Preview 2016

Iowa State 2016 Preview: New Coach, New Identity

The Iowa State football outlook for 2016 season. The Cyclones need to find a positive identity. Can new head coach Matt Campbell provide it?

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After so many years of being a non-entity, Iowa State needs to have found its man getting Matt Campbell from Toledo.

The program has had its moments since the breakthrough 9-3 season of 2000, but it hasn’t been able to find its positive niche like everyone else in the Big 12 has – at least for a stretch.

Everyone else – from Kansas under Mark Mangino, to Texas Tech with its offense, to Kansas State with its style, to West Virginia with its firepower – has been able to have loads of fun, and Iowa State has missed out.

If even Baylor has been able to rise up and become amazing – after spending most of its Big 12 life just trying to come up with a win – then with the right guy, maybe Iowa State can finally rise up and become a player.

The Cyclones haven’t had much of an identity, other than being chalked up as an assumed win when fans look at schedules before the season starts. Can Campbell change that? Can he be to ISU what Gary Patterson is to TCU, or Bill Snyder has been for Kansas State, or Art Briles has been for Baylor – at least in terms of offensive production?

Just 37 years old this November, Campbell is a bright young star on the coaching circuit after starting out his head coaching career thrown to the wolves at just 32. Considering the way his stock was rising after a terrific 9-2 season, he was a strong get for the Cyclones. But now he has to prove he can be as good and consistent at a place not used to being good or consistent. Can he come up with the same nine-win production for a football program that doesn’t know what it’s like to win nine games without it being a truly special campaign?

Campbell wasn’t able to win a MAC title, but he put together some sensational power running games that led the way to two MAC West titles – or at least a share of them – and a great win over Arkansas early last season followed up by a win over Iowa State. He can coach, but can he recruit? Can he generate the ground attack for a Big 12 school like he did in the MAC?

A defensive coach by nature whose teams were sensational against the run – Toledo finished tenth in run defense last year – Iowa State needs to be a lot stronger against the better ground games, they have to be able to control the clock, keep top offenses in check by keeping them off the field, and have a style that makes other Big 12 teams worry.

Again, Iowa State needs an identity.

This year’s team might have the ability to rise up and surprise with everything fitting right into Campbell’s wheelhouse returning a good-looking defense and one of the better running backs in the league.

The Cyclones need help on the offensive line – there’s the potential Achilles’ heel early on – but Mike Warren is an ultra-productive young back who took the team by storm last year and did everything possible to carry the team through a woeful year. With a few good Big 12-level receiver talents – led by Allen Lazard – and with a veteran quarterback in Joel Lanning returning, the offense should be good enough to grind it out if the defense does its job. It’s not going to be able to keep up in shootouts, though, which means the D has to play up to its experience.

After finishing 107th in the nation in total defense, and having particular problems against the decent passing teams – and there are plenty of those in the Big 12 – the secondary should be a major positive. There’s a strong mix of veterans with a little more depth than normal, working behind a solid linebacking corps in the 4-2-5 alignment. The line might not be special, but it should be just good enough compared to previous years.

It’s up to Campbell and his staff. He’ll get plenty of time to work his way into the job, but will he needed it? After this year, and with this coaching change, Iowa State needs to establish itself. It’s time to stand out.