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Seven games in: Where ISU stands

Iowa State football has completed its second and final (scheduled) bye week of the season ahead of a big matchup with Kansas State on Saturday. “Farmageddon” comes at an earlier time than normal, this time on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

The No. 17 Cyclones sit at 5-2 on the season and 5-1 in Big 12 play, atop the conference standings with three games left to play. Whether all three games will be played is, of course, up in the air as the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly spreading again.

But with 70 percent of the season complete, where does Iowa State stand? What’s been working and what hasn’t?

HALL HEISMAN?

No, Breece Hall probably won’t win the Heisman Trophy in January. No, he probably won’t even make it as a Finalist. But that’s a problem with what the Heisman Trophy is in 2020 as opposed to an indictment of Hall’s play this season. The sophomore running back is on a roll this year with over 1,000 yards rushing (1,034 to be exact) and 13 touchdowns in the team’s seven games. Averaging 147.7 yards per contest and leading the Big 12, Hall has jumped from merely a good running back in 2019 to one of the best runners in the country.

Despite a well-below-par season from Brock Purdy and mixed production at the wide receiver position, it’s helped Iowa State stick with and eventually overwhelm most of the Cyclones’ opponents.

Now the main question for the Cyclones is: can he keep it up? And will opponents like Kansas State and Texas focus on slowing Hall’s impact, forcing Purdy to beat them?

SOLID DEFENSE

The Cyclones have been a defensive leader in the Big 12 since Matt Campbell’s arrival in Ames. Seven games into the 2020 season, in at least some aspects the Cyclones are still nearly top of the pops. The Cyclones are second in the conference in rush defense, giving up a total of 759 yards (108.4 per game) on the ground and are fourth in the conference in total yards allowed per game at 360.1.

The defensive secondary has at times been a weakness for Iowa State — the team has given up the fourth-most passing yards in the conference at 1,762 — but they’ve also picked off seven passes. There are definitely improvements to be made, but for the moment the back end is holding up and allowing pass rushers JaQuan Bailey, Will McDonald and Enyi Uwazurike to get to the quarterback at a higher rate than in 2019.

Mike Rose is leading the linebacker unit and has been the team’s most important player on that side of the ball.

Iowa State has relied on its defense often against top-level opposition. This defense isn’t the best Campbell has had with the Cyclones, but it won’t take them out of games either. The biggest test left for this unit will be Black Friday against Texas, with Sam Ehlinger and his run-pass options.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Iowa State’s contest with Kansas State Saturday is in slight danger as the Wildcats are dealing with a COVID outbreak on the team, according to the Des Moines Register. If the game were to be postponed, the Cyclones have an open spot on Dec. 12 to play the game.

After the Kansas State game, the Cyclones head to Austin, Texas on Black Friday to face the Texas Longhorns. Texas is one game back of Iowa State in the conference standings current, in a tie for third with Oklahoma and Kansas State. Spots in the Big 12 Championship game are clearly still up for grabs, and the final stretch for Iowa State will be critical to determining its spot. The season ends with a home game Dec. 5 against a 5-3 West Virginia team that has been improving rapidly under second-year coach Neal Brown.

The path to a regular-season conference title is right there for Iowa State. Winning all three games would assure the Cyclones at least a share of the title and a berth in the Big 12 Championship.

This is Campbell’s most championship-ready roster. But will the Cyclones falter in November as they have in the previous two seasons, or will 2020 be the year Campbell and Iowa State finally break the glass ceiling?

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