AMES, Iowa – Fourth-year coach Matt Campbell has guided Iowa State to places it has not been in 40 years. The No. 24 Cyclones, ranked in the preseason AP poll (21st) for the first time since 1978, kick off the 2019 season with a home contest against FCS foe Northern Iowa on Saturday.
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Iowa State is coming off back-to-back 8-5 seasons, the first time it has posted consecutive eight-win campaigns since 1977-78, and the highest win total for a season since 2000 when they went 9-3. "The thing we've done a great job of is the last year and a half is finding out what our players can do, and putting them in a position to do it," Campbell told reporters during training camp. "As long as we continue doing those things, we'll continue to be a good football team." The Cyclones return 16 starters, including sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy, who set a school record with a 66.4 completion percentage and accounted for 21 touchdowns and 2,558 yards from scrimmage (seven starts), and eight members of a defense that was No. 1 in the Big 12 in fewest points allowed (22.9) and second in yards allowed (349.2). Northern Iowa, picked fifth in the Missouri Valley coaches and media poll, beat the Cyclones 25-20 in the 2016 opener - one of two wins in five matchups between the teams since 2011.
ABOUT NORTHERN IOWA (2018: 7-6)
Underclassmen Will McElvain and Jacob Keller (threw one pass in 2018) battled all camp to replace Eli Dunne (2,584 yards, 18 touchdowns), while senior Trevor Allen (611 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, five TDs) will get the bulk of the running work with sophomore Tyler Hoosman (205 yards, 4.7 yards per carry) next in line. Senior tight end Briley Moore (team highs of 39 catches, 536 yards and four TDs), senior guard Jackson Scott-Brown, who has started 33 consecutive games, and junior cornerback Xavior Williams (42 tackles, four interceptions) were selected preseason first team all-conference by coaches and media.
ABOUT IOWA STATE (2018: 8-5)
The Cyclones averaged the fewest points (26.8) since 2015 and fewest yards (371) since 2014, and they will be without departed all-conference runner David Montgomery (1,216 yards, 13 TDs) and receiver Hakeem Butler (60 catches, 1,318 yards, nine TDs), No fewer than five running backs are vying to replace Montgomery in what will likely be a committee approach; Kene Nwangwu is the leading returner with 157 yards, but freshmen Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock could supplant all of them before long. The defense is spearheaded by safety-turned linebacker Greg Eisworth (team-leading 87 tackles), a first team all-conference selection and Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, and a pair of second-team picks: senior defensive end JaQuan Bailey, who has already tied Iowa State's all-time career sack record with 18.5, and junior nose tackle Ray Lima.
1. Purdy ranked second in the Big 12 and third in FBS in yards per pass attempt (10.2) and was third in the Big 12 in completion percentage.
2. Hall, a four-star recruit, ran for 4,209 yards and 61 TDs in his last two years at Northwest High School in Wichita, Kan.
3. The Panthers lost to Iowa 38-14 last season in their only contest against a FBS school and 42-24 to the Cyclones in 2017.
PREDICTION: Iowa State 38, Northern Iowa 13