Last year I wanted to broaden my horizon in the college football world by following a team from a non power 5 conference.
For anyone that doesn’t know I am a Florida Gators fan and up until the past couple of seasons they was the only college football I would watch.
I started by reading through a magazine I bought and checked out some of the different conferences. I was drawn straight away to the AAC and whittled my choices down to Memphis and UCF. As soon as I looked into them both and watched some highlights UCF Knights won me over and I made them my team of 2020.
Since then I have held a massive soft spot for them and still follow their activities closely. Onto 2021 and I want to choose a new team. My criteria this time round is to focus on a team that has genuine shout of reaching the College Football Playoffs, although isn’t one of the top teams. (Your Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson etc)
I’ve always enjoyed the underdog element, probably why I gravitated to UCF so much. Now I was looking for a team that is knocking on the door within the power 5 but would still be a bit of a shock if they made the final four. Offence is always going to be important too, I want a team that could put up points and ideally have a good QB, RB or receivers to keep me interested.
Instantly I thought about UNC, Sam Howell is obviously the next big thing heading into next year's draft, but it felt a season late after enjoying their RB duo from last year and Dyami Brown all going to the NFL, It was just full of unknowns for me and it wasn’t quite so attractive.
The Big 12 had a few teams that jumped out too, Iowa State has been on my radar after watching Breece Hall game tape at the back end of last season. Boston College with it’s strong offensive line, Phil Jurkovec and Zay Flowers was another great prospect. NC State was another with a good solid team on both sides of the ball.
After looking into a little further I just couldn’t shake how this team would be perfect for me to follow this year.
I was already pretty much decided and then the bombshell dropped. Texas and Oklahoma wanted out of the Big 12 and agreed to move over to the SEC. The whole off season has been crazy with the new changes coming to college football but none more stunning than this.
This only added fuel to the fire for me in choosing this team. One team had been far ahead than the rest for months and now with the drama happening in the Big 12 with their biggest competitor for the title this year, I decided to choose the Iowa State Cyclones.
Matt Campbell has done a fantastic job turning this program around from a team that had just one winning season the previous 10 before he arrived, to now going, four straight winning seasons and making the conference title last season.
They return a big array of their starters and none more important than heading into 2021 with the best running back from 2020 in Breece Hall, a very productive quarterback in Brock Purdy and arguably a top two tight end in Charlie Kozer. I’ve recently discovered wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson who is set to have a breakout year.
Breece Hall scoring one of his 21 touchdowns last season.
On the defensive side of the ball they return the Big 12 Player of The Year Mike Rose at linebacker and Will McDonald who recorded the most sacks in the whole of college football last season.
It’s no wonder that they will go into the season as a top 10 ranked team, in fact they have been announced at 7 in the AP Rankings which is the highest preseason ranking they’ve ever had. The biggest question will be, will Matt Campbell and this team, despite only just losing to Oklahoma in the conference title game, be able to handle the expectation levels this season.
Oklahoma are still the big favourites to repeat their success of conference champions this year and after a slow start did certainly look much more the team we would expect. They keep a lot of pieces for this year too but could the Cyclones just have what it takes to shake up the Big 12 and perhaps the College Football Playoffs?
Follow my journey through the season watching the Cyclones. I'll be posting about some of the standout players to watch shortly and expectations for the season.