Stuve: Iowa State’s Breece Hall may be one the Big 12’s best running backs in the 2020 season

Iowa State running back Breece Hall scores a touchdown during the Iowa State vs. Texas Tech game Oct. 19 at the Jones AT&T Stadium. The Cyclones defeated the Red Raiders 34-24.

Sam Stuve

In his freshman season, now-sophomore Iowa State running back Breece Hall finished fifth in the Big 12 in rushing yards with 897, making him not only one of the most productive running backs in the league, but also in the NCAA.

He finished the 2019 season with 897 rushing yards, nine touchdowns and zero fumbles in 186 touches. He finished fourth in the NCAA in rushing yards among rookies and second among Iowa State rookies, behind Mike Warren, who rushed for 1,339 yards in 2015.

During a teleconference Thursday, Iowa State football Head Coach Matt Campbell talked about another potential big season for Hall in 2020.

“[Hall is] one of the most gifted running backs that I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” Campbell said.

He then compared Hall to former Iowa State running back David Montgomery and former Toledo running back Kareem Hunt.

In addition to rushing for nearly 900 yards, Hall had 252 receiving yards and one touchdown.

Hall’s 10 total touchdowns set the record for touchdowns by an Iowa State freshman. 

While Hall finished the 2019 season with a strong performance, he didn’t get as many opportunities at the beginning of the season. 

In his first four games, Hall rushed for just 84 yards and zero touchdowns on 18 rushing attempts.

Then came the West Virginia game on Oct. 12, 2019.

Hall rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns on 26 rushing attempts in a 38-14 win for Iowa State on the road.

After the West Virginia game, Hall rushed for 681 yards and six touchdowns on 142 attempts.

His 2019 season finished with him earning a spot on the Coaches All-Big 12 Second Team, The Athletic’s Second-Team Freshman All-American, 247Sports’ First-Team True Freshman All-American and Pro Football Focus’ First-Team All-Freshman Team.

“What allowed Breece to take a huge step forward was his maturity,” Campbell said. “It’s hard as a true freshman to step on campus and know what the expectation and standard of excellence to live by day in and day out are. As he matured through the season in those expectations, with the help of some veteran teammates around him, that God-given ability he has really started to show through, he certainly made an impact in the second half of the season for our program and he has a bright future ahead of him.” 

Now heading into the 2020 season, Hall is receiving preseason honors.

Many preseason magazines have Hall as an All-Big 12 running back in 2020.

Athlon Sports, Lindy’s and the Pick Six Preview magazines have put Hall on their preseason All-Big 12 Second Team.

Campbell is also high on Hall heading into 2020. 

Montgomery (2016-18), who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, rushed for 2,925 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns in three seasons for Iowa State.

At the end of the 2019 season, Montgomery earned a spot on the Associated Press and ESPN All-Big 12 First Team and earned the Big 12 Male Sportsperson of the Year award.

He was also a two-time Pro Football Focus First Team All-American.

Hunt (2013-16), now a member of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, rushed for 4,945 rushing yards and 44 touchdowns for Toledo. Campbell coached Hunt for the first three seasons of his career before Campbell took the Iowa State job in 2016.

Hall had a very similar freshman season to Hunt.

In his freshman season in 2013, Hunt rushed for 866 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 137 rushing attempts.

Hall had a statistically better freshman season than Montgomery, but Montgomery split time with Mike Warren, who had rushed for 1,300 yards a season before.

Montgomery rushed for 563 yards in his freshman season (2016), third most by a Cyclone freshman, behind Hall and Warren. 

Hall had one of the best freshman seasons in Iowa State’s history and is trending toward being a great player, according to Campbell.

“Great players want greatness and one of the things I love about Breece is that he’s a young man that I think is trending towards becoming a great player,” Campbell said. 

Campbell said the next step for Hall to become a great player starts with his mentality.

“Are you satisfied with positive things happening or do you really have the ability to reflect, narrow in on some of your weaknesses and have the ability to strain to take the next step forward?” Campbell said. “His off the field habits this winter, the shape he’s come back in, the mentality he’s approached this summer, you can tell that he’s driven to take the next step.”

While Hall was one of the most productive running backs in the Big 12 one season ago, three running backs finished ahead of him in rushing yards and are all back this season.

Oklahoma State’s now-senior running back Chuba Hubbard led the Big 12 and NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) in rushing yards with 2,094 yards, Kansas’ now-junior running back Pooka Williams Jr. rushed for 1,042 rushing yards and Oklahoma’s now-junior running back Kennedy Brooks rushed for 1,011 yards.

The good news for Hall is that Big 12 defenses will still have to deal with junior Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy, who was a Coaches All-Big 12 Second Team quarterback a season ago and is a Tier II Heisman Trophy level quarterback, according to CBS Sports

Purdy threw for 3,982 yards, 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a sophomore while rushing for 249 yards and eight touchdowns. 

He said in Thursday’s press conference that during the 2019 season, he felt like there was a lot of pressure on him to make plays and once Hall stepped in and made plays it was “awesome” for him and the offense.

Purdy said he’s seen more growth from Hall in the offseason.

“This offseason he’s done a great job of stepping up being a leader,” Purdy said. “We’re really pushing each other, he’s in my lifting group, we’re always with each other grinding away so I’m really excited to see what he’s going to do this year and I know for sure he’s going to be even better.”

While there’s uncertainty to what the 2020 college football season will look like if it isn’t canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is hype surrounding Hall and what he can do in the next season.