The big question for Matt Campbell, new coach at Iowa State, is can the Cyclones win games in the tough Big 12 Conference.
“Two years ago after we played the Cyclones in Ames, I called my wife (Erica) and said you simply would not believe this place,” Campbell said. “Their fans, the game-day environment and facilities are all incredible. I could see us living in Ames and me coaching the Cyclones some day. “
Campbell had a 35-15 record in four-plus seasons as the head coach at Toledo and led the Rockets to three nine-win seasons. He coached Toledo in three bowls and Campbell’s winning percentage (.700) is third-best in school history, trailing only Nick Saban (.818, 1990) and Bill Orwig (.762, 1946-47).
He was named the Toledo head coach in December 2011 (when Tim Beckman left), becoming the youngest head coach in the FBS by three years. Only 16 days after his promotion from offensive coordinator to head coach, Campbell led the Rockets to a 42-41 win over Air Force in the Military Bowl.
“I couldn’t be more excited to receive the opportunity to coach at Iowa State,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s first full season as head coach (2012) included an eight-game winning streak. The Rockets upset No. 18 Cincinnati during the win streak, moved into the nation’s Top 25 for the first time in more than a decade and were invited to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Last year’s Toledo team – which had to replace five offensive line starters – got the nation’s attention in September with a 16-12 upset of 18th-ranked Arkansas. Then the Rockets defeated Iowa State in overtime, their second Power 5 victory in a row. The 2015 Rockets ranked 27th nationally in scoring offense and 28th in scoring defense. Toledo earned the first College Football Playoff ranking in school history.
Junior Joel Lanning is the only returning ISU quarterback with experience. He is the presumptive starter but could be challenged by redshirt freshman Dominic De Lira of Austin, Texas, or true freshman Zeb Noland, a three-star prospect from Watkinsville, Georgia. Junior Kyle Kempt is a walkon and Kyle Sarcevich could be in the mix.
Lanning backed up Sam Richardson last year but started the last five games for ISU. He threw for 1,247 yards and rushed for 330 yards, the second-best rushing total on the team. Lanning had 10 passing TDs and completed 55.5 percent (107-193) of his passes in 2015. The offense averaged over 400 yards in three of his five starts. In his first career start against Texas, the Cyclones shutout the Longhorns in a 24-0 victory. He threw for 188 yards and rushed for 64 yards in the win. He had a season-high 260 yards passing at Oklahoma and rushed for a season-high 130 yards and two TDs vs. Oklahoma State, the fifth-best single-game rushing total by a QB in school history.
“I think the top priority is to identify what can Joel Lanning do for us,” Campbell said. “We have been able to watch him and we have seen him have great success on the football field. We need to harness his ability.
“And then we have a great opportunity to watch what these young guys can do. We’ve been pleasantly surprised early on through some of the winter workouts of the athletic ability of a guy like Dominic De Lira and what he brings to the table.
“Zeb Noland is also an exciting prospect. Here’s a young pup who will get some great opportunities this spring to really fit into the offense. We also have two walk-ons. Kyle Starcevich has great ability and has shown that he can throw the ball. Kyle Kempt, a young man who also transferred in at semester, is going to get some looks.”
Noland chose Iowa State over Alabama, Colorado State, Appalachian State and Toledo.
“You talk about building the structure of your football program and the quarterback position is so important,” Campbell said. “Zeb is a young man who played for his father in high school. He knows what it’s like to build a program.”
Iowa State will host Oklahoma on a Thursday night game on November 3. The Sooners rarely play on Thursdays. OU has won 17 games in a row against Iowa State and OU coach Bob Stoops is 11-0 against the Cyclones. Stoops’ average margin of victory has been 41-9. Iowa State’s only win against OU since 1961 was a 33-31 victory in 1990 in Norman. The Sooners have won their last 22 games in Ames.
In 2015, the Cyclones ranked 58th nationally in total offense at a little more than 400 yards per game, but ranked just 93rd in scoring offense at 25 points per outing. Iowa State ranked 97th in scoring defense (32.7 points per game).
Iowa State has completed a $60 million renovation of Jack Trice Stadium. The south end zone is now completely bowled in and at 61,500 seats, the stadium is now the third largest in the Big 12.
Iowa State has pulled off some big upsets. In November 2011, No. 2 Oklahoma State carried a 17-point lead into the third quarter of that game at ISU, but the Cyclones rallied, scoring 17 unanswered points to tie the game at 24-24 and force overtime.
After both teams scored touchdowns and extra points in the first OT period, it was OSU’s turn to possess the ball first in the second overtime. The Cyclones intercepted quarterback Brandon Weeden, and then scored to win. That game would be the Cowboys’ only loss of the year, keeping them from the BCS Championship game.
Last year, OU blasted ISU 52-16 in Norman. OSU topped Iowa State 35-31 last year in Ames.
In nonconference play, ISU plays in-state rival Iowa of the Big Ten Conference plus Northern Iowa and San Jose State.