Cyclones show signs of progress
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
AMES — The focus for Matt Campbell in his first season at Iowa State was about stability more than victories.
The Cyclones didn’t win much this season. But there were plenty of signs that they might start winning more as soon as 2017.
Iowa State (3-9, 2-7) finished the year with a 30-point home loss to West Virginia , a game that got away from the Cyclones in the second half. But Iowa State’s improvement from September to November was impressive enough for its long-suffering fans to feel some sense of hope heading into next season.
“We’ve made incredible progress from when we came in here to where we’re at. Those things about records and scores are all — again, I get it. That’s what we’re measured by. But the reality for me is where we were and where we’re at.” Campbell said. “I saw us get better week in and week out.”
After just two games, it looked like the Cyclones might not win a game at all. A home loss to FCS school Northern Iowa was followed by a brutal 42-3 defeat at Iowa, the worst result in a long history of bad results for the Cyclones in that series.
Iowa State finally broke through with a win over San Jose State, revealing something about both Campbell and the Cyclones. Campbell played two quarterbacks extensively in Joel Lanning and Jacob Park, defying the long-standing logic that a team with two quarterbacks is a team in trouble.
Park emerged as the primary signal-caller. Lanning shifted from a starter to a run-first backup, and instead of dividing the Cyclones it made them better and the team backed their young coach.
Behind Park and Lanning, Iowa State scored more average points (29.4) in Big 12 games than it ever had, even if the wins were scarce. Still, the Cyclones beat Kansas and Texas Tech before the loss to the Mountaineers.
“The reality for this team is (that) some of the foundations we’ve laid of attitude, effort, playing hard all the time, consistency of those things are really important to me. Because I know that without that, you’re building a program on falsehoods,” Campbell said.
Park, Lanning, 1,00-yard receiver Allen Lazard and running backs David Montgomery, Mike Warren and Kene Nwangwu all return next season, as does much of a talented secondary. Campbell has also recruited well, with a 2017 class set to be the best the program has had in recent memory.
Iowa State will lose six starters from a defense that allowed 31 points a game. But with 10 underclassmen listed on the depth chart for the finale, help should be on the way.
The offensive and defensive lines will need work. A bowl game in 2017 isn’t out of question, though, and that would bring the once-downtrodden Cyclones one step closer to fulfilling Campbell’s bold proclamation after losing to the Mountaineers.
“At the end of this, we’re going to win a championship in the Big 12,” Campbell said. “I look forward to it. The best is yet to come.”