Opinion: Evaluating our 2021 preseason football predictions

Breece Hall and Xavier Hutchinson celebrate after a big play against No. 8 Oklahoma State on Oct. 23.

The 2021 regular season has come and gone for Iowa State football.

After returning 22 starters and opening the year as preseason top-10 team, expectations were high for the Cyclones. While the postseason still awaits this year’s team, Iowa State finished the regular season 7-5 overall and 5-4 in Big 12 play and earned a trip to the Cheez-It Bowl against No. 19 Clemson on Dec. 29 in Orlando, Fla.

Before the Cheez-It Bowl arrives, the Iowa State Daily football writers decided to look back on their respective season predictions for the Cyclones and evaluate their picks.

Iowa State’s MVP

Matt- (Preseason pick: Breece Hall) / (New pick: Breece Hall)

Picking Hall at the start of the season felt like an easy choice to me. After leading the nation in rushing in 2020 and earning Heisman Trophy votes, I expected Hall to be this team’s best player in 2021. 

I think it’s safe to say he was, at least in my mind.

He broke the NCAA FBS record with 24-straight games with a rushing touchdown this season, rushed for 1,472 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was also a bigger threat in the passing game than we saw in his amazing 2020 season. His ability to make people miss in the open-field is second-to-none in my opinion.

When he was cooking, Iowa State found success. And if does leave for the NFL Draft, he left an undeniable legacy in Ames over the last three seasons.

Sam- (Preseason pick: Breece Hall) / (New pick: Breece Hall)

I mean who else right? I mean if you want to be different or unique I guess you could say Xavier Hutchinson or Brock Purdy, but that would be quite a bold take, with a capital B.

To be honest, more times than not, when the Iowa State offense got going, it was behind Breece Hall running the ball and contributing in the passing game.

In most games Iowa State lost, it was because it couldn’t get Breece Hall going, and vice versa when it won.

Breece Hall was a lynchpin to this offense this season and proved why he may be a first round draft pick in this year’s NFL Draft. 

James- (Preseason pick: Mike Rose) / (New pick: Breece Hall)

To be frank, I picked Mike Rose at the beginning of the season to be different. A Breece Hall sweep was expected, so I did the unexpected. 

Not only did Mike Rose not play up to what I think he did last year, he also missed a couple of games with injury. The best ability is availability, and him not being around for part of the season hurt his MVP status.

That being said, Iowa State’s defense looked completely different (in a bad way) without Rose, so in a way was I at least a bit correct? Probably not. 

Mike Rose continued to play like one of the best linebackers in his conference, but Hall ran away (literally) with this one.

Breakout player

Matt- (Preseason pick: Jaylin Noel) / (New pick: Jaylin Noel)

I think Jaylin Noel has a bright future in Ames.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound wide receiver turned heads during fall camp, with multiple coaches and players praising Noel for his ability. We definitely saw that on display this season.

With Xavier Hutchinson hauling in the most catches from Brock Purdy, the Iowa State receiving core needed someone to step up this season. And Noel rose to the occasion and showed promising signs in his first collegiate season

Noel finished the regular season fourth on the team in receptions (34), and put up 211 receiving yards yards but no touchdowns. While those aren’t at an All-Big 12 level, Noel showed the ability to work in space and take screens up-field for good yardage. He was shifty and became a trusted part of the Cyclone offense.

His presence on special teams was equally impressive. He had a team-high 10 kickoff returns, good for a 26.9 return average, including 39-yarder vs TCU on Nov. 26.

Sam- (Preseason pick: Joe Scates) / (New pick: Andrew Mevis)

Hello special teams, how do you do? 

In recent years, really since the loss of likes of Cole Netten, Iowa State has struggled in the kicking game and the 2020 season highlighted that.

And with the exception of the Baylor game, Iowa State has been strong in the kicking game.

Mevis has made 11 out of 11 field goals attempts and has made 13 in a row. 

In addition to this, he’s taken over punting duties, averaging 41.05 yards per punt on 21 attempts. 

While this award could go to someone who is a young player that has produced, and may be someone to watch going forward (Jaylin Noel), I’m going to with the guy who has undoubtedly taken reigns in his area and ran with it.

Mevis, a transfer from Fordham, just came to Ames this past summer, and has made 18 out of 20 field goals and 51 of his 75 kickoffs have resulted in a touchback. 

James- (Preseason pick: T.J. Tampa) / (New pick: Jaylin Noel)

Bully for Mr. Belinson. Two (objectively) correct answers in a row.

Jaylin Noel looks to be the future of the wideout position in Ames.

As for my preseason pick, T.J. Tampa, he had far from a bad year himself. 18 total tackles, half of a tackle for loss and provided some nice depth in the secondary.

But he, like the rest of the secondary, certainly had his trials and tribulations over the course of the season. Noel just kept growing.

Iowa State’s record (Finished regular season 7-5)

Matt- (Preseason prediction: 10-2)

We all had lofty projections for this team in 2021.

I suppose I was technically the closest to the Cyclones’ record, but I was wrong like the rest of the guys.

Iowa State went 2-4 on the road and failed to stop West Virginia and Texas Tech’s offense in those two crushing losses. The Cyclones turned the ball over four times and handed Iowa another win in the CyHawk Series. This season was filled with more adversity than I thought the Cyclones would face given how much returning talent they had. 

But this sports doesn’t care about what happened last season.

Finishing 8-5 and beating No. 19 Clemson would be a nice way to close this chapter of Iowa State football, but I think we can say this group underachieved according to our own expectations. 

Sam- (Preseason prediction: 11-1)

Well this isn’t what I expected, but hey we’re all wrong from time to time.

Iowa State failed to make it back to the Big 12 Championship after coming so close to winning it a season ago.

It was well-documented just how much experience this Iowa State team brought back. And with that much experience it was completely fair to expect Iowa State to be in contention and make it back to the Big 12 Championship.

Well, some things just don’t go as you would think, just look at the losses to West Virginia and Texas Tech, as well as Baylor if you consider what it was before it made the run to the Big 12 title that it did. 

James- (Preseason prediction: 11-1)

I’m not going to say anything here that you haven’t heard already. I was wrong, but far from alone. 

A 5-4 Big 12 record is a far cry from where I thought they would be, but the 1-4 record on the road in the Big 12 is particularly stark. This was supposed to be an experience-heavy, fundamentally sound team.

They had experience, but good teams don’t go 1-4 on the road in conference play. They had the worst road conference record by percentage (Kansas was 1-3).

Big 12 Champion (Baylor beat Oklahoma State)

Matt- (Preseason pick: Oklahoma)

I had Baylor just missing out on bowl eligibility coming into the season. Boy, was that wrong.

Dave Aranda put together a 11-2 season with one of the best defenses in the country. His quarterback play was great and the Bears turned people over like nobody’s business.

Iowa State and Oklahoma, the two teams I had making it to the title game, had a shot to make it back to Arlington, but both teams failed to execute down the stretch.

Sam- (Preseason pick: Iowa State)

Seeing these two teams in the Big 12 Championship was certainly a shock to me. 

In my mind before the season started, I had Oklahoma State slotted at No. 4 and Baylor at No. 9.

Yes I only had Baylor finishing one spot ahead of Kansas. 

But that’s why they play the games. Both Oklahoma and Iowa State failed to build off of successful 2020 seasons and Texas completely fell apart after the Red River Rivalry.

Hats off to Oklahoma State and Baylor for surprising most and making the Big 12 Championship, and especially hats off to Baylor who was just a two-win team a season ago.

James- (Preseason pick: Oklahoma)

I didn’t have Baylor anywhere in particular in the hierarchy, but certainly not making the championship game. Props to Dave Aranda and the Bears.

If I had to rank them before the season, I probably would’ve put Oklahoma State at No. 3-4, for my ego I’ll say No. 3. 

As for my champion, Oklahoma, they certainly had a chance. Losing Bedlam eliminated them from championship contention, and may have started the downward spiral we saw them in as Lincoln Riley departed for USC and took his five-star recruits with him.