The Iowa State football program is coming off a disappointing campaign. So it’s a good thing they’re at their best when they’re flying under the radar.

Iowa State football managed to hold on to head coach Matt Campbell for another year but they have some other massive departures to deal with in 2022.

The Cyclones come into the season ranked No. 49 in the FanSided Top 50 Preseason Rankings.

Here’s what’s going down in Ames as the start of a new campaign approaches:

Iowa State Football 2021 season in review

Campbell brought back his Fiesta Bowl-winning squad, including key starters like running back Breece Hall and quarterback Brock Purdy.

The season didn’t go to plan, however. The Cyclones lost to rival Iowa in Week 2 and Baylor two weeks later to fall out of the Top 25 rankings.

An upset victory over Oklahoma State gave the team new life but they went on to lose to West Virginia, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in the second half of the season.

A Cheez-It Bowl loss to Clemson left Iowa State with a 7-6 record.

Previewing Iowa State Cyclones offense for 2022 season

Returning starters (5): WR Jaylin Noel, WR Xavier Hutchinson, C Trevor Downing, RG Darrell Simmons, LG Jarrod Hufford
Notable newcomers: QB Conrad Hawley (Kansas), WR Dimitri Stanley (Colorado), 4-star WR Greg Gaines, 3-star RB Cartevious Norton
Impact player: WR Xavier Hutchinson

The Cyclones have the unenviable task of replacing a four-year starter at QB and an All-American running back, Brock Purdy and Breece Hall.

Redshirt freshman Hunter Dekkers is the favorite to step into Purdy’s shoes. Fortunately, he’ll have the top wide receiver from last year, Xavier Hutchinson, back along with Jaylin Noel, who showed some ability in 2021. However, both top tight ends from last year are gone, including All Big-12 selections Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen. Preseason All-Big 12 selection Jared Rus will try to become the next big ISU tight end.

At running back, Jirehl Brock is the top returner with 174 yards in 2021. However, freshman Cartevious Norton is the breakout candidate.

Three starters return on the offensive line including All-Big 12 first-teamer Trevor Downing with sophomore guards Darrell Simmons and Jarrod Hufford. The tackles have bigger questions.

Previewing Iowa State Cyclones defense for 2022 season

Returning starters (3): DE Will McDonald, MLB O’Rein Vance, FS Anthony Johnson
Notable newcomers: DL MJ Anderson (Minnesota), LB Colby Reeder (Delaware), 4-star DL Hunter Deyo
Impact player: Will McDonald

There are only three returning starters on defense but one of them is a big-time returnee. Defensive end Will McDonald led the Big 12 in sacks last season and should give quarterbacks plenty more to worry about in 2022. The rest of the defensive line needs rebuilding though strong depth should help alleviate worries, along with the addition of Minnesota transfer MJ Anderson.

Delaware’s Colby Reeder is new to Ames as a transfer. He’s a veteran who should make an instant impact at linebacker alongside returning starter O’Rein Vance. The Cyclones should be fine at this level.

The secondary brings up significantly more concerns. Free safety Anthony Johnson will keep his spot while the rest of the unit will have young players stepping up to fill gaps left by departures.

Iowa State football players awards watch for 2022 season

There are three Cyclones drawing attention on preseason award watch lists.

Will McDonald, Lott/Lombardi/Bednarik/Camp/Nagurski

Nearly every national award you can imagine has McDonald on its watch list. There’s a good reason for that. After notching 11.5 sacks last year, he’s eager for more accolades as a senior. No Cyclone has ever won the awards McDonald is up for.

Xavier Hutchinson, Biletnikoff/Maxwell/Camp

The JUCO transfer had a breakout season debuting for Iowa State. He’s now on the radar for multiple offensive awards. Iowa State does not have a Biletnikoff, Maxwell or Walter Camp award winner in history.

Trevor Downing, Rimmington/Outland/Lombardi

After his All-Big 12 nod, Downing is now one of the top linemen in the conference coming into 2022. He’ll have a chance to prove he deserves recognition on the national stage as well. Downing would be the first ISU player to win any of the awards he’s on a watch list for.

Iowa State Cyclones biggest game on 2022 schedule

If Iowa State wants to be relevant in the Big 12, they need to win big matchups against the likes of Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas. Let’s be real though, the biggest prize comes in Week 2 against the Iowa Hawkeyes.

The Hawkeyes got the better of their rivals with a 27-17 victory. The Cyclones will be out for revenge.

Iowa State Football best-case scenario

In a weird way, Iowa State is back where they seem to thrive as an overlooked team in the preseason. Without Purdy and Hall, it’s easy to write them off. The moment a team does, they’re in trouble.

Dekkers was a highly-rated prospect at QB coming out of high school and if he builds a connection with Hutchinson quickly enough the Cyclone offense could start making waves. Consistent havoc created in the backfield by McDonald and company could keep the defense on track.

If the young secondary comes together and Campbell keeps the team motivated, there’s a real chance at another 9-3 surprise.

Iowa State Football worst-case scenario

No Purdy and no Hall could mean big problems for a team that struggled even with those talents on the roster last year.

The program is too steady to fall completely off a cliff. However, this could easily end up being another middling season that sees the Cyclones finish 6-7 with bowl eligibility in question for the first time since 2016.

Having reached his peak in during a magical 2020 season, Campbell could decide now is the time to move on to pursue bigger aspirations.

Iowa State Football 2022 season prediction

ISU was picked to finish sixth in the conference by the Big 12 media. One person even threw them a first-place vote, which goes to show the respect Campbell commands.

There simply aren’t enough good reasons to expect them to make that kind of run.

Iowa State will be an upset threat to every team they face, probably notching one or two against the Bears, Sooners, Cowboys or Longhorns. Fans will have to be content with those victories during another 7-6 season.

Iowa State Football 2022 Bowl Game Prediction

Predict which bowl game they could land in

Up Next: No. 48: Maryland Terrapins

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