It started with 15 spring practices. New Iowa State coach Matt Campbell and his staff spent more time establishing a pedagogy than a playbook.
“The way he instilled things in the spring, it’s his team and his rules,” junior safety Kamari Cotton-Moya said. “It’s attitude and effort, expecting the best out of yourself. He doesn’t want to have to demand it. If you don’t want you to do it, he doesn’t want you around. He wants the players to expect to be great.”
Campbell, at age 36, is one of the youngest head coaches in the FBS. After four successful seasons at Toledo, he is considered a rising star, but Iowa State is one of the toughest jobs in the country. It could be considered a job killer.
“Obviously, you hear it from different people. Maybe not that I was crazy, but people questioning the move,” Campbell said during the Big 12’s football media days last month. “That’s what fuels me and the coaching staff, to build a program.”
While Campbell and his staff inherited three talented playmakers — quarterback Joel Lanning, running back Mike Warren and wide receiver Allen Lazard — rebuilding the offensive line and improving a below-average defense are the main concerns.
The offensive line challenge increased with the loss of junior tackle Jake Campos, who suffered a broken leg earlier this month and could miss the season.
“The reality of it is, everybody’s gonna write us off now,” Campbell said. “Everybody’s talked about our offensive line. Here’s the adversity that’s coming before our season even starts. Are you going to buy into that? Is it going to be the woe-is-me attitude?”
Campbell said that by studying game films of recent seasons, he detected that troubling mindset.
“There’s times where they’ve started out playing really well for a quarter and a half or two quarters,” Campbell said. “Then all the sudden adversity hits and, boom, they really struggle. There’s times when they got off to a bad start and they could never regain themselves.”
Last season at Toledo, Campbell and assistant Tom Manning – who is now Iowa State’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach – had to replace five starters. The Rockets were one of just 12 FBS teams to rank in the nation’s top 40 in both passing and rushing. Toledo finished 10-2 and was ranked second nationally with just four sacks allowed.
That successful track record boosts the hopes of Cyclones fans … and Campbell isn’t one to temper enthusiasm.
“We’re gonna stand up and we’re gonna keep plugging away,” he said. “From the day I took this job, I’ve been, ‘What’s our vision? How do we start applying it now, and not sometime in the future?’
“We think this can be a championship football program someday.”
Iowa State at a glance
2015: 3-9 overall, 2-7 Big 12, ninth
Coach: Matt Campbell
Returning starters: 4 on offense, 8 on defense
Impact players: Jr. QB Joel Lanning, Jr. RB Mike Warren, Jr. WR Mike Lazard, Sr. WR Dondre Daley, Sr. K Cole Netten, Jr. S Kamari Cotton-Moya, Sr. NT Demond Tucker
3 reasons to hope
- Campbell’s youthful enthusiasm has energized the program, and he has proven that he can win. The Cyclones should benefit from hearing a new voice in the locker room.
- Iowa State has playmakers at three crucial positions – quarterback Joel Lanning, running back Mike Warren and wide receiver Allen Lazard. If Campbell’s staff can find supporting-cast members, the offense should be solid.
- Campbell and his staff have made huge strides on the recruiting trail. Nearly one-third of the team is new this season, and the majority of those players were a part of Campbell’s first recruiting class. That class was one of the highest-rated in program history.
3 reasons to worry
- The offensive line was going to be totally rebuilt, with four starters being replaced. That was before junior offensive tackle Jake Campos, the only returning starter, was lost for the season with a broken leg.
- The defense needs to make major improvements. Iowa State was eighth in the Big 12 in scoring and total defense, ninth in opponents’ third-down conversion percentage, and last in turnover margin.
- In addition to improving the defensive numbers, the unit’s depth and experience is a concern. In particular it appears that there will be two sophomore starters at linebacker, with a sophomore and a redshirt freshman in the secondary.
Difference maker on offense: Allen Lazard. The junior receiver has next-level size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and talent. Last season he was Iowa State’s leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. He can keep drives alive and turn red-zone opportunities into touchdowns.
Difference maker on defense: Kamari Cotton-Moya. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior free safety is the most experienced member of the secondary. He missed the second half of last season with a hamstring injury. In 2014, he was named Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and earned First-Team Freshman All-America honors from the FWAA.
It’s a fact: Iowa State’s passing attack needs more big plays. The Cyclones averaged 6.6 yards per pass attempt last season. In the Big 12, only winless Kansas was worse (5.8 yards per attempt).
Projected final record: 4-8. The Cyclones will show improvement, but building a program that can reach a bowl game is a tedious process for a school like Iowa State.
|Sept. 3||Northern Iowa|
|Sept. 10||at Iowa|
|Sept. 17||at TCU*|
|Sept. 24||San Jose State|
|Oct. 8||at Oklahoma State*|
|Oct. 15||at Texas*|
|Oct . 29||Kansas State*|
|Nov. 12||at Kansas*|
|Nov. 19||Texas Tech*|
|Nov. 26||West Virignia*|
|* – Conference game|