It doesn't matter whether you're an Iowa fan or an Iowa State fan, you likely circle the calendar the day the Hawkeyes and Cyclones take the field together and do battle on the gridiron.
This season there are a couple of interesting twists. You'll be enjoying a night game on September 10th in Iowa City, and the Cyclones found themselves a new head coach in Matt Campbell, who is already putting a nice spin on a program that hasn't won more that seven games since the year 2000.
As I previously mentioned, Iowa State hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire in quite some time. They struggled through last season, going 3-9 and 2-7 in conference play, although they could've probably won five or even six games, but failed to execute late. They actually held a lead on the Hawkeyes in Ames last season, but failed to score in the second half allowing Iowa to head back home with a 31-17 victory.
The biggest thing last year was the difference in rushing yards. Iowa ran for 260 yards, while ISU managed just 60.
The Cyclone defense gave up right around 33 points per game last season, which was good for 97th out of the 128 qualifying FBS teams. However, that is a step up from the season prior, notes Alex Halsted of All Cyclones.
"I think the nearly 33 points per game average the defense allowed in 2015 was a combination of the Big 12 style and poor play. It was actually an improvement from the 39 points per game it allowed in 2014 and the pass rush was much more effective too. The defense should continue to improve in 2016 as it switches to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme that might suit it well in the pass-heavy Big 12," said Halsted.
The Iowa State offense averaged 25 points per contest last season, which earned them 94th out of 128 teams. They are going to return Joel Lanning, who likely gets the starting nod, according to Alex. "Matt Campbell said at the end of spring ball that he and the staff feel comfortable with Joel Lanning at quarterback and he's the clear No. 1 guy heading into the fall," noted Halsted.
Lanning is fresh off a season in which he threw for 1,247 yards, tossed 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions while completing just 56% of his passes. While he'll need to work on the accuracy, he's a threat to run the ball almost every time he drops back. He scampered for 330 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Outside of Lanning, Campbell and staff will lean heavily on the services of Mike Warren, who emerged after the game against Iowa last season for Paul Rhoads' crew. He had at least 15 carries in every single game after the meeting with Iowa. This led to him rushing for nearly 1,400 yards in his freshman campaign. Warren will most likely be Iowa's biggest key come September, says Alex.
"Warren is the biggest key for Hawkeyes, especially with Iowa State being more run-focused under Campbell," said Halsted. But he did note that wide receiver, Allen Lazard, is likely Iowa State's biggest weapon. But since the Hawkeyes return Jim Thorpe award winner, Desmond King, that prompted Alex to pick Warren as the player for Hawkeye fans to keep their eyes on when September 10th rolls around.
We talked about Iowa State's struggles last season, giving up nearly 33 points per contest, but as noted, some of that can be attributed to them playing in such an offensive-minded and pass-heavy league. Campbell has made some changes, going with five defensive backs in his 4-2-5 scheme, but in this game the Cyclones will need to focus more on the run.
They gave up 260 yards on the ground to the Hawkeyes in Ames last season, and with Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels returning, that number could likely be in the same area in this years contest. The Cyclones do return two of their top four leading tacklers from a year ago and have made strides to make sure their defense stays experienced.
"The new staff brought in JUCO defensive backs and a graduate transfer safety in hopes to quickly improve the secondary. All signs point to not being any worse and taking at least another gradual second step forward," Halsted said of Iowa State's defense.
It's so hard to predict these things this early, especially when it's a rivalry game and they always tend to be close until the end, but we'll go ahead and do it anyway.
"Since it's so early and there is so much to learn about this team and style under new coach Matt Campbell, I think the edge certainly goes to Iowa in this game. Should Iowa State start strong against Northern Iowa and San Jose State, it'll take some confidence into Kinnick, but for now I'd take the Hawkeyes in another one or two score game," said Alex.
I would tend to agree with that. Iowa is much more experienced at this point and I believe they have more talent as well. I think the Cyclones are on their way, but Iowa will be the better team this fall. And I think that likely results in a 14 point Hawkeye win, 34-20.
Iowa State is going to give Iowa their best shot, but you throw in the fact that it's a night game, a rivalry game, at Iowa, and the Hawkeyes are more experienced, I just can't see the Cyclones pulling off the upset.