Editor’s note: Sixth in a series previewing each team in the Big 12.

During the 2022 football season, Iowa State gained more attention for a former player’s unlikely rise in the NFL than for anything any of its current players did.

Ex-Cyclone quarterback Brock Purdy took the San Francisco 49ers to the NFL playoffs after he was the last player selected in the 2022 NFL draft, while the Cyclones themselves struggled to a 4-8 record, their first losing season since 2016.

“There’s a lot of work to do. We are going to have to have a great summer, we’re going to have to have a phenomenal fall camp. The challenges aren’t getting any easier.” — Iowa State coach Matt Campbell

So the question around Ames this past spring has been about Iowa State’s prospects for a quick recovery. The Cyclones went 1-8 in the Big 12 to occupy the cellar alone by two games.

Truth be told, some folks saw the dropoff coming, after 2021 standouts Breece Hall, Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen moved on to the NFL with Purdy, known for being Mr. Irrelevant, until he became the poster boy for late-round draft picks making good.

Credit coach Matt Campbell for shaking up his offensive coaching staff after ISU underperformed on that side of the ball in 2022. Longtime offensive coordinator Tom Manning and strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews were among those released.

“In order for us to move the program forward, I felt it necessary to make these changes at this time,” Campbell said in a school news release. “Tom and Dave are tremendous men who have had a hand in our success over the last few years, and we wish them and their families all the best in the future.”

Iowa State’s opponent on Nov. 11 in Provo, BYU, has undergone a similar coaching overhaul — but on the defensive side of the ball, as head coach Kalani Sitake released longtime friend Ilaisa Tuiaki as defensive coordinator and replaced him with Weber State head coach Jay Hill.

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Campbell later promoted Nate Scheelhaase to offensive coordinator.

At least, the new OC inherits an experienced quarterback, as Hunter Dekkers returns for his junior season; however, Dekkers threw 14 interceptions last year, and the ISU offense ranked as one of the worst in the country. The Cyclones committed 23 turnovers in 2022, tied for 103rd nationally.

If he reverts to his 2022 form, Dekkers will be pushed for playing time by JJ Kohl and Rocco Becht. And ISU will look to get more from its normally powerful rushing attached.

The Cyclones averaged only 3.3 yards per carry after the departure of Hall, who shined for the Zach Wilson-quarterbacked New York Jets before suffering a season-ending injury in Week 7.

Eli Sanders, Jirehl Brock and Cartevious Norton are back to carry the football, while hopes are high for Stanford transfer A.J. Harris.

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Harris has “got great long speed. He’s got the ability to stick his foot in the ground and get vertical. He’s a guy that you saw some of those traits we look for at the tailback position,” Campbell said before ISU’s spring game.

Iowa State brought in Eastern Kentucky receiver Jayden Higgins to give Dekkers one more reliable target; veteran pass-catchers Dimitri Stanley and Jaylin Noel should also play bigger roles in 2023.

Iowa State’s problems last year had nothing to do with defense, as that unit stayed stout until national runner-up TCU hung 62 points on it in a season-ender for the Cyclones.

Iowa State finished No. 4 nationally in fewest yards allowed per game, giving up just 285.6 per contest. Six of ISU’s eight losses were by seven points or fewer.

The Cyclones return an outstanding secondary, led by cornerbacks T.J. Tampa and Myles Purchase and safeties Malik Verdon and Jeremiah Cooper. They will need to find a replacement for standout edge rusher Will McDonald IV.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Campbell told the Iowa State Daily when camp concluded. “We are going to have to have a great summer, we’re going to have to have a phenomenal fall camp. The challenges aren’t getting any easier.”

Iowa State and BYU haven’t faced off since 1974, and the Cyclones own a 4-0 advantage in the series.


Iowa State Cyclones 2023 preview

2022 record: 4-8 (1-8 Big 12)

Local ties: None

2023 schedule

Sept. 2 — Northern Iowa.
Sept. 9 — Iowa.
Sept. 16 — at Ohio.
Sept. 23 — Oklahoma State.
Sept. 30 — at Oklahoma.
Oct. 7 — TCU.
Oct. 14 — at Cincinnati.
Oct. 28 — at Baylor.
Nov. 4 — Kansas.
Nov. 11 — at BYU.
Nov. 18 — Texas.
Nov. 25 — at Kansas State.

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell watches from the sideline during game vs. Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell watches from the sideline during game against Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa. The Cyclones are looking to rebound from a subpar 2022 campaign. | Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press