It has been 279 days since the last time we saw head coach Matt Campbell and the Iowa State Cyclones take the gridiron. A lot has changed since then. A gambling probe took out key players on the Cyclones leaving many positions unfilled with a certain starter 24 hours away from kicking off against the Northern Iowa Panthers in Jack Trice Stadium (1 p.m.).
The biggest question on everyone’s mind right now is…WHO will start at quarterback? The answer will lay in the hands of first-year offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase, who previously spent five years as the running game coordinator. Iowa State’s quarterback battle has been between redshirt freshman Rocco Becht and freshman JJ Kohl. Both have heard high praise from Coach Campbell and Scheelhaase, but still, there is no clear answer yet. In his press conference on Tuesday, Campbell was not opposed to playing both quarterbacks on Saturday. It has been a tight battle all off-season with the only upper edge Becht has is the fact that he played in two games last year. The redshirt freshman threw 15 passes for 65 yards and an interception against Ohio and fourth-ranked TCU. Kohl on the other hand is one of Iowa State’s highest recruits coming from Ankeny.
While Iowa State is unsure who will be under center, the UNI Panthers have a clear option with Theo Young, who defensive coordinator Jon Heacock described as an “NFL quarterback,” in Tuesday’s press conference. Heacock’s defense which led the Big 12 in yards per game (285.6), rushing defense (107.3), passing defense (178.2), and scoring defense (20.2 points) will have their hands full with Young. In 2022, Young threw for 3,121 yards with 26 touchdowns and six interceptions to go along with 223 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns.
Iowa State continues to field help for whoever is in at quarterback. Leading with junior wide receiver Jaylin Noel who finished last season with 60 receptions for 572 yards and three touchdowns. He is a member of the Hornung Award Watch list and is one catch away from being the third-fastest to 100 catches in Cyclone history. The Iowa State backfield has promise despite losing Jirehl Brock in the gambling probe. Sophomore running back Cartevious Norton will look to build off of a successful freshman season where he played in eight games rushing for 312 yards and two touchdowns.
Northern Iowa versus Iowa State is always an exciting and competitive game. Don’t believe me? Look at the numbers. Iowa State has won three in a row, but the last two meetings have been decided by nine total points…NINE! Great competition early is the perfect preparation for the kind of talented teams Iowa State will face later this season in conference play.