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Iowa State Has Best Odds to Challenge Oklahoma, Texas for Big 12 Conference Title

Brock Purdy
Brock Purdy and the Iowa State Cyclones will try to challenge Oklahoma's four-year run of dominance atop the Big 12 this season. Photo from @totalcfb (Twitter).
  • Oklahoma made conference history last season by winning the Big 12 for the fourth consecutive time
  • Of the 21 outright champions in its history, 14 have been either Texas or Oklahoma
  • Iowa State has won two conference championships in school history: 1911 and 1912

Oklahoma’s four-year stranglehold on the Big 12 has really only been threatened by two teams. One of them is Texas, otherwise known as the way things should be: the conference’s two traditional powers battling for the early lead in their early October Red River Showdown.

The other is currently college football’s biggest interloper: Iowa State.

Big 12 Championship Odds

Team Odds at BetOnline
Oklahoma -125
Texas +300
Iowa State +900
West Virginia +1200
Baylor +1400
Oklahoma State +1800
TCU +1800
Texas Tech +2000
Kansas State +3300
Kansas +8000

*Odds as of July 26, 2019

The Cyclones had one season of eight or more wins between 1979 and 2016; the program had far more two-or-fewer win seasons (seven) than it did bowl wins (three). But in three years under Matt Campbell, back-to-back eight win seasons have given the program more wins in the last two seasons (16) than it had in the four seasons prior (11). 

Campbell has already taken the Cyclones to previously unimaginable heights; can he make the next step and capture a Big 12 title?

Scouting the Cyclones

The recruiting coup of the class of 2018 was quarterback Brock Purdy, who shook late interest from Alabama, Texas A&M, UCF and others in sticking with Iowa State. The Arizona product proved his worth pretty quickly, completing 66.4 percent of his passes and averaging 10.2 yards per attempt. Put simply: when Purdy attempted 20 or more passes, the Cyclones were 7-2.

Offensive line play is expected to take a noticeable step forward with all five starters returning, but Purdy will be lacking in proven playmakers around him. The running game will certainly suffer in David Montgomery’s absence, and the Cyclones turned to Arkansas transfer La’Michael Pettway as a potential answer to its problems there. Tight ends should help significantly, but the outside threat will be needed.

The defense will also be strong on the line as two All-Big 12 selections (Ray Lima and JaQuan Bailey) are back, and they are far from alone. The biggest loss to handle is at corner, but a succession plan is in place there thanks to two sophomores who got experience as freshmen, Datrone Young and Anthony Johnson.

Matching Up

Breaking news here: the Big 12 is an offensive league, and the Cyclones have no guarantee of a prolific offense in 2019. There is reason for optimism, but there isn’t a guarantee, and Iowa State has seen shootouts get away from it. The 49-42 loss to Oklahoma State in 2017 was the last blow to its Big 12 title hopes; giving up 37 to Oklahoma last season put the Cyclones behind the Big 12 pack early.

However, if there is a program able to win the Big 12 with defense, it is Iowa State.

Despite having a schedule full of supercharged offenses, the Cyclones finished 30th in the nation in yards per play allowed, which is a jarring standout relative to the rest of the conference.

2018 Big 12 Defensive Rankings

Team Yards Per Play Allowed National Rank
TCU 4.85 23
Iowa State 5.05 30
Texas 5.60 61
West Virginia 5.82 76
Kansas State 5.95 T-90
Texas Tech 5.95 T-90
Oklahoma State 6.04 99
Kansas 6.06 100
Oklahoma 6.13 102
Baylor 6.49 119

That manifests itself in some of its point totals, such as holding 2018 West Virginia, a team that averaged 40.3 points per game, to 14. That same defense was also one of just two to hold Washington State to fewer than 300 passing yards. It’s not the usual way of winning in the Big 12, but who’s to say it isn’t effective: the only teams with more Big 12 wins than Iowa State over the last two years are Oklahoma and Texas.

Final Word

Iowa State is going to have a good football team in 2019, but I don’t see it being good enough to win the Big 12.

For one, Iowa State’s rise was well-timed with the tail end of about a decade of down Texas. With Sam Ehlinger at the front, that seems to be over, and Oklahoma is only getting better now with a proven defensive coordinator (Alex Grinch) in town. The schedule doesn’t help the Cyclones, either: at Oklahoma and hosting Texas in consecutive weeks, Nov. 9 and 16, plus opening Big 12 play at an improving Baylor team.

I am tempted to take the over on 8 wins for Iowa State, which is the season win total line on Bovada, but I am not tempted to take the Cyclones as the Big 12 champions.

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