It was a tough season for Iowa State Football in 2022. A year after going 7-6 and making it to a bowl game, the Cyclones lost some key players, including quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Breece Hall, and struggled accordingly. The 2023 season, though, is a chance for this team, led by veteran coach Matt Campbell, to write a new chapter.
How will they respond? Which key players will step up? And what are the biggest games on the schedule? In this post, we’ll break down what happened last year, what to look for this year, which players will be key, and which games to circle on your calendar.
2022 in Review
The Cyclones had an odd 2022. They finished 4-8, yet six of those losses came by one score. Out of 12 opponents, 11 reached the postseason.
It was one of the best years in school history for the defense, as they led the Big 12 in total defense (285.6 yards per game), rushing defense (107.3 yards per game), passing defense (178.2 yards per game), and scoring defense (20.2 points per game).
The ‘Clones are just the third school in Big 12 history to lead the league in all four defensive categories. The defense allowed just 7.7 points per game in the second half of games, which ranked sixth nationally. Beyond that, they have a streak of 15 consecutive games holding opponents to 400 yards or fewer of total offense, the second-longest streak in the nation.
On offense, wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson had a fantastic season and was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best receiver. He led the nation in receptions per game at 8.9 while also finishing among the top 10 in the country in receiving yards (1,171) and receiving yards per game (97.6).
But after a program record streak of five straight bowl games in the previous five seasons, good numbers weren’t enough. You have to win, and the Cyclones simply didn’t do that. You don’t get victories for keeping the game close.
For the Cyclones to get back to bowl status in 2023, the defense will have to hold serve, and the offense will have to improve. It’s a tough ask but doable with a talented roster.
The schedule won’t do the Cyclones any favors in 2023, particularly with a stretch in the middle of the season when they’ll face potential powerhouses Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and last year’s national runner-up TCU in consecutive weeks. Iowa State has made some changes to the coaching staff to shake things up.
Matt Campbell let go of offensive coaches Tom Manning and Dave Andrews while promoting running backs and wide receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Games to Watch
The end of the season will be a challenge for Iowa State. In addition to the midseason stretch already mentioned, they finish the season with a game against Texas and then play at Kansas State, two teams projected to be ranked in the top 20 in 2023. Can they get to the requisite six wins to make a bowl game?
They’d likely have to rack wins up early, and the rivalry game against Iowa in September will be key. If they can pull one off on the road at Cincinnati, Baylor, or BYU, and steal a home victory against Oklahoma State early in the season, then they should be okay. But it’s a tough row to hoe for the Cyclones.
Positions to Watch
Hunter Dekkers had a topsy-turvy first year at quarterback. He led the Big 12 in completion percentage at 66.1%. But he also led the Big 12 in interceptions, with 14. When he was good, he was good. When he was bad, he was bad. The question remains — is he the guy?
There will be competition. Rocco Becht didn’t play much last year but was a four-star recruit and a standout in high school. There’s also highly touted freshman JJ Kohl. The 6’7” freshman was ranked as a top-10 quarterback in his class. He’s probably in need of a little bit more seasoning but will push Dekkers.
The Cyclones need to replace Xavier Hutchinson. They have options, but they will need all of them to step up. Greg Gaines was the team’s No. 2 recruit in 2022 and one of just two four-star recruits in the class. But he hasn’t shown the results yet on the field, with just one catch and two yards last year. But the physical tools are there, and the opportunity will be there, too.
Jaylin Noel is a returnee coming off a solid season. He was second on the team with 60 receptions for 572 yards and three touchdowns. He ranked fourth in the Big 12 with five receptions per game. He’ll need to continue his solid play. He has a chance to be the team’s top receiver. There’s also the transfer Jayden Higgins. Higgins was a star at Eastern Kentucky. Last year, he had 58 receptions for 757 yards and ten touchdowns. The ten scores were tied for 15th in the country. He should be an impact player.
The Cyclones lost their two top runners, Jirehl Brock and Cartevious Norton, to injuries, and it showed. They finished last in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game at 108. Both runners should be good to go this season, which should help matters.
Brock was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and showed promise as a backup to Hall. Norton was also a high school star in Georgia. Both have the talent to pick up their production.
Last season, the Cyclones were in every game, but they fell short too many times. In 2023, they’ll need the defense to be as good as it was last year, a tall task, and they’ll need the offense to step up as well. The pieces are in place, but the chemistry will have to be there on the field.
The schedule doesn’t do them any favors. But if their defense remains solid and their offense takes a step forward, the Cyclones could be bowl-bound again in 2023.