Jan 2, 2021; Glendale, AZ, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell holes up the trophy after defeating the Oregon Ducks 34-17 at the 50th PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic via USA TODAY Network
The hype train for the college football season feels like it really is starting to pick up steam once Athlon releases its College Football Preview magazine each year, but the moment the train hits top speed in my mind is once Phil Steele’s magazine hits newsstands.
That actually has not happened yet as of this writing, but the digital edition of the magazine became available this week and I jumped at the chance to get a first look at everything Iowa State in one of the most respected college football publications in the country.
Here’s a rundown of everything you should know from Phil Steele’s 2021 College Football Preview magazine:
*** Six Cyclones are listed on Steele’s Preseason All-American teams and they are just about exactly who you would expect:
– Breece Hall – First-Team
– Mike Rose – First-Team
– Charlie Kolar – Second-Team
– Colin Newell – Third-Team
– Greg Eisworth – Third-Team
– Will McDonald – Fourth-Team
*** One of my favorite parts of everything college football preview magazine is seeing the publication’s national unit rankings. Iowa State has risen up all these rankings at a rapid pace over the last few years. They were ranked highly at positions I never would have expected them to be when Athlon came out a few weeks ago.
Steele’s rankings left me feeling even more excited than Athlon’s did. Here’s where they’re slated with some of my own analysis:
– No. 10 Quarterbacks: The Cyclones land with the No. 2 signal-callers in the Big 12 behind only Oklahoma. Senior Brock Purdy is the obvious driver of this ranking (he’s considered Steele’s No. 8 quarterback prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft class, for what it’s worth), but Steele also notes Hunter Dekkers’ athleticism as an intriguing piece of Iowa State’s quarterback room.
– No. 3 Running Backs: Iowa State was destined to be highly-ranked here just on the back of Hall, the best running back in all of college football. Steele also notes the presence of Jirehl Brock, who seems poised to fill a bigger role during his third year in the program, plus the addition of true freshman Eli Sanders. Only Texas A&M and Georgia are above Iowa State here.
– No. 8 Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: Kolar and Chase Allen combine as one of the nation’s best tight end duos once again while reigning Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year Xavier Hutchinson enters the year as a dark horse All-American candidate. Getting Tarique Milton back to full health after battling injuries most of last season will be huge for this group as well.
– No. 4 Offensive Line: I never thought I would see a day when Iowa State’s offensive line is not only considered good but one of the nation’s best. I mean… I’m pretty sure within the last three or four years Iowa State’s offensive line room didn’t even appear in Steele’s top-60. Now that group is in the top-five nationally with seven returners combining for 93 starts. Only Oklahoma, Ohio State and Washington are above the Cyclones. Unbelievable.
– No. 40 Defensive Line: This one seemed weird to me considering the Cyclones only lose one major contributor, even if that one guy is the school’s all-time leader in sacks, JaQuan Bailey. McDonald led the Big 12 in sacks last season, while Isaiah Lee is someone everyone inside the program loves at the nose guard spot. Enyi Uwazurike is back for one last go-around. Zach Peterson is another year older. Steele later notes that this group shouldn’t see much of a drop-off from last year. I think they should be ranked higher than they are, but I digress.
– No. 2 Linebackers: Reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Mike Rose, Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP O’Rien Vance and Jake Hummel, a second-year full-time starter with four-year starter experience, are all back. Steele also includes Co-Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Isheem Young with this group, even though most people around here would consider him a safety. Yeah, this one speaks for itself. The only team above Iowa State… is Alabama, the most notorious linebacker-producing program in the country.
– No. 43 Defensive Backs: Young’s inclusion with the linebackers probably hurt Iowa State here, but I figured Eisworth returning would bolster this unit. Throw returning starters Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young at cornerback into this mix and I feel this group will out-perform this ranking much like the defensive line.
– Not Ranked Special Teams: I mean… Yeah, that feels about right.
*** Steele’s computers project Iowa State to have the No. 10 total offense in the country and No. 11 rush defense in all of college football. The latter solidifies the idea of Iowa State’s defensive line being underrated in the unit rankings in my mind.
*** Those projected statistics look like this:
– 210.9 rushing yards per game
– 272.9 passing yards per game
– 483.8 total offense per game
– 38.6 points per game
– 110.9 rushing yards allowed per game
– 210.0 passing yards allowed per game
– 22.9 points allowed per game
– 162.8 YPG differential (No. 8 in the country)
– 15.9 PPG differential (No. 5 in the country)
Just to simplify what these numbers mean… Steele projects this to be the best offense in the history of Iowa State football and the defense to be very good again.
*** This all boils down to Iowa State coming in at No. 8 in Steele’s preseason top-40. Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia, Texas A&M and Notre Dame make up the top-seven while Washington and Cincinnati round out the top-10.
Texas (No. 20), Iowa (No. 23), TCU (No. 25) and Oklahoma State (No. 39) are the other teams on Iowa State’s schedule ranked in Steele’s top-40.
*** Steele’s Big 12 standings projections are pretty standard with the consensus at this point:
No. 1 – Oklahoma
No. 2 – Iowa State
No. 3 – Texas
No. 3 – TCU (Don’t ask where the tie comes from because I don’t know.)
No. 5 – Oklahoma State
No. 6 – West Virginia
No. 7 – Texas Tech
No. 7 – Kansas State
No. 7 – Baylor (Again, I don’t know where the ties come from.)
No. 10 – Kansas
*** Iowa State has eight players on Steele’s preseason All-Big 12 first-team and 17 players on the four teams total. Here’s how they shake out:
Hall – First-Team
Hutchinson – First-Team
Kolar – First-Team
Colin Newell – First-Team
Derek Schweiger – First-Team
McDonald – First-Team
Rose – First-Team
Eisworth – First-Team
Purdy – Second-Team
Jake Remsburg – Second-Team
Uwazurike – Second-Team
Hummel – Second-Team
Johnson – Second-Team
Allen – Third-Team
Young – Fourth-Team
Milton – Fourth-Team (Punt Returner, which is kinda funny since I don’t think Iowa State has returned a punt since the Iowa debacle in 2018.)
Koby Hathcock – Fourth-Team
*** Hall and Purdy are listed among the contenders for the Heisman but don’t crack Steele’s preseason top-10 for college football’s most prestigious award.
*** Overall, Steele seems to be just as high on Iowa State as everyone else. He notes multiple times how good of a job Campbell has done during his time in Ames. He also makes sure to point out that the Cyclones should be favored in 11 of their 12 games during the regular season. That lands with Steele making the same conclusion many of us have…
The date at Oklahoma in November and a Big 12 title game rematch wouldn’t just have bragging rights up for grabs. Those two games could decide one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.