Iowa State defensive line and linebackers rated as Big 12’s best by Athlon

One of the best times of the college football offseason is officially upon us — the release of the preseason magazines. Earlier on Wednesday, Cyclone Fanatic publisher Chris Williams noted the Cyclones’ inclusion in Athlon‘s preseason top-25 for the first time in school history, coming in at No. 24.

Now, we have gotten a chance to dive into the full magazine and that was far from the only honor the Cyclones were given by one of the format’s most prestigious publishers.

Athlon picks the Cyclones to finish third in the Big 12 standings, behind Oklahoma and Texas, while closing the regular season with an 8-4 record overall, a 6-3 mark in conference play and a trip to Orlando to play Virginia in the Camping World Bowl.

The magazine does not list projections for specific games, but one can probably assume the four losses are to Iowa, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma, the team picked to win the league’s title game in December.

Iowa State also posts its best season in recent memory in the publication’s Big 12 unit rankings.

The Cyclones’ defensive line, headlined by Athlon preseason first-team All-Big 12 honorees JaQuan Bailey and Ray Lima, is listed as the league’s best. The same can be said of the team’s linebacking corp led by Athlon preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection Marcel Spears and second-team choice Mike Rose.

Junior safety Greg Eisworth rounds out the group of four Cyclones pegged for the publication’s preseason first-team All-Big 12 selections to lead a defensive secondary that is listed at No. 3 in the Big 12 unit rankings behind Texas and Oklahoma State.

Iowa State’s quarterback room is rated as the third best in the league, behind Texas and Oklahoma, which makes sense considering sophomore Brock Purdy‘s inclusion on the magazine’s preseason third-team All-Big 12. Second-team All-Big 12 selection Josh Knipfel and third-team All-Big 12 choice Julian Good-Jones lead the Iowa State offense line group, rated as the league’s fifth-best, which one has to believe is probably the program’s highest ranking along the offensive front in a really long time.

Unsurprisingly, the two position groups with the biggest questions are the two rated the lowest in the publication’s unit rankings. Senior wide receiver Deshaunte Jones leads the No. 7 ranked wide receivers as a third-team All-Big 12 selection while the team’s running backs are ranked No. 9 after the loss of do-it-all back David Montgomery.

With that said, it is worth noting junior running back Kene Nwangwu is deservingly listed as the first-team All-Big 12 pick at kick returner.

Iowa State also draws strong reviews from anonymous coaches in the league in the “Scouting the Cyclones: Opposing Coaches Size Up Iowa State” section of the team preview.

*** “An extremely well-coached team that has a clear identity on both sides of the ball. The issue here is how much talent they can put in the system and be able to compete with the top programs in the Big 12.”

*** “The like to show attitude on defense; they’re really mean, blue-collar guys who play very downhill, very aggressive. They match up very well against the run… JaQuan Bailey would start for anybody in the league; he’s a hell of an end.”

*** “The line needs to be better, and they need to develop some guys on the outside, but it’s really quarterback development story here. A lot of coaches in the league really like Brock Purdy. That kid has attitude and he fights. He’s a maverick, Wild West-type personality and really fired them up. But now you have to clear up all the freshman mistakes.”

The Cyclones have four games on the schedule listed in the “Games to Watch” section of the Big 12 preview — the Sept. 14 home date with Iowa, the Big 12 opener at Baylor on Sept. 28, the Nov. 9 trip to Norman against Oklahoma and the Nov. 16 battle with Texas in Ames.

Lastly, the return of offensive coordinator Tom Manning was ranked as the No. 6 coordinator hire in the country. Oklahoma’s addition of former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is No. 1.

Iowa State is also prominently featured in the 2019 edition of Street & Smith‘s College Football Preview. The Cyclones come in at No. 18 in the magazine’s preseason rankings while Oklahoma (No. 4) and Texas (No. 9) both sit inside the top-10.

Naturally, when you consider those rankings, the Cyclones are again picked at No. 3 in the Big 12 with a projected return to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio for a date with the Washington Huskies, who are pegged at No. 12 in the magazine’s preseason top-25.

The same four Cyclone defenders — Lima, Bailey, Spears and Eisworth — are listed on the publication’s preseason All-Big 12 team while Purdy is credited as the league’s best passing quarterback, noting his mark as the sixth-most efficient passer in the NCAA last season.

Finally, Iowa State is regarded as the publication’s “Team on the Rise” in the Big 12, which is quite clear when you consider the amount of attention the program is already receiving this offseason compared to past seasons.

Safe to say, the secret is out on what’s being built in Ames.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.