Iowa State faces Kansas like an up-and-coming Big 12 threat, not a pushover

Iowa State squares up at the line of scrimmage against the University of Kansas on Nov. 23, 2019. Iowa State won 41-31.

Matt Belinson

On paper, it looks like when Iowa State and Kansas meet Saturday the competitive nature of the game won’t be that close.

Glance at the Big 12 standings. Iowa State sits right in the thick of a Big 12 title berth with a 3-1 conference record, whereas Kansas has had a poor season (0-5; 0-4 in Big 12 play).

Or take a look at Kansas’ Big 12 record since, frankly as far back as you want, but just for relevancy’s sake, since 2017. The Jayhawks have a Big 12 record of 2-29 since the 2017-18 season and have an average margin of defeat of 30 points this season.

Iowa State has also beaten Kansas in five straight games.

And yet despite the numbers, despite the lopsided history and the talent disparity, Iowa State is heading to Lawrence, Kansas, not only taking the Jayhawks seriously but also keeping an eye out for a program many in Iowa State football see as a team on the rise in the very near future.

“When you look at this team (Kansas), you see a really impressive young football team that’s coming,” Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell said.

The wins might not be there for Kansas against its Big 12 opponents, some numbers are showing the Jayhawks may be losing, but it isn’t as severe as maybe it once was, particularly over the last three seasons with the Cyclones.

In the 2017 season, Kansas lost 45-0 to Iowa State. The next season, Iowa State beat Kansas 27-3. But last season, Iowa State squeaked by Kansas in a comeback victory 41-31, a 10-point victory for those who are noticing the score disparity was getting smaller and smaller.

Campbell said the Jayhawks have so much youth and raw talent on its roster, particularly their young quarterback Jalon Daniels, who presents challenges with his arm strength but also his ability to run. Iowa State struggled at times against Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders on run-pass-option plays, something Daniels highlighted in his performance against Kansas State last weekend.

“Any time a quarterback has the ability to do two things really well, throw the ball and run it, that’s a threat,” Campbell said. “It will challenge the discipline and detail of who we are, who we want to be on defense.”

Campbell is no stranger to rebuilds and the ugliness of losing seasons year after year, and with that experience in mind, he said Kansas has to stay the course and continue to develop their young roster, even if the losing continues.

It’s a challenge but also a joy for Campbell when it comes to rebuilding and developing a roster, because when the players take the next step and take the program to the next level, the hard and grueling process paid off. However, for the Jayhawks, it’s tough to see when the process will be complete.

Junior defensive back Greg Eisworth said Kansas isn’t as far off in terms of being competitive in the conference as people say, no matter what the records or point totals show. 

In 2019’s matchup, Kansas held the lead and stuck around with the Cyclones for a majority of the second half, with quarterback Brock Purdy needing to rush for a touchdown with five minutes left to walk away with a win. In fact, Kansas had more total yards of offense (493) than Iowa State (489) in the 2019 matchup.

“Every year they’re honestly not that far off,” Eisworth said. “That program, they just continue to keep burning away and figuring things out. They’ve never been an uncompetitive team, it’s always been a good game when we play them.”

Running back Breece Hall may lead the country and the Big 12 in many major rushing statistics out there, but the Jayhawks showed last season that won’t exactly allow Hall to march all over them.

Hall finished with 103 yards and a touchdown in 2019 against Kansas, what would end up being his third lowest rushing total in conference play that season behind Kansas State and Oklahoma State after he became the starter.

“It’s the Big 12, there could be a surprise any given Saturday, so at the end of the day we still have to come out and play one of our best games,” Hall said. “They’re still in the Big 12, their players are on scholarship and they’re here just like we are. You can’t really take them as a joke or anything like that.”

No. 23 Iowa State faces off against Kansas at 11 a.m. Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.