Opinion: Evaluating 2020 preseason football predictions

Iowa State celebrates as a team after beating Oregon in the 2020 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

Iowa State football’s 2020 season was a success in just about every way imaginable.

None of Iowa State’s games were canceled or postponed due to COVID-19. Iowa State finished with the best record in program history (9-3). The Cyclones made the Big 12 Championship for the first time ever and won the 2021 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

With the success of the 2020 season in the rear view mirror, the Iowa State Daily’s football writers decided to look back on each of their preseason predictions they made back in early September and evaluate how they would pick in hindsight.

Iowa State’s MVP

Zane Douglas 

(Preseason pick: Brock Purdy) / (New pick: Breece Hall)

In my defense, this wasn’t a bad pick at all coming into the season. And further in my defense, Brock Purdy was a really solid player for Iowa State and was one of the team’s most valuable assets this year.

I had a hard time choosing between Mike Rose and Breece Hall for team MVP, but Hall finishing in the Heisman conversation is enough to sway me.

Rose is criminally underrated, but that doesn’t mean he was a deserving 6th place finisher for the Heisman Trophy.

I knew Hall would be a solid back, but I would be lying if I said I expected the explosion that he put forward in 2020. He saved what was sometimes a lackluster passing attack early in the season with some dominant rushing performances. Hall is the team MVP.

Matt Belinson 

(Preseason pick: Brock Purdy) / (New pick: Breece Hall)

I don’t think it was crazy coming into this season expecting Brock Purdy to take another step forward. But now that his 2020 season has come and gone, it’s fair to say Purdy did not play up to preseason expectations, not just my own.

This isn’t to say Purdy played poorly in the 2020 season, but he did have a rough first half to his season with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions through his first seven games. 

But the clear answer to who was Iowa State’s MVP has to be Breece Hall. The sophomore running back ran his way into finishing 6th in Heisman Trophy voting and was the nation’s leading rusher with 1,572 yards and 21 touchdowns.

I am surprised how much we all overlooked Hall for this pick before the season began, but going into next season I can promise there’s no way I’m ignoring him again.

Stephen McDaniel 

(Preseason pick: Brock Purdy) / (New pick: Breece Hall)

Purdy was undoubtedly the safe pick coming into the season and for good reason. He had a tremendous sophomore year and I don’t think we were wild for thinking he was going to take another step forward.

Now Purdy by no means had a bad year at all. He nabbed himself the quarterback spot on the 2020 All-Big 12 First Team and earned the 2021 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Offensive Player of the Game.

However, I think you just can’t match the year that sophomore running back Breece Hall had. In my eyes, he was the biggest part of the team’s success offensively.

It’s already been hit on, but all I really need to say is he finished sixth place in the Heisman voting, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, unanimous All-Big 12 First Team selection and first team All-American.

Hall did all of this as a sophomore and has one more year until he’s draft eligible, so expect him and Purdy to lead the Cyclone offense next year.

Zach Martin

(Preseason pick: Mike Rose) / (New pick: Mike Rose)

I was the only one that didn’t go the conventional route and pick Purdy back in the fall. See kids, never follow the crowd. All jokes aside, Rose is still my pick.

He was by far and away the best player on Iowa State’s defense, usually the case since he was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He was so clutch in a handful of games, including the final one.

Rose will be back for his senior year, which surprised me a bit since I pegged him as an early second rounder in the 2021 NFL Draft and maybe with a pretty good combine, sneak into the late first round.

If he can elevate another level, there’s no doubt in my mind he’s a top-15 pick in 2022.

Backup to watch


(Preseason pick: Will McDonald) / (New pick: Kene Nwangwu)

Will McDonald was an excellent pick and was a more impactful player than Kene Nwangwu or any other backup was.

The issue is, McDonald probably can’t be called a backup even though he splits time with a few defensive ends.

McDonald was a right side end and so was Cyclone all-time sack leader JaQuan Bailey, so I assumed McDonald wouldn’t play as many snaps at least this year.

Part of the reason I could think this was just how good Zach Petersen and Enyi Uwazurike had played, making it hard for McDonald to find a starting spot.

McDonald set the Iowa State all-time sack record while Bailey wasn’t far behind and the two played in tandem much more often than I anticipated.

So the award goes to a true backup who added a jolt every time he was on the field in Nwangwu.

Him and Hall had such different running styles — Hall being an elusive and patient back and Nwangwu being a hit the hole and hit it hard with blazing speed back —that switching between the two would see the them rip off big gain after big gain.

Did I mention that Nwangwu was an exceptional kick returner, coming through with some massively important returns?


(Preseason pick: Jirehl Brock) / (New pick: Darrell Simmons Jr.)

Turns it out it was Kene Nwangwu’s job to be Breece Hall’s primary backup this season and not Brock. 

Brock ended the season with just 13 carries for 46 yards and got a bulk of those in blowout wins for Iowa State. With Kene Nwangwu probably leaving after this season, perhaps 2021 is Brock’s time to shine next to Hall.

But even though Will McDonald and others had great seasons, I think Darrell Simmons stepping in for the injured Trevor Downing at left guard was pretty amazing this season.

We thought the offensive line would be a weakness coming in, but with Simmons stepping in for Downing and doing great things, that young group showed their depth for seasons to come.


(Preseason pick: Joe Scates) / (New pick: Rory Walling)

I’ll be honest, I thought Scates was going to have a WAY better year than he actually ended up having. I wasn’t expecting Breece Hall to have this good of a year and I thought Brock was going to be throwing the ball a lot more.

Scates is going to be a redshirt junior next year, so there’s always a chance that he could find a larger role in the pass game in the following season or two.

That being said, I genuinely feel that Rory Walling was one of the guys you just had to keep your eye on this season.

While he wasn’t making huge plays on offense, the redshirt-junior running back made two of the biggest plays of the season on special teams and you just can’t ignore him.

In the Texas game, Walling sniffed out a fake punt on fourth down in the third quarter while the Cyclones were down 20-13 against the Longhorns. This led to a field goal drive for Iowa State before it eventually scored to go ahead and complete the comeback win over Texas, clinching its spot in the Big 12 Championship game.

Walling also made a huge play in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl after Drake Nettles placed a chip shot by the sideline before halftime, prompting Oregon to hesitate for a potential kick out of bounds.

Walling ended up recovering the kick that led to Iowa State’s final scoring drive in the first half of the Fiesta Bowl.


(Preseason pick: Johnnie Lang) / (New pick: Kene Nwangwu)

Look, I had the right position. Just the wrong player.

So Lang finished the season with three carries for two yards. Oof. Yeah, that’s not at all what I thought coming into the season.

Nwangwu scored four touchdowns this year and was money on special teams, looking like the player he was in his redshirt freshman season. He gave Hall time off and was integral in teaching him how to be an elite back.

Nwangwu stood out in a lot of games. He has to be my new selection.

Iowa State’s breakout player


(Preseason pick: Joey Ramos) / (New pick: Isheem Young)

How can this not be the pick?

Joey Ramos was relegated to a backup role when a couple linemen like Jake Remsburg and Sean Foster outplayed him and he never really grabbed solid footing.

He was a nice depth piece and should continue down that road going forward. Isheem Young was exactly what the Cyclones needed though.

Young filled that third safety/hybrid linebacker/run support hard hitter role for Iowa State that was filled by Greg Eisworth the year before.

Eisworth got to hang back as a more traditional safety, while Young — someone that defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said they literally recruited for this specific role — got to be the high flying, hard-hitting player that made so many noteworthy plays in the 2020 season.

The most noteworthy two were the high and low points of his year, being the interception against Oklahoma to seal the game at the start of the year and the targeting penalty he was called for that kicked him out of the Big 12 Championship.

Young was a force either way and is an excellent piece moving forward for the Cyclones.


(Preseason pick: Tayvonn Kyle) / (New pick: Xavier Hutchinson)

Tayvonn wasn’t bad this season, but after the way he ended his 2019 season, I was expecting more from the redshirt sophomore. 

He wasn’t bad this season, but certainly got beat on some big plays and was no stranger to missed tackles and didn’t create the amount of takeaways I expected.

I know that Hutchinson came to Ames rated as the No. 10 JUCO wide receiver by ESPN and was expected to be Iowa State’s number one option from the very beginning, but he did way more than I expected this season.

Hutchinson won Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the year and was named All Big-12 First Team receiver. He led the team in catches (64), receiving yards (771) and was second on the team with four touchdowns.

I think by definition, he broke out this year for the Cyclones.


(Preseason pick: Latrell Bankston) / (New pick: Will McDonald)

I don’t think I was far off with my original pick of Latrell Bankston.

The JUCO product came in and recorded 16 total tackles and 3.5 sacks for the Cyclones, including the sack on Sam Ehlinger that forced Texas to take a long field goal and ended up sailing left.

However, I think fellow defensive lineman Will McDonald was the one who really had the breakout year. We knew he’d be good, but his contribution for the Cyclone defense wasn’t talked about nearly as much as it should have.

The All-Big 12 Second Team selection recorded 33 total tackles, two forced fumbles and a conference-leading 10.5 sacks (10 solo sacks) after the bowl game season in just his sophomore season for the Cyclones.

McDonald had an amazing year for Iowa State and I wouldn’t shock me if we’re already seeing a legitimate challenger to all of the school records that JaQuan Bailey just set for Iowa State.

Zach (Preseason pick: Sean Shaw Jr) / (New pick: Breece Hall)

By definition of the word breakout, that’s what Hall did in 2020.

The true sophomore finished with 1,572 rushing yards to lead the nation, which was an increase of 675 yards from his freshman campaign. He scored 21 rushing touchdowns which was an increase of 12 from 2019 and finished sixth in the Heisman voting.

Oh, and he was a consensus All-American plus the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

Quite simply, no one saw this year from Hall coming when the season started. Meaning he was the breakout player for the Cyclones.

Best position group

Zane (Preseason pick: Defensive line) / (New pick: Defensive line)

What more can be said about this group? Bailey, McDonald, Petersen, Uwazurike, Latrell Bankston, Isaiah Lee?

Whether it huge games of counting stats or just big time plays in big time moments, this group was easily the most dominant of any Cyclone position group.

A case could be made for running backs I suppose, but the defensive line had McDonald break the single season sack record at Iowa State, Bailey break the all-time sack record at Iowa State, Bankston come up with an enormous game-saving sack against Texas to help win that game and countless other plays.

I am not right about a lot of things, but I was on the money here.

Matt (Preseason pick: Defensive backs) / (New pick: Defensive line)

Oh boy. This prediction was way off. And not because defensive back for the Cyclones didn’t make plays in some big spots this year, but there were position groups that dominated way more than the secondary did this season.

I think Tayvonn Kyle and Datrone Young still have a ways to go in the offseason and improve their deep coverage skills, but for the most part the secondary was fine this season.

But who played fine wasn’t the question.

The 2020 season showed Iowa State’s defensive line should get the honor of the team’s best position group. These guys tormented a lot of quarterbacks this year and took over games as a unit. Expect more next season.

Stephen (Preseason pick: Tight ends) / (New pick: Defensive line)

Honestly, I’d be super content with sticking with my original selection of the tight ends as the best position group on Iowa State.

Kolar, Allen and Soehner made huge impacts in every aspect on offense, whether it was blocking for Breece, catching passes from Purdy or even catching passes from each other in the case of the Oklahoma game in October.

Iowa State is already getting Allen back and we still don’t know what Kolar is going to do as of now, but for the sake of this reflection, I’m going to go with Iowa State’s defensive line as the best position group.

The defensive line caused all sorts of problems from opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines all year.

It seemed like every game JaQuan Bailey, Will McDonald, Latrell Bankston, Eyioma Uwazurike or someone else would always come up big for the Cyclones and proved to be an essential part for Iowa State’s defense.

Zach (Preseason pick: Tight ends) / (New pick: Tight ends)

If there is one thing I can feel 100 percent confident in getting right a few months ago, was the trifecta of Iowa State tight ends being by far and a away the best group.

Kolar, Allen and Soehner all did things that elevated each other and elevated Purdy. It was clear that once Purdy got more confidence throwing the ball in the final five weeks of the season, the tight ends got more comfortable as well.

Allen has announced he will be back; Soehner will leave; Kolar has yet to decide. I think even if Kolar stays, the tight ends can still be one of the best position groups on this team because of the likely emergence of Easton Dean and star recruit Tyler Moore.

Purdy and the quarterbacks behind him will always have a really, really good tight end to throw to.

Iowa State’s record (finished regular season 8-2)


(Preseason pick: 7-3)

I was the most negative on this team and I still picked the Cyclones to go 7-3. Let that sink in Iowa State fans.

After the loss against Louisiana, who could’ve thought that everyone would be on the money about Iowa State’s ascension to near the top.

I was wrong and the Cyclones outplayed my pick, but what a season it was for Iowa State. 

By the looks of it, the Cyclones will be even better next season.


(Preseason pick: 8-2)

At least I had one prediction that turned out be 100 percent accurate.

I expected Iowa State to have a great season in 2020, with so much returning talent and a down year in the conference, and it did just that.

The Cyclones should be in for more success in 2021.


(Preseason pick: 8-2)

What else can I say besides the fact that me and Matt hit the nail on the head with this one?

Now, things didn’t necessarily pan out like I thought they were going to, especially after week one.

My original thought process was Iowa State losing to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but the Cyclones ended up losing to Louisiana and upsetting the Sooners at the time.


(Preseason pick: 9-1)

The old saying: So close, but yet so far.

I had the Cyclones losing to Oklahoma State and no one else. They lost to the Cowboys, but then also suffered the stunning season-opening loss to Louisiana. Still, 8-2 is obviously no slouch of a regular season.

I think going undefeated next year could happen. Or maybe suffering one loss. The expectations should be much higher in 2021.

Who would win the Big 12? (Oklahoma beat Iowa State)


(Preseason pick: Oklahoma)

In the interest of total transparency, I didn’t get this one completely right. I got Oklahoma, but Oklahoma State was my pick to be the runner-up.

The Cyclones outplayed my expectations and were perhaps a Chase Allen catch or a Purdy throwaway and fourth down conversion away from the Big 12 title.

I’m not shocked by the team’s success and I think if you’re a fan of Iowa State you shouldn’t be either.


(Preseason pick: Iowa State)

As the season went on, I was feeling good about this pick more and more. Iowa State stumbled out of the gate but basically dominated conference play in 2020, setting itself up for a chance to head to Arlington, Texas, to win a Big 12 Championship.

The Cyclones fell short but I think it came to not making crucial plays when they needed to. Brock Purdy’s three turnovers didn’t help and neither did Ronnie Perkin’s return, but Iowa State showed they were so close to pulling it off.


(Preseason pick: Oklahoma)

I also nailed this pick too (sorry Iowa State fans).

I figured this would be the year that the Cyclones make that big step forward and make their first ever appearance in the Big 12 Championship.

However, Oklahoma is just the kind of team that’s hard to beat twice in a year and experience in those games go a long way (also three turnovers and a targeting call doesn’t really help either).

But now that Iowa State has made it once, I got a feeling that it’ll be a frequent visitor in Arlington, Texas.


(Preseason pick: Oklahoma State)

I had the right state, wrong school.

Writing off the Sooners was what a lot of people who cover the Big 12 did after they lost back-to-back conference games. The fact they rebounded and won their final eight games shows how good of a coach Lincoln Riley is.

Iowa State will no doubt get back to Arlington next season. I expect it to finish the job.