By Anthony Hanson, KURE Sports Reporter
AMES –There is no better conference in college football than the Big 12, according to Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. And Saturday, Campbell’s Cyclones open Big 12 play at home with No. 17 Baylor, a favorite to win the conference.
The Bears were picked first in the Big 12 preseason media poll, and they’ve cruised to victory twice this season, winning by over 30 points in both.
From top to bottom the Big 12 is really good, Campbell said, and Baylor and Iowa State have burst onto the scene to become real contenders in the conference under the leadership of Campbell and Baylor head coach Dave Aranda.
In the last five matchups, Iowa State has the edge 3-2. But the teams have battled, sometimes scuffled and decided each game by an average of fewer than seven points.
“It really comes down to discipline,” Campbell said leading up to Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup at Jack Trice Stadium.
In 2018, players were ejected for punches thrown in the third quarter of Iowa State’s win. Last season, Iowa State was a two-point conversion shy of forcing overtime and Baylor took the victory. After Iowa State reached the Big 12 conference championship game in 2020, Baylor faced Oklahoma State for the conference title last season.
Down the stretch, the teams just might be vying for the same position in the conference standings.
“It’s going to be high tension,” Senior safety Anthony Johnson said. “We’re two programs that are highly competitive.”
“Whoever can stay level-headed will get the job done.”
Against Baylor starting quarterback Blake Shapen, Johnson will be searching for his second career interception. Johnson played four seasons at cornerback for Iowa State before transitioning to safety this season. Last week against Ohio, Johnson earned his first interception, setting up a rushing touchdown for Iowa State.
Regardless of position, Baylor has elite team speed, Campbell said. The Bears’ running back trio of Qualan Jones, Craig Williams and freshman Richard Reese is explosive. Reese is tied for second nationally with five rushing touchdowns. Each of the three backfield threats has tallied over 100 yards this season. Reese leads the way with 241.
Johnson is a leader in the defensive backfield for Iowa State, but it will take the entire Cyclone defense to stop the Baylor offense that is ranked 16th nationally in scoring offense and rushing offense.
“They’re going to force you to defend the entire football field,” Campbell said. “They have elite team speed across the board.”
For Iowa State’s young quarterback Hunter Dekkers, the intensity surrounding a matchup with Baylor is what happens when two good football teams square off.
Dekkers was on the sideline for the Cyclones’ last two games against Baylor, backing up Brock Purdy. Dekker will lead the Iowa State offense on Saturday against a team led by Aranda that takes pride in defense.
“They’re a good, well-coached team and obviously we are too,” Dekkers said. “We know it’s going to be a hard-fought battle.”
Aranda was the former defensive coordinator at LSU before taking the head coaching job at Baylor. His team has lost NFL-level defenders Jalen Pitre and Terrel Bernard, but the Baylor defense still ranks 24th nationally in scoring defense.
In his first career starts, Dekkers ranks fifth in the nation in completion percentage. He’s found his favorite target Xavier Hutchinson for five touchdowns but last time out against the Bobcats the junior quarterback disposed of other weapons. He found Sean Shaw and DeShawn Hanika for a touchdown a week ago. Backup running back Deon Silas also added another touchdown in last week’s game.
Dekkers and the Iowa State offense are growing, having limited experience in starting roles prior to this season. But, according to Dekkers himself, the growth is to be expected. He expects the squad to make strides again in week four.
“It’s a good series,” Johnson said about his opponent for Saturday’s game. “Someone may have said it’s a rivalry but who knows.”
Iowa State and Baylor will face off Saturday at 11 a.m. from Jack Trice Stadium. With a Cyclone win, Iowa State will be 4-0 for the first time since 2000.