There is a lot of excitement in Ames as the Cyclones attempt to build on a 2016 season where they showed a ton of promise. They only had a 3-9 record, but close losses to Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Kansas State, along with a strong performance against Oklahoma, showed that the program was not far from competing with the Big 12's best teams. Iowa State's defense ranked 95th in the nation in S&P+ (Bill Connelly's formula for overall team performance), and they'll need to improve dramatically to realize this team's dream of getting to their first bowl game since 2012.

Defensive Line

The Cyclones are looking at a total rebuild along the defensive line.

They only return two contributors from last season, but luckily they were both starters in senior defensive tackle Vernell Trent and sophomore defensive end JaQuan Bailey. Head coach Matt Campbell will need to see some freshman and Juco succeed right away if they want to improve their 105th-ranked run defense.

Linebackers

Iowa State doesn't boast much more experience in their linebacking corps. They return junior LB Willie Harvey, who started for the Cyclones last season, and junior Reggan Northrup was more of a rotational player.

Harvey has started in each of his two seasons at Iowa State combining for 137 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks during that time. And Northrup had his moments last season racking up 3.5 TFL's and a sack. Former quarterback Joel Lanning will make the transition to linebacker this season, and he's told Bruce Feldman that he's enjoying the change in positions.

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"Most fun I’ve ever had," said Lanning in Sports Illustrated. "I feel like at quarterback you get to do all the cool things, but you’re also stuck in a little area where you’re either throwing it, handing off or running it. The thing about linebacker is you’re getting up in there, covering people, outside the box. It’s fun and it’s different."

Lanning is slated to start at LB, and he could form a solid trio with Harvey and Northrup.

Defensive Backs

The secondary is where the experience of this Cyclones defense lies. They return three starting cornerbacks and both starting safeties from last year's unit.

Cornerback Brian Peavy is on the verge of becoming a star. He's become a shutdown corner defending over 10 passes in each of his first two seasons.

Safety Kamari Cotton-Moya is the other stud in this secondary. He made 73 tackles last season (2 TFLs), had 5 passes defended and 2 INT's, returning one of them for a touchdown.

This secondary will be the strength of the defense, and it may be the best all-around position group on the team.

The Cyclones are going to desperate measures to improve this defense enough to slow down the Big 12's high-flying offenses. If Iowa State can avoid getting gouged by the run, they have a very talented secondary that is capable of thwarting the conference's best passing attacks.