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Football

WILLIAMS: Biggest concern about football going forward

Storylines galore.

That’s the theme of spring football, 2016 that will kick off next Tuesday in Ames. Coaching changes tend to create a fresh feel around a program but most of the time, the cupboard is pretty empty for the new guy. 

I don’t exactly see that being the case for Matt Campbell in 2016. 

On the offensive side of the football (which is what I am going to focus on today), there is optimism at quarterback (Joel Lanning), a stacked group of wide receivers (ever hear of Allen Lazard?) and one of the top running backs in the Big 12 (Mike Warren ran for more yards as a freshman than anybody else last season) returning. 

To this hack blogger, with a more favorable schedule compared to recent years, this looks like an Iowa State football team that could realistically compete to go to a bowl game in year one of the Matt Campbell era. 

However, there is one gaping hole in the roster and depending on whom you ask, it comes at the single most important position unit on the field. 

I’ll be brutally honest with you here: I have absolutely no idea what this staff is going to do with what they’ve been given on the offensive line. On paper, it might be the single worst offensive line in power five football heading into the spring. 

Jake Campos is the only returning starter from last year’s final game. Add Jaypee Philbert and Nick Fett and you have THREE Cyclones who were on that specific two-deep that are still with the program and ready to lace up their sneakers for spring ball. 

There’s another side to this: Maybe starting from scratch up front good thing. In the 2015 college football season, Iowa State ranked 126th of 127 teams in sacks allowed at 3.50 per game. Only UTSA (who?) was worse.

That is historically bad. So is it an awful thing that essentially none of those guys are coming back? 

The problem this new staff is going to have is finding enough warm bodies to work with.

Losing Tyler Catalina to Georgia late was a cheap shot to the back of the knee. He was a locked in starter at tackle. 

The attrition of Daniel Burton was a dagger in the offseason. Nick Severs had been groomed to replace Jamison Lalk at center. He left. Jacob Dunning wouldn’t have started next year but as I reported last week, the fifth-year senior would have at least provided some depth and his career has come to an end.

What’s the plan?

A few nuggets for you guys based off of conversations with well-placed sources within the program…

*** The new staff’s theory on the offensive line is pretty simple: It’s like a puzzle. Sometimes you have to move things and in this case, big dudes, around. That’s what they intend to do. How will it work? Stay tuned.

*** An example: Shawn Curtis, a junior, has played sparingly so far during his career where he has exclusively been a tackle. That’s a guy that the new staff could look to move inside. I’ve heard the same thing said about sophomore Kory Kodanko.

*** Two guys who the Rhoads staff was in love with are absolutely going to have to play next year – those men being Bryce Meeker and Julian Good-Jones. They had solid redshirt campaigns and like the Rhoads staff, Campbell’s group thinks they can be cornerstones of this line for years to come. You’d rather to not have to throw them to the wolves immediately though…

*** Specifically on Good-Jones, the new staff loves his position flexibility. He’s a natural tackle but I’ve heard he can play center as well. They really like this kid.

***Nick Fett, who earned a scholarship in the offseason, is exclusively a guard.

*** I’m curious about the center position. Patrick Scoggins, a midyear JUCO from 2015 who blew out his ACL in fall camp, is a total unknown. Nobody can predict if he will be the same guy. It’s hard to know how good he was before the injury as JUCO linemen often take a decent while to develop. The guy I would probably pencil in as the early favorite to start here is midyear JUCO Karson Green. He is already on campus and will benefit greatly from a full spring and offseason. 

*** Keep an eye on the name Breion Creer, a former defensive line walk-on who the staff has moved to the other side of the ball. My guess is that he will provide depth at tackle or center in the fall. 

Final analysis

Back to that stat about Iowa State being ranked second-to-last nationally in sacks giving up a year ago…

You know who had the second best number in that category with only .42 sacks allowed per game?

Toledo. 

This a less than idea situation for an offensive coaching staff that is obsessive about line play but they appear to be up for the challenge. We’ll see.

The big fear I have here is that across the board, this team is going to be ready to compete for a bowl game next year except at this one position. 

It’s a good thing the season doesn’t start for six months.