more than capable of picking up the slack here.
Defensive backs: Cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne will have to be replaced. The Cyclones have a pair of sophomores in Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young, who both saw playing time last season as freshmen and could take over on the outside. Strong safety Greg Elsworth was the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year in 2018, while free safety Braxton Lewis — who started all 13 games last season for ISU — is also back.
All of the specialists from last season are back for Iowa State in 2019, with walk-on kicker Connor Assalley and punter Corey Dunn both set to return.