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2021 Iowa State college football preview: Can the Cyclones shock the world once more?

It was an historic season in Ames in 2020. Can Iowa State build on it and get over Oklahoma and Texas for the first time ever?

Quarterback Brock Purdy of the Iowa State Cyclones throws a pass against the Oregon Ducks during the first half of the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on January 02, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s rare that the darlings of a college football season open the year with a three-score loss at home of Louisiana-Lafayette, but that’s what the Iowa State Cyclones did in 2020.

That early 31-14 upset was the wake-up call that was needed, as ISU won eight of nine regular season games in the Big 12 before falling in the Big 12 Championship to Oklahoma. The title was within their grasp, but some mental mistakes in the second half cost them their first conference championship since 1912 (and no, that’s not a typo).

But a team that didn’t have a ton of recruiting stars does return plenty of experience on both sides of the ball in 2021. Expectations have never been higher in Ames than they are this season, and signing head coach Matt Campbell to a contract extension was the biggest win the program could hope for in the offseason. Campbell had more suitors than The Bachelor during the season premiere, but he decided to stay and try to win it this year.

They did beat Oklahoma last season at Jack Trice Stadium, and will have a chance to do it again in Norman in 2021. But winning the final game in Jerry World the first week in December, and claiming a trophy for the first time in a century, is the real goal.

2020 Season Review

  • 9-3, 8-2 Big 12: Lost Big 12 Championship Game (27-21 vs. Oklahoma), Fiesta Bowl Champions (34-17 over Oregon)
  • Lost to Louisiana in opener, but beat Texas and Oklahoma during regular season

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 58th
ESPN Returning Production: 88% overall (4th): 94% offense (5th), 81% defense (25th)
Returning Talent Index: Positive, 4th in Big 12
Returning starters: 9/11 offense, 10/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Brock Purdy (Redshirt Junior)

Purdy returns for a fourth and likely final season in Ames after leading one of the bigger surprises in college football last season. Though it wasn’t his best season statistically (12 games, 2,750 yards, 7.5 YPA, 19 touchdowns, nine interceptions), he kept the Cyclones in it when few could. To get over the hump in the Big 12, they’ll need his experience from 35 career games played.

Offense (non-QB): RB Breece Hall (Junior)

The consensus First Team All-American and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year finished sixth in the Heisman balloting with 279 carries for 1,572 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground along with 180 yards receiving and two receiving scores. He’s one of the best players in college football, and this is likely his last season before heading to the NFL.

Defense: LB Mike Rose (Senior)

The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year also received some First Team All-American honors has 38 consecutive starts, 248 career tackles and 29.0 TFLs in his career. But what got him noticed last year was his improved pass coverage, including five INT’s and seven passes defended.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 11th overall: 13th offense, 11th defense, 125th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 7th overall: 6th offense, 15th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +3300
To win Big 12: +225 (2nd)
Win total: 9.5 (Over +110, Under -139)

2020 Against The Spread: 7-5-0
2020 Point Total: Over 4-7-1

2021 Iowa State Schedule

Iowa State 2021 Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 vs. Northern Iowa 3:30 p.m./ESPN+
Saturday, Sep. 11 vs. Iowa 3:30 p.m./ABC ISU -4.5
Saturday, Sep. 18 at UNLV 10:30 p.m./CBS Sports Net
Saturday, Sep. 25 at Baylor TBA
Saturday, Oct. 2 vs. Kansas TBA
Saturday, Oct. 9 BYE TBA
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Kansas State TBA
Saturday, Oct. 23 vs. Oklahoma State TBA
Saturday, Oct. 30 at West Virginia TBA
Saturday, Nov. 6 vs. Texas TBA
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Texas Tech TBA
Saturday, Nov. 20 at Oklahoma 3:30 p.m./Fox or FS1 ISU +8.5
Friday. Nov. 26 vs. TCU TBA