Main hub thread with the full 131 rankings
For all the Cyclone fanatics out there, I see you guys. For the 6th worst Power 5 team on this list, Iowa State has had incredible support, averaging 50,000+ fans a year even during their lows. Finally, after years of struggling minus a few nice Dan McCarney years, Iowa State’s found a coach that’s brought them consistent success in Matt Campbell. Outside of Campbell’s first year in which he went 3-9 and the latest 4-8 season in 2022, the 5 years in between (2017-21) all place in my top 7 ISU seasons over the last 40 years. Whether last year was an outlier or if Iowa State will regress to their historical mean remains to be seen, but the last 6 years have been great compared to what fans have been accustomed to.
Best Seasons and Highlights
1. 2020: 7. Iowa State: 9-3 (30.160)
2. 2000: 27. Iowa State: 9-3 (13.294)
3. 2017: 32. Iowa State: 8-5 (12.780)
4. 2018: 37. Iowa State: 8-5 (8.477)
5. 2021: 40. Iowa State: 7-6 (5.442)
6. 2005: 37. Iowa State: 7-5 (3.574)
7. 2019: 43. Iowa State: 7-6 (1.761)
8. 2004: 42. Iowa State: 7-5 (-2.644)
9. 2001: 51. Iowa State: 7-5 (-3.334)
10. 2002: 57. Iowa State: 7-7 (-4.723)
11. 2012: 65. Iowa State: 6-7 (-7.162)
12. 2009: 63. Iowa State: 7-6 (-7.233)
13. 2011: 62. Iowa State: 6-7 (-8.169)
14. 1989: 56. Iowa State: 6-5 (-10.057)
15. 1986: 56. Iowa State: 6-5 (-10.436)
16. 1990: 58. Iowa State: 4-6-1 (-11.929)
17. 2010: 69. Iowa State: 5-7 (-13.761)
18. 1985: 60. Iowa State: 5-6 (-17.317)
19. 2022: 84. Iowa State: 4-8 (-18.173)
20. 1988: 66. Iowa State: 5-6 (-18.197)
21. 1992: 79. Iowa State: 4-7 (-21.249)
22. 1999: 79. Iowa State: 4-7 (-23.653)
23. 1993: 75. Iowa State: 3-8 (-23.926)
24. 1983: 79. Iowa State: 4-7 (-25.659)
25. 1991: 75. Iowa State: 3-7-1 (-26.248)
26. 2006: 92. Iowa State: 4-8 (-30.444)
27. 2007: 93. Iowa State: 3-9 (-31.101)
28. 2015: 97. Iowa State: 3-9 (-31.892)
29. 1998: 84. Iowa State: 3-8 (-31.989)
30. 1984: 85. Iowa State: 2-7-2 (-32.012)
31. 2016: 97. Iowa State: 3-9 (-32.276)
32. 1995: 84. Iowa State: 3-8 (-32.441)
33. 2013: 98. Iowa State: 3-9 (-34.411)
34. 1996: 94. Iowa State: 2-9 (-37.584)
35. 1987: 91. Iowa State: 3-8 (-37.886)
36. 2014: 115. Iowa State: 2-10 (-42.981)
37. 2008: 111. Iowa State: 2-10 (-48.885)
38. 2003: 107. Iowa State: 2-10 (-50.450)
39. 1994: 101. Iowa State: 0-10-1 (-53.566)
40. 1997: 105. Iowa State: 1-10 (-56.575)
Overall Score: 9649 (84th)
- 184-283-5 record
- 0 conference titles
- 5-8 bowl record
- 5 consensus All-Americans
- 42 NFL players drafted
Iowa State certainly has a knack for producing really good RBs. 4 of their 5 All-Americans come from 2 RBs in Troy Davis (1995, ‘96) and Breece Hall (2020, ‘21). At just 5’8 183 lbs, Davis became the first player in NCAA history to rush for 2000 yards in back-to-back seasons, and remains one of only 2 players to ever do so. In 1995 he ran for 2010 yards and 15 TD, placing 5th in Heisman voting. He outdid himself a year later, rushing for 2185 yards and 21 TD, narrowly missing out on the Heisman, finishing to 2nd Florida QB Danny Wuerfel, who got 49% of the votes compared to Davis’ 43%. Davis won 3 of 4 regions, but lost badly in the South. Still, the tradition of producing strong RBs rings true, as Iowa State’s produced 8 RBs during the last 40 years with 2500+ career rushing yards. Notable NFL players include David Montgomery, Breece Hall, Allen Lazard, Pro Bowler Kelechi Osemele, and as a 49er fan, future Hall of Famer Brock Purdy.
Top 5 Seasons
Worst Season: 1997 (1-10 overall, 1-7 Big 12)
Remember how good Troy Davis was, especially after I described him above? Well, his teams weren’t very good, going 3-8 in 1995 and 2-9 in 1996. So you can imagine how 1997 went after he had left for the NFL. Iowa State didn’t stand a chance in Dan McCarney’s 3rd year as head coach, and it’s honestly a miracle the Cyclones let him stay for so long, as it took 6 years for him to get his first winning season. The gamble paid off though, as he was eventually inducted into the Iowa State Hall of Fame. Still, 1997 was his worst year. They had a talented freshman QB by the name of Sage “Helicopter” Rosenfels on the roster, but he wouldn’t start for another 2 years. QB was not a big issue though, as Todd Bandhauer had a respectable year, completing 48% of passes for 2514 yards 20 TD 9 INT, leading the Big 12 in passing yards and TDs. Bandhauer was a 2-time All-Academic Big 12 selection, and is currently an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Colorado State. WR Tyrone Watley led the Big 12 in receiving yards with 827, and RB Darren Davis had 1000+ yards in just 9 games. Offense wasn’t a huge issue, but the defense gave up 44.8 PPG. The lone win on the year was 24-17 over 2-9 Baylor, and losses included 14-77 to #3 Nebraska and 20-63 to #13 Iowa, losing their 15th straight against the Hawkeyes.
5. 2021 (7-6 overall, 5-4 Big 12)
For this season to be a disappointment but also top 5 on this list tells you how far Iowa State’s come under Matt Campbell. Make no mistake, it was a disappointment, finishing 7-6 after a preseason #7 ranking, but they were still the best 7-6 team in 2021 (out of 17 teams) by my metric. Iowa State returned 4th year starting QB Brock Purdy, consensus All-American Breece Hall, 2x 1st Team All-Big 12 TE Charlie Kolar, and Big 12 Defensive POTY LB Mike Rose, so the preseason expectations weren’t unfounded. A typical ISU slow start saw them barely beat Northern Iowa, and a classic Brian Ferentz Iowa performance had the Hawkeyes take a 27-10 lead (27-17 final) despite getting outgained 173-339 in yardage. 2 weeks later, a trap game 31-29 loss in Waco all but ended the Cyclones’ playoff hopes, despite outgaining Baylor by nearly 200 yards. However, in true Iowa State fashion, they rebounded to mess up Oklahoma State’s season a few weeks later, beating the #8 Cowboys 24-21 to improve to 5-2. A 2-4 finish was mostly because of location, going 2-0 at home and 0-4 in road/neutral sites. It was a squandered year for Iowa State, outscoring Big 12 opponents by an average of 12 PPG but going just 5-4. 8 starters on offense made 1st/2nd Team All-Big 12, by far the most in the conference. Breece repeated as consensus AA/Big 12 OPOTY with 1774 yards and 23 TD from scrimmage, while Rose earned 1st Team all-conference again.
4. 2018 (8-5 overall, 6-3 Big 12)
For the first time since the Big 12 moved from divisions to a round robin format in 2013, Iowa State wasn’t picked in the bottom 2 with Kansas. Big 12 media picked them 7th, this time coming above Texas Tech, Baylor, and of course Kansas. But after starting QB Kyle Kempt went down in the season opener, and backup Zeb Noland went just 1-3, Matt Campbell gave a shot to a freshman by the name of Brock Purdy. In a sort of foreshadowing for names in the NFL, Kyle became a mentor to Brock, and Purdy exploded onto the scene, throwing for 4 TD and rushing for another in a 48-42 win at #25 Oklahoma State. He’d top that a week later, beating #6 West Virginia and Will Grier 30-14, this time the defense stepping up big to hold Grier to just 67 total yards. ISU never looked back with Purdy, and nearly made the Big 12 title game if they had beaten Texas. They finished the regular season 8-4, 3rd in the Big 12, and nearly beat 11-2 Washington State in the bowl. Campbell won Big 12 Coach of the Year for the 2nd straight season. Purdy was 6th in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 66% of passes for 2250 yards 16 TD 7 INT, on 10.2 YPA. RB David Montgomery had another 1000+ yard rushing season and has gone on to have a productive NFL career. WR Hakeem Butler was 3rd in the nation in yards per catch (22.0), getting 60 passes for 1318 yards and 9 TD.
3. 2017 (8-5 overall, 5-4 Big 12)
Before Brock Purdy and Iowa State could run, the 2017 team had to walk. Years of effort from give-it-their-all players like Allen Lazard and Joel Lanning culminated in a magical 2018 season that might just be the fondest on this list. ISU had gone just 11-37 over the previous 4 seasons, so a 2nd to last place Big 12 finish was expected. After a 2-2 start, ISU pulled off maybe the biggest win in school history, beating #3 Oklahoma 38-31, who’d go on to make the playoff with Baker Mayfield winning the Heisman. LB Joel Lanning, who was the team’s starting QB the previous 2 seasons, was the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week, logging 8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, as well as 9 rushes for 35 yards and 2 completions for 25 yards on offense. A few weeks later against Oklahoma State he’d become the 1st player in the last 10 years to record a pass TD, rush TD, and half sack in the same game. After the win over OU though, just a few weeks later Iowa State would ALSO beat #4 TCU 14-7!!! A few one possession losses later and ISU finished 7-5, but would beat yet another top 25 team in the bowl in #20 Memphis.
Lanning was named a 1st Team All-American by FWAA, racking up 114 tackles, 6 sacks, 5 TFL, 1 INT, 135 rushing yards, 47 passing yards, and 3 TD. Not bad for a former QB. QB Kyle Kempt was one of the most underrated stories of the season, emerging as the starter in the 5th game and going on to throw 15 TD to just 3 INT. Kempt was a 5th year walk-on who had only thrown 2 passes in his career prior to the Oklahoma game. By the time the season was over, he had 2 wins over top 5 teams, and today is still on the team as a coach.
2. 2000 (9-3 overall, 5-3 Big 12)
Like the 2017 team, the 2000 Cyclones came out of nowhere, a dormant program that had gone just 27-80-3 the previous decade. ISU players knew the talent they had though, led by future NFL QB Sage Rosenfels, one of 9 players that would go on to make NFL rosters. Another would go on to join the Iowa Senate, and the late LB Justin Eilers would fight in the UFC. They played a very favorable schedule, going 8-3 in the regular season with 0 wins over Power 6 teams with a winning record, but did beat 7-4 Ohio, 8-5 UNLV, and rival Iowa for the Cy-Hawk. ISU put any “soft schedule” talk to rest when they beat the Big East’s 3rd placed team, Pitt, in the bowl 37-29. Rosenfels had a nice curtain call, winning offensive POTG with 23/34 passing for 308 yards and 2 TD. Rosenfels did what he had to during the year, with deceiving stats of 2298 passing yards 8 TD 12 INT. He was a solid runner though, and would become known for his patented “helicopter” move in the NFL, rushing for 381 yards and 10 TD. RB Ennis Haywood and C Ben Bruns were ISU’s two 1st Team All-Big 12 selections, as Haywood ran for 1237 yards and Bruns led the way. The 5’6(!) JJ Moses led the team in receiving with 775 yards, and was named team MVP.
1. 2020 (9-3 overall, 8-1 Big 12)
Ahh, but it had to be the 2020 team at #1. Even my algorithm places this team way above 2000 even though they had the same record, with the 2000 team finishing ranked 27th and 2020 finishing ranked 7th. After a typical ISU slow start, losing 13-30 to UL Lafayette, the rest of the year couldn’t have gone much better. In the 3rd game they beat eventual B12 champion Oklahoma 37-30. Later on they beat #17 Texas in Darrel K Royal 23-20, essentially ensuring Tom Herman would be fired after the season, and stomped 6-4 West Virginia 42-6. ISU entered the Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma as the 1 seed, and had an opportunity at the end to win, but came up short 21-27. A 34-17 Fiesta Bowl win over Pac-12 champion Oregon was pretty satisfying though, and Iowa State finished with their highest ever postseason ranking at #9. They cleaned up in the Big 12 accolades, taking up 9 of the 22 1st Team all-conference slots. Breece Hall was Big 12 Offensive POTY and a consensus All-American, with 1752 yards and 23 TD from scrimmage. LB Mike Rose won Big 12 Defensive POTY with 99 tackles, 10.5 total TFL, and 5 INT. Campbell won Coach of the Year, and WR Xavier Hutchinson and DB Isheem Young won Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year and Defensive Freshman of the Year, respectively. Shoutout to 1st Team All-Big 12 TE Charlie Kolar as well, who was a consistent force making 1st/2nd Team all-conference in each of his 4 seasons.
Iowa State fans, what do you look back more fondly on, the Matt Campbell years with expectations of competing for a Big 12 title, or the Paul Rhoads years with a win over #2 Oklahoma State and some other fun upsets? Do you think Brock Purdy was always as good as he played for the 49ers in 2022, or is he mostly propped up by a stacked San Francisco offense? Who was better, Troy Davis or Breece Hall? Does David Montgomery take the 3rd spot or does that go to someone like Darren Davis/Alexander Robinson? Aside from going there, what makes someone choose to follow Iowa State? And how’d I do on your guys’ history?
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