Breaking down the Iowa State football schedule, part one of three

Joel Lanning throws the ball on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.

Aaron Marner

Iowa State’s 2016 football season got off to a rough start.

The Cyclones lost the season opener to in-state FCS opponent Northern Iowa, 25-20.

Week two was much, much worse. Iowa State lost 42-3 at Kinnick Stadium against Iowa.

The third game marked another loss. In Iowa State’s Big 12 season opener, the Cyclones fell by three touchdowns at TCU.

The end of September 2016 provided some hope, however.

In the final September game of the 2016 season, Iowa State leveled San Jose State, 44-10.

That 1-3 record to begin the season was a death sentence for the already-slim bowl hopes Iowa State had in 2016, just like it has been in every recent season.

Since 2013, Iowa State is just 4-10 in August and September games. It’s no surprise that Iowa State has failed to make a bowl game every season since 2013.

When Iowa State made a bowl game in 2012, the Cyclones went 3-1 in September. During the 2011 season when Iowa State finished 6-7, it entered the month of October with a 3-0 record.

Simply put: if Iowa State wants to make a bowl game in 2017, the most important stretch of the season will likely be the month of September.

The first game of the 2017 season, just like last season, is a home matchup with Northern Iowa. After winning at Jack Trice Stadium in the opener, UNI stumbled to a 5-6 record for the season.

This is the very definition of a “must-win” game for Iowa State. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Iowa State loses on September 2 to the Panthers and still makes a bowl game.

Iowa State can’t have a repeat of last year’s UNI game in which the Cyclones committed four turnovers and 89 yards in penalties.

Week two, just like 2016, is against Iowa. This time, Iowa State will host.

Iowa is coming off an 8-5 season a year ago. Two-year starting quarterback C.J. Beathard is gone to the NFL. Beathard threw for 450 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in two career starts against Iowa State.

For Iowa State to pull off the win against Iowa, the Cyclones will need to play better offensively. Last year, Iowa State scored just three points against Iowa, thanks to 14-for-35 passing between Joel Lanning and Jacob Park and just 3.6 yards per carry as a team.

The next game on the schedule is at Akron on September 16. Akron went 5-7 last year, including a 1-5 record in the second half of the year.

Playing on the road is never easy, but this is also a must-win game for Iowa State it if hopes to make a bowl game for the first time since 2012. Akron went 2-4 at home last year, so home field advantage shouldn’t be a huge factor.

The final game of September falls on September 28. Texas, led by first-year head coach Tom Herman — a former offensive coordinator at Iowa State — will travel to Ames for a Thursday night game.

Texas had a disappointing 2016 season. The Longhorns finished with a 5-7 record and dismissed head coach Charlie Strong following the year.

The last time Texas played at Iowa State didn’t go so well for the Longhorns. Iowa State throttled Texas, 24-0, in 2015. Texas won last year’s matchup, however, by a final score of 27-6.

The good news for Iowa State? The Cyclones have an 11-day break between the Akron game and the Texas game, which should give Iowa State extra time to prepare for its first Big 12 game.

The bad news for Iowa State? Texas also has 11 days off before the game at Iowa State. A healthy and rested Texas could be a big problem for the Cyclones.

If Iowa State has plans for a bowl game in 2017, a 2-2 start is the bare minimum. Considering all four games in September are winnable, anything worse than .500 could derail the season.

The first four games of the 2017 season won’t make Iowa State’s season, but they sure could break it.