Inexperience and youth: Iowa State’s quarterbacks

Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt looks to throw during the first half of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against the Memphis Tigers on Dec. 30, 2017.

Aaron Marner

One of the biggest stories of the Iowa State 2017 football season was the quarterback position.

It started in the off-season, when redshirt senior-to-be Joel Lanning transitioned from quarterback to linebacker. The story continued when junior Jacob Park took a leave of absence from the team after its 17-7 loss to Texas.

After Park left, the quarterback position was manned by redshirt senior Kyle Kempt, who had only thrown two passes at the college level before the 2017 season began. When Kempt suffered an injury during the Oklahoma State game, redshirt freshman Zeb Noland finished out the game and started the next week at Baylor.

Where are they now? Park plans to transfer. Lanning graduated after having an incredible season at linebacker. Kempt is asking the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility, leaving Noland as the only sure returner at quarterback among the four who threw a touchdown in 2017.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I thought there was a lot of growth by Zeb this year,” said head coach Matt Campbell. “The biggest thing for him was he got some quality reps and was able to do some really good things to give him some confidence.”

Noland finished the season with 533 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He completed 36-of-66 passes (54.5 percent) and Iowa State won his only start — at Baylor on Nov. 18 — by 10 points.

Iowa State knows what it has in Noland. He’s got a strong arm, he’s gained valuable experience and he’s had more reps with his teammates than a newcomer would.

Campbell said he hoped to hear back about Kempt’s eligibility within the next week or two. But if Kempt doesn’t get a sixth year, Iowa State is in a bind.

It’s been 10 years since Iowa State has gone a full season without two different players taking significant snaps at quarterback. Every year since then, at least two players have thrown 50 or more passes.

Even if Noland is the No. 1 guy, someone still needs to replace Kempt as the backup.

“He was program-changing,” Campbell said of Kempt. “I say that not so much [because of] the production he had, but the ‘why’ he was ready to be successful.

“You’re not the starter but yet your preparation, your detail is just like the starter.”

The backups

Down the depth chart, Iowa State’s quarterback situation has a lot of potential, but it’s very young.

Devon Moore entered the 2017 season in a likely redshirting situation, but the option was taken from the coaches when he tore his ACL at the beginning of fall camp. It was the same injury, at almost the exact same point in time as Noland’s injury a year before.

“I think there’s been some growth between those two,” Campbell said. “I think for Devon to have a guy like Zeb who has gone through almost verbatim the same situation, I think that’s helped Devon grow in some way, shape or form.”

Campbell added that Moore is ahead of where Noland was at this time a year ago. Moore was going through 7-on-7 drills during bowl practices, whereas Noland was still very limited in the spring and didn’t get fully healthy until fall camp.

The unknown on the quarterback depth chart is true freshman Re-al Mitchell. Mitchell comes to Iowa State ranked as the No. 25 dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2018, per 247Sports. But as a true freshman, will Mitchell have a chance to play?

“Absolutely,” Campbell said. “Re-al brings a total different aspect to what we want to do on offense.”

Moore was listed as a dual-threat quarterback out of high school, but he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. Plus, of course, he’s coming off a torn ACL.

Mitchell is just 6-feet tall and 190 pounds. He’s quick and elusive as a runner, giving Iowa State a different option under center.

In the end, Noland will likely be battling either Kempt or a graduate transfer for the No. 1 spot. But if recent history is any indication, every quarterback on the roster needs to be ready.