Blazevich: Ranking Iowa State football’s toughest matchups (part 2)


Collin Maguire/Iowa State Daily

Columnist Jacob Mauren discusses the recent whirlwind of college football coaching news and rumors. 

Payne Blazevich

Editor’s note: This is the final part of a two-part series ranking the toughness of Iowa State football’s upcoming schedule.

With the 2022 football season just around the corner for Iowa State, football operations have begun to ramp up. In less than three months, a new group of starters will take the field for the Cyclones.

In the first part of this series, I explored and ranked the lower seven teams that Iowa State will face. The remaining five teams have very different roster builds and coaching styles, yet they are similar in the challenge they pose to the Cyclones.

While the Cyclones are capable of beating every remaining team in this ranking, they will need to perform at their very best to stand a chance of consistently taking down these top teams.

5. Texas

Texas, which saw a great deal of roster turnover relating to the transfer portal, may enter the 2022 season with the most explosive offense in the conference. In his second season at the helm, head coach Steve Sarkisian will look to drastically improve the Longhorns’ 5-7 record last season.

First, Texas brought in quarterback Quinn Ewers, the number one quarterback in his recruiting class before his early enrollment at Ohio State. The Longhorns also added tight end Jahleel Billingsley from Alabama, wide receiver Agiye Hall from Alabama, wide receiver Isaiah Neyor from Wyoming and Tarique Milton, who played four years with Iowa State. Not to mention, stars Xavier Worthy and Bijan Robinson are returning for another year, creating a spoil of riches for the offense.

Throughout the conference, the team with the highest variability is probably Texas. This team looks loaded, carrying a plethora of potential superstars. However, the Longhorns have consistently failed to meet preseason expectations over the last couple of years.

There are still question marks on the defense, and the offensive line may not be capable of providing enough time for this potent offense to thrive. If Iowa State can play as the more cohesive and disciplined team, it may have a chance to go toe-to-toe with the Longhorns.

4. Oklahoma

The Sooners faced an immense amount of roster and staff turnover following Lincoln Riley’s decision to leave for the head coaching job at USC.

In the blink of an eye, key contributors for Oklahoma were in the portal while members of the coaching staff followed Riley. Because of this, newly hired head coach Brent Venables, formerly the defensive coordinator for Clemson, oversaw a cascade of portal acquisitions and coaching hires in an attempt to rebuild a barren Oklahoma team.

Venables’ first course of action was to bring in offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby from Ole Miss and co-defensive coordinators Ted Roof and Todd Bates, both of whom previously worked with Venables at Clemson.

Venables also filled the roster with transfer portal talent, bringing in quarterback Dillon Gabriel to fill the void of star quarterbacks Caleb Williams and Spencer Rattler. He also added running back Eric Gray from Tennessee and retained running back Marcus Major.

On the defensive end, there are contributors like linebackers DaShaun White and David Ugwoegbu, but there is a lack of superstar talent. Beating Oklahoma will require one of Iowa State’s best performances of the season. They will also need to neutralize Gabriel, who is by far the most potent offensive threat for the Sooners.

3. Iowa

Although Iowa State’s schedule is chock-full of new faces and schemes, the Hawkeyes are the exact opposite. A team that has continued to be a thorn in Matt Campbell’s side will return over 70 percent of its players and make minimal changes regarding the coaching staff.

The strength of Iowa’s 2022 roster comes in the form of returning talent, including players such as star defensive back Riley Moss and safety Kaevon Merriweather. Other familiar faces include quarterback Spencer Petras and punter Tory Taylor.

With the mix of veteran leadership and incoming talent, Iowa’s defense, especially their secondary, will be as strong as ever.

The team’s main issues lie within the offense, where an already weak system loses running back Tyler Goodson and offensive lineman Tyler Linderbaum to the NFL, as well as leading wide receiver Charlie Jones to the portal. Running backs Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams showed talent in the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky, but woes on the offensive line may be a year-long obstacle for the Hawkeyes.

The biggest challenge for Iowa State is that the Cyclones have yet to beat Iowa under Campbell. Iowa State has been competitive, but in the last few matchups, a myriad of uncharacteristic mistakes put games out of reach for Iowa State. A consistent game will mean a competitive game for the Cyclones, but beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen in this unpredictable series.

2. Baylor

The reigning Big 12 champions were a team heavily affected by roster turnover this offseason. The Bears lost talent to the NFL and transfer portal; however, head coach Dave Aranda will look to reload in his third season in Waco.

An area of concern for Baylor is at wide receiver, where it lost three top targets. Tyquan Thornton and Drew Estrada will be playing at the next level in 2022, and R.J. Sneed entered the transfer portal.

Also, their 2021 starting quarterback Gerry Bohanon was advised by Aranda to enter the portal after losing his position battle to redshirt sophomore Blake Shapen. The backfield will be entirely revamped as running backs Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner move on to the NFL.

The defense will also need to shore up some gaps, as Baylor lost talent in the secondary, including safety Jalen Pitre, who was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season. Heading into the 2022 season, defensive lineman Siaki Ika and linebacker Dillon Doyle will be veteran rocks for this unit.

The matchup between Iowa State and Baylor will be one of the most important games for each team this upcoming season.

For Iowa State, it will be an opportunity to take down an opponent they narrowly fell to last season. For Baylor, losing to Iowa State early could jeopardize their chances of returning to the title game.

Both teams will compete with fresh faces and be highly motivated to start their conference play with a win.

1. Oklahoma State

Under head coach Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State has seen consistent success, completing seven 10-win seasons since 2010, and in his 17 seasons at the helm, he has achieved 16 consecutive bowl seasons. Although Oklahoma State lost a handful of contributors this offseason, no coach has proven his reliability in developing new talent better than Gundy.

The biggest loss for the Cowboys is the departure of defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, whose defensive unit was a big contributor to the success of Oklahoma State last season. However, he will be replaced with Derek Mason, formerly the defensive coordinator at Auburn and former head coach at Vanderbilt. While six of their top eight tacklers are gone, including linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, they return defensive end Collin Oliver, who was last season’s Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.

Although some veteran players departed for the NFL, a key returning contributor for the Cowboys is All-American quarterback Spencer Sanders. With another season to develop, Sanders could further dominate the conference.

An area that could pose a weakness for Oklahoma State is running back, with the loss of Jaylen Warren to the NFL. Dominic Richardson, a junior who has been a key contributor at times, will need to step up to help this offense run smoothly.

Beating Oklahoma State will be a challenge for the Cyclones, not only because of the Cowboys’ roster strength and coaching experience but also because Iowa State will lack the home-field advantage. Iowa State has beaten the Pokes just twice in Campbell’s tenure, and the intense environment of Jack Trice Stadium will be lacking in this upcoming matchup. While Iowa State has the capability to beat Oklahoma State, it will take a complete performance on both sides of the ball.