It’s time for the midwest’s most glorious and important rivalry, the annual Farmageddon showdown between arch-enemies Kansas State Wildcats and Iowa State Cyclones. The winner, of course, gets to force the loser to eat their grain of choice, so we’re hoping there’s lots of bread consumed in Ames on Saturday night.
Joining us this week is the latest sucker to take over the reins at our fantastic sister site Wide Right & Natty Lite, Levi Stevenson.
Jon: From the Cyclone perspective, what makes Farmageddon cool?
Levi: It's two schools with similar schools, fan bases, and football teams. The rivalry really gained most of its traction when Mizzou and Nebraska left, and Iowa State was looking for new rivals. This rivalry doesn't have the same heat as the Nebraska or Mizzou rivalries, but it does have a "friendly" intensity to it that makes it unique.
Jon: Iowa State and K-State have one big thing in common this season: federally-declared quarterback disaster areas. If Skylar Thompson goes down Saturday, we're probably stuck running the Wildcat because the coaches don't seem to even trust the next guy up to be able to hand off the football. Who's starting for the Cyclones Saturday, and what happens if he goes down?
Levi: Zeb Noland is going to get the start his weekend after two solid performances against Oklahoma State and Baylor. If he goes down, Iowa State will turn to Kyle Kempt and a heavier dose of Joel Lanning. Given that both have had successful Big 12 starting experience, Cyclone fans won't be too worried.
Interestingly enough, Iowa State's quarterback position has actually been one of the most consistent on the entire team. When Jacob Park went on leave, Kyle Kempt took over and the offense didn't miss a beat. Kyle Kempt went down against Oklahoma State, and the offense still didn't miss a beat, even when redshirt freshman Zeb Noland came in. In fact, given Noland's impressive arm strength in contrast to Kempt's relative lack thereof, the offensive playbook actually opened up a little. Since Zeb took over, Tom Manning has been more willing to use a more vertical passing scheme to take advantage of our size at wide receiver.
To put it simply, the quarterback isn't really a point of concern for us, and still wouldn't be even if Zeb Noland went down.
Jon: To what do you attribute Iowa State's startling success this year? What has Matt Campbell done to turn the program around?
Levi: First and foremost, Matt Campbell changed the culture of the program. He's instilled player-driven leadership and accountability that encourages the upperclassmen to not only dedicate themselves to "The Process," but to instill those values into the younger guys. That foundation has been the biggest catalyst to this impressive turnaround.
Jon: Be honest: how scared are you of Campbell leaving?
Levi: Not even a little bit. Campbell is a different kind of guy. He doesn't really seem to care about money at all, and everything he says suggests he genuinely believes in this program and the ability to become a perennial winner. If you go back and watch his introductory speech, he constantly mentioned how badly he wanted to coach here after bringing his Toledo squad to Ames in 2014. He just built a huge house in Ames, and he brought almost his entire Toledo staff with him to Ames. Those guys were in Ames less than 48 hours after the announcement making recruiting calls. One of the first calls went to David Montgomery, which is turning out alright.
Oh yeah... his buyout is north of $9 million, pricing him out of range for all but a couple schools expected to have openings this winter — none of which are likely to interest him much, if at all.
Matt Campbell is one of the most genuine guys you'll ever meet, and if you listen to what he's been saying all along, he's here to build and maintain a winner. As far as I'm concerned, he's our Gary Patterson until something drastic changes.
Jon: What should we look for on offense, and what schemes are the Cyclones running this year?
Levi: David Montgomery and Allen Lazard are the obvious answers, with Hakeem Butler not far behind. Campbell is a run-first coach, so he'll definitely use a steady dose of David Montgomery to bring the defense forward, before stretching the field with Iowa State's enormous receiving corps.
Given Kansas State's inconsistency so far in the secondary, I would expect to see some of the vertical offense from last week's game to force the Wildcat defensive backs to win one-on-one battles with receivers that measure 6'6", 6'5", 6'4", and 6'1", none of which include speedy slot receivers Trever Ryen and Deshaunte Jones.
Tom Manning likes to line up Hakeem Butler in a pseudo tight end position to utilize his speed and size advantage against the linebackers on seam routes, so keep an eye out for that.
Jon: On defense, where's the best point of attack for the Cats? Conversely, who stands out?
Levi: The only place opponents have been able to have any sort of consistent success is in the intermediate passing game, which this defense is designed to give up in favor of stopping the deep ball. Iowa State also boasts one of the best, if not the best cornerback duos in the conference in Brian Peavy and D'Andre Payne.
Per Pro Football Focus, Brian Peavy has graded out as the best cornerback in the entire conference, and one of the best in the country. On the season, Peavy has given up a total of 8 receptions for 103 yards. In 11 games. Essentially, Brian Peavy eliminates an offensive player on every single play.
As far as Kansas State's offense goes, they always seem to be able to gash teams with their quarterback running game. Joel Lanning will be charged with the spy, so his matchup with Skylar Thompson will be critical.
Jon: Finally, who's gonna win this thing?
Levi: This year, Iowa State finally has the personnel, scheme, and coaching to out-Snyder Kansas State. This game is always close, so I'm going 24-20 Cyclones.
Our thanks to Levi for helping us out this week. We’d tell you to follow him on Twitter, but the bum doesn’t have one so you’ll just have to follow @WideRtNattyLt instead. Also, don’t miss Jon’s answers to Levi’s questions over at WRNL.