After an often-difficult 2021 season, the Iowa State football team will use spring practices to reload and retool as the program moves forward after losing a number of its stars to graduation and the NFL draft.
Easily the biggest win for the program during the offseason was simply retaining Matt Campbell. He will be entering his seventh year at Iowa State. A number of programs courted the head coach but he stayed put in Ames.
Campbell is 42-34 at Iowa State and had the Cyclones at No. 7 to enter the season. But losses to Iowa and Baylor derailed early hopes of contention for a playoff spot. Iowa State ultimately slipped out of the polls and national spotlight.
The Cyclones lost six games by a combined 36 points, with its only double-digit loss by 10 points. Iowa State loses:
- QB Brock Purdy
- RB Breece Hall
- LB Mike Rose
- and TE Charlie Kolar among others.
Who’s back for spring practices?
Standout wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson returns, as does defensive lineman Will McDonald IV and offensive lineman Trevor Downing. In all, 22 players who have started at least one game for the Cyclones return this year.
“You have a guy like Xavier Hutchinson, one of the best receivers in the country and a go-to offensively,” Campbell told reporters in early March. “When we have guys that not only have been on the big stage, but have shown an ability to dominate a stage like that … I think it is huge for our current roster, and for the future of our football program. I think it is another step in the building process for Iowa State football, to get to this point.”
Hutchinson hauled in 83 receptions for 987 yards and five touchdowns and remains a big-play threat for the Cyclones. He will likely be catching passes from Hunter Dekkers.
The former four-star recruit out of Hawarden, Iowa has played sparingly since joining the Cyclones. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 193 yards, tossing two touchdowns and an interception last year. He also flashed running the ball, notching four carries for 61 yards and a rushing score.
“I would say all of those roles would be defined by spring practice and fall camp. But, if you were playing a game today, obviously Hunter (Dekkers) is the player with the most game experience there, yes,” Campbell said.
The Cyclones also added a four-star wide receiver — Greg Gaines — who hails from Florida.
Next up on defense
Iowa State won several recruiting battles against Iowa last fall, including for four-star in-state defensive lineman Hunter Deyo. The Cyclones also got a commitment from transfer Colby Reeder. The Delaware graduate will look to help shore up a linebacking group that lost several important pieces last fall.
“I would just say the linebacker group, in general, is probably the most competitive since we have been here, and that is pretty exciting,” Campbell told reporters. “I look at this group in general, and I think we have a lot of young guys too, that have come back and are ready to compete at this position.”
Campbell is still looking for his first 10-win season as a head coach and the Cyclones are as well — Iowa State has never won more than nine games in a single season. Even so, Campbell has led the Cyclones to five-straight bowl games and, the longest such streak in program history.
Moneyline odds for the Cyclones fall between +10000 (DraftKings) +15000 (PointsBet) and +25000 (FanDuel) as teams go through spring practices. There is no real consensus on what the ceiling — or floor — for Iowa State is this year.
Long-term, there is uncertainty in the conference due to Oklahoma and Texas’s imminent departure from the Big 12 to the SEC, which is set to take effect on July 1, 2025. Once the Sooners and Longhorns are gone, will the addition of BYU, Houston, UCF and Cincinnati be enough for the Big 12 to hold its status as a Power 5 Conference?
Only time will tell, but the current path to the College Football Playoff might be far more straightforward.