Preview of Iowa State Football 2024 opponents: Dave Aranda and Baylor face a crucial year in 2024

The Bears have not won a Big 12 title or a Sugar Bowl in three years

Baylor head coach Dave Aranda (center) watches from the sidelines during the first half of an NCAA football game against Central Florida, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

AMES – Just three seasons ago, Baylor head coach Dave Aranda led the Bears to a Big 12 title and a Sugar Bowl victory over Ole Miss.

The program reached the top 10 nationwide, but has been faltering since then.

Baylor finished 3-9 last season – its worst record since 2017 – and Aranda was able to keep his job while making significant changes to his personnel.

Most notably, he replaced former offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes with Jake Spavital. Aranda also signed several key players, including former Toledo star quarterback DeQuan Finn. He will be tasked with leading a revamped offense that returns several veteran players, including a trio of running backs (Dominic Richardson, Dawson Pendergrass and Richard Reese).

Baylor struggled on both sides of the ball last season (101st nationally in offense, 116th in defense), so sweeping changes were desperately needed. Aranda will also call plays on defense for the first time in his tenure at the school, making this a pivotal season for the former rising star among coaches.

Finn will be key for the Bears as they look to return to the top half of the Big 12, and the 6-foot-2, 200-pound player put up impressive numbers as a Rocket. Finn threw 63 touchdown passes with just 23 interceptions and also ran for 25 touchdowns in his three seasons as a starter at Toledo.

3 things to look out for

• Can the Cyclones pulverize the Bears on offense?

Baylor's returning defensive lineman was responsible for just three sacks last season, and the team only recorded 18 total quarterback takedowns last season, which ranked 118th nationally. While the Bears have a veteran and talented linebacker in Matt Jones, as well as solid back-end talent (cornerback Caden Jenkins and safety Devyn Bobby), with so little bite on the D-line, ISU should be able to pull through offensively.

• Will the ISU use a spy against Finn?

That seems like a smart move, given the transfer quarterback's ability to make big plays with his arms and legs. The Cyclones held Baylor to just 67 yards rushing in last season's 30-18 win in Waco, but Finn's penchant for long runs — whether planned or improvised — could help the Bears improve that number. If that happens, Finn could also have a good day passing, and Baylor always has a number of weapons at wide receiver and tight end.

• How will the Cyclones’ secondary layer perform?

There's no better safety trio than ISU's Jeremiah Cooper, Beau Freyler and Malik Verdon, but the Cyclones need to replace TJ Tampa at cornerback. Sophomore Jontez Williams and senior Darien Porter look ready to perform well in his place alongside longtime starter Myles Purchase, but Baylor receiver Monaray Baldwin poses a deep threat on big plays and is experienced enough to pick out a weak link in coverage.

Forecast 2024

Baylor will start the game with some big passing plays, but ISU's offense should put up both points and yards in a double-digit home win.

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