Blazevich: Ranking Iowa State football’s toughest matchups (part 1)


Jacob Rice/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State’s defensive backs showed out April 1 at Ames High School for Iowa State’s open practice.

Payne Blazevich

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part series. The final five games will be previewed in an upcoming article.

With less than 12 weeks to go until the start of the 2022 football season, kickoff is steadily approaching. It will be an opportunity for new faces to step up for Iowa State following years of roster continuity.

Across the Big 12, there has been a wide array of changes, from entire roster turnovers to the replacement of a whole coaching staff. There are also teams that return a vast majority of their roster and will play with a high level of veteran leadership. For the first time in years, the path to winning the Big 12 is wide open, as the traditional contenders face their own changes and adversities.

As the start of the season approaches, I previewed Iowa State’s upcoming schedule and ranked them from least dangerous to most dangerous.

12. Southeast Missouri State (SEMO)

As the 2022 season opener for Iowa State, SEMO should give the Cyclones little trouble in finding their rhythm. The FCS program went 4-7 last season, losing all five of their non-conference games. Although SEMO won the Ohio Valley Conference in 2019 and reached the playoff in back-to-back seasons, Iowa State should have the caliber of talent to win without much trouble.

However, the Redhawks will have some talented skill players to work with next season. All-conference running back Geno Hess will return for his senior year. Last season, Hess rushed for 1,116 yards and found the end zone 14 times. In addition, senior quarterback CJ Ogbonna led Hutchinson Community College to an NJCAA National Championship in 2020 and started for the Redhawks in five games of their 2021 spring season before an ankle injury.

SEMO has some all-conference talent spread across the team and possesses a consistently successful backfield. If Iowa State can contain the playmakers early, they should have a handle on the game the rest of the way. Rather than facing a consistently challenging Northern Iowa team, Iowa State will have a chance to build some momentum and confidence before their matchup against Iowa.

11. Ohio

In the past couple of years, the Ohio football program has seen some change in its coaching staff, which is unfamiliar to the Bobcats. Following the 2020 season, long-time head coach Frank Solich stepped down after 16 seasons with the program due to health concerns. A year later, coaches Ron Collins and Pete Germano announced their retirement after a combined 27 years with Ohio.

Solich was replaced by former offensive coordinator Tim Albin, who has been with the program since 2005. In his first year, the Bobcats went 3-9, losing four non-conference games. Albin, who first worked under Solich at Nebraska, has been the offensive mind behind the Bobcats for almost two decades. In his system, a player like quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who threw for 1,817 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, can find success.

Although Albin has been with the program for a while, the amount of turnover in the coaching staff should give Iowa State an advantage. It will also have a tremendous edge in talent, as Ohio failed to produce any first- or second-team all-conference players last season. Coming off a challenging game against Iowa, the Cyclones should be able to take care of business against Ohio before the start of conference play.

10. Kansas

In his first season as head coach of the Jayhawks, Lance Leipold led Kansas to a 2-10 record, placing them at the bottom of the conference. However, the level of play from Kansas improved as the season progressed. One of their wins was over Texas in a stunning overtime upset. Kansas also held Oklahoma scoreless in the first half of their matchup, forcing the Sooners to score 35 points in the second half to secure a victory in Lawrence.

As Leipold enters his second season, Kansas has the potential to take a big step forward. In the Big 12, the Jayhawks return the highest percentage of production at 82 percent. Kansas will enter the 2022 season as a veteran team, especially on defense with players like senior Kenny Logan Jr. and senior Rich Miller.

The team is led by junior quarterback Jalon Daniels, who threw for 860 yards in just six games. Also, in the backfield, Kansas brings back sophomore running back Devin Neal, who rushed for 707 yards and eight touchdowns. After a year of development, Neal could become another dangerous running back in the Big 12. 

Kansas may prove to be a more challenging team to face than in previous seasons. They have a head coach dedicated to reviving the program, and they are a veteran team on both sides of the ball.

However, the Cyclones should have the capability to take down Kansas. The younger guys got a chance to take snaps against the Jayhawks last season, and their experience paired with veteran leadership should be enough to take care of business, so long as the road environment doesn’t have a major impact.

9. TCU

In the Big 12, TCU has one of the highest percentages of returning production at 80 percent. Next season will also be the first year under new head coach Sonny Dykes. The success of TCU will depend on how well Dykes is able to take over a new system and make effective changes.

Previously, TCU has struggled to stop the run on defense. When Iowa State played TCU last season, Breece Hall rushed for 242 yards with three touchdowns, and Jirehl Brock had his own 40-yard touchdown run. To remedy TCU’s fragile run defense, Dykes hired former Tulsa defensive coordinator Joseph Gillespie. His ability to implement a system that forces a team to be more dynamic will be TCU’s best chance to win.

Even though the Cyclones will travel down to Fort Worth, they should be dynamic enough to beat the Horned Frogs. Even if the run game is slowed, the passing game manned by Hunter Dekkers will be strong against a team that finished eighth in the Big 12 for passing defense last season.

8. West Virginia

For better or worse, West Virginia is a team heavily impacted by the transfer portal during the offseason. However, a lack of returning talent, especially in their secondary, could cause trouble for the Mountaineers.

West Virginia made a splash in the college football scene when they signed quarterback JT Daniels, the Georgia starter before an injury. Daniels was considered a more talented player than Stetson Bennett, who took over for Daniels and led the Bulldogs to a national championship. With Daniels on the roster, the offensive ceiling for West Virginia was raised drastically, even more so when paired alongside running back Lyn-J Dixon, a grad transfer from Clemson.

However, the Mountaineers also faced some adversity regarding the portal. Transfers and graduation have left holes in the defense, particularly with the transfer of linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo who recorded 12 tackles against Iowa State last fall. Both Iowa State and West Virginia have lost veteran talent, and whoever adapts better will have the best chance to win.

7. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders are another team starting the season with a new head coach in the Big 12. Joey McGuire, a former high school football coach, has been working to change the national perception of Texas Tech with his offseason recruiting. He also added former Western Kentucky offensive coordinator Zach Kittley and former Oregon defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.

Although Texas Tech revamped its coaching staff, their two potential starting quarterbacks are familiar faces to Iowa State. Tyler Shough, who Iowa State faced in the Fiesta Bowl, is thought to have the edge over Donovan Smith, who helped defeat the Cyclones last season. Another potential weapon could be running back Tahj Brooks, who may be in the right position to have a breakout year. The Red Raiders also return a defense full of veterans, making them a challenging opponent on both sides of the ball.

Talent-wise, Texas Tech proved they could match Iowa State after they defeated the Cyclones by a field goal last season. If Iowa State doesn’t play well, they won’t be able to keep up with Kittley’s high-powered offense.

However, Texas Tech will need to mesh various styles in their brand new coaching staff. Experience and continuity from Iowa State’s coaching staff could prove to be the deciding factor. Also, home-field advantage will challenge the new set of coaches, and Texas Tech’s rowdy crowd won’t be a factor in this season’s matchup.

6. Kansas State

Entering the 2022 season, Kansas State will have many weapons to utilize in their backfield. With a mix of returning talent along with clever transfer portal acquisitions, Kansas State could be a dangerous team to face.

The Wildcats return 57 percent of their production, and with transfer quarterback Adrian Martinez, formerly the starter at Nebraska, the offense will be more dynamic. Last season, running back Deuce Vaughn was a major contributor to Kansas State’s offensive production. He was the team’s leading rusher with 1,404 yards and the most targeted receiver with 49 receptions.

With the addition of Martinez, Vaughn will carry less of an offensive burden, giving him more of an opportunity to shine in the run game. On the other hand, having Vaughn in the backfield relieves some of the offensive responsibility from Martinez.

By adding Martinez, Kansas State drastically improved their ceiling, as his playmaking ability and athleticism can be a game-changer. However, Martinez also tends to give up the football at the worst possible moment. With a player like Will McDonald on the field as a looming threat, the pressure faced by Martinez could play to Iowa State’s favor. Also, the environment in Jack Trice Stadium could be a difference-maker in a close one-possession series.