Opinion: Iowa State football 2021 season predictions

Iowa State running back Breece Hall talks to reporters during media day Aug. 9.

The Iowa State football season is almost here — and what better time than now to give predictions on how it all will turn out.

Before Iowa State takes the field vs. Northern Iowa on Sept. 4, the three writers covering the Cyclones for the Iowa State Daily this fall — Matt Belinson, Sam Stuve and James Powell — made their predictions for the season ahead.

The three chose who Iowa State’s team MVP will be, who will have a breakout season for the Cyclones, what Iowa State’s final record will be and who will be the Big 12 Conference champion.

Iowa State’s MVP

Matt: Breece Hall

Iowa State’s workhorse is back from his breakout 2020 season and appears to be out to prove something, as crazy as that sounds. Hall enters his junior season with high expectations — and they’re warranted. He led the nation with 1,572 rushing yards and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting last year.

I think Hall continues to roll through defenses in 2021 and could become not only the most dangerous offensive threat in the Big 12 but in the entire country.

Sam: Breece Hall

One of the many producers the Cyclones return from a season ago is Breece Hall, who finished sixth in Heisman voting. Now entering his third season at Iowa State, I think that Hall will continue to build off of a big year with yet another one. I’ll go so far as to say he’ll gain 1,600 yards and score 20 touchdowns on the ground and should be the opposing defenses’ biggest problem. 

Mix in a veteran and experienced offensive line, Iowa State’s biggest offensive threat has the potential to be potent once again. 

James: Mike Rose

The defense is led by senior Mike Rose, who had a Big 12 leading 96 tackles in his 12 games started last year. He’s a veteran leader who is consistently appearing on not just All-Big 12 lists but All-American lists.

If he plays up to his potential and even takes another step forward, he could hear his name called in the first day or two of the 2022 NFL draft. The leader of the defensive side of the ball will be huge in determining the success of this Cyclone team.

Breakout player

Matt: Jaylin Noel

Iowa State personnel have not been shy in their praise of true freshman Jaylin Noel during fall camp. Noel, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound wide receiver, has already turned heads without stepping on the field with his work ethic and raw athletic ability.

As a freshman, he still has to prove himself on the field, but I see Noel earning his way into the slot for the Cyclones this year and putting together an impressive first season.

Sam: Joe Scates

Like Matt, I also have a wide receiver being a breakout player this season, although mine is Joe Scates. 

Iowa State already has established weapons at wide receiver in Xavier Hutchinson and Tarique Milton and tight end with Chase Allen and Charlie Kolar, but I think Scates will have the opportunity to make a bigger impact this season.

He only has eight receptions for 159 yards and three touchdowns in his two years at Iowa State, but coaches and players have raved about him during fall camps. Scates, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver who was a four-star recruit, has had talent and speed. This is the season where I think everything will come together for him. 

James: T.J. Tampa

With most of the team returning for another season, it doesn’t leave much room for any other players to break out. But I think 2020 second-string cornerback T.J. Tampa could be set for a huge step forward.

Cornerbacks coach Matt Caponi has already raved about the growth that Tampa has shown in fall camp. With Anthony Johnson Jr. ready to lead the group and Datrone Young returning from injury, it may be tough for Tampa to see the field consistently. If he does, I think he could really turn some heads.

Iowa State’s record

Matt: 10-2

Yes, the Cyclones are talented. Honestly, top to bottom, this is the most experienced and talented Iowa State’s roster has ever been. But I still think they’ll run into some stumbles along the way this season. That being said, I think any fan would and should be happy with the first 10-win season in program history.

Sam: 11-1

The Cyclones have a lot of hype heading into the season, but I think that it’s warranted. While they may not have looked impressive in the first month of the season in 2020, I think this is the year that the Cyclones start off strong and stay there.

Iowa State should be in a good position to make it back to the Big 12 Championship and be a contender for the College Football Playoff. While some games might be a struggle to win, I think Iowa State wins 11 out of its 12 regular-season games, with the lone loss coming to Oklahoma on Nov. 20. 

James: 11-1

I’m slightly bullish on Iowa State’s record, but their season seems to line up nicely for them to make a run. The only reason 12-0 was never a thought in my mind was that Spencer Rattler looks to be a Heisman favorite, and the Sooners have studs up and down their defense.

It doesn’t help matters for the Cyclones that this year’s game is in Norman, either. Even if Iowa State somehow makes it through that game, it would be such an unprecedented task to run the Big 12 table, also factoring in that the Cyclones are now well established and will surely be getting every team’s best shot.

Big 12 Champion

Matt: Oklahoma

Six straight titles. Oklahoma’s reign of terror over the Big 12 is well established, and as much as I have recognized the Cyclones’ talent, I think if the Cyclones were going to dethrone the Sooners, it would have happened last year.

Oklahoma started rough in 2020 and battled injuries and inexperience — and still won the conference crown despite all that. Iowa State will have its chance for a rematch in Arlington, but I’ll take Oklahoma to win another Big 12 title in 2021.

Sam: Iowa State

I’m expecting this matchup to be a rematch of the 2020 Big 12 Championship. I think the Cyclones have the experience and talent to overcome a tough task in defeating Oklahoma and will do so by a slim margin. 

Oklahoma has the talent to be one of the nation’s best, but so does Iowa State, in my eyes. On a neutral field, this game feels like it could go either way, but I think Iowa State’s mix of elite talent on offense, as well as a tough defense, will lead to the program to its first-ever Big 12 Championship.

James: Oklahoma

I think there’s a pretty good chance Iowa State and Oklahoma both go 8-1 in conference play, but I don’t see the Cyclones making a big enough jump to overtake the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship game.