Eight months after coming within one win of playing for a national championship, South Dakota State will be back on the football field, trying to start a season they hope will end with a title shot.

The Jackrabbits' opening game of 2018 will be one of their biggest road tests of the season, playing Iowa State, in Ames, Saturday (September 1).

SDSU is third in the nation in the FCS pre-season polls, second behind North Dakota State in the Missouri Valley Conference pre-season rankings.

It's a mixture of big talent and big question marks for the Jacks, especially on offense, where quarterback Taryn Christion is entering his senior season, but without his main two targets from last season, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke, who are both catching passes in the NFL these days.

Their departures open the door for returning starters Jacob Brown and Cade Johnson to step into the play maker role. The pair combined for six touchdown grabs in 2017. Marquise Lewis will backup Johnson. He had four touchdown catches a year ago.

The success of running game will fall on the shoulders of Mikey Daniel and Isaac Wallace, who combined for better than 1,000 yards last season.

The offensive line has three returning starters, although Wes Genant will be playing in a different spot in 2108, taking over for four year-starter Jacob Ohnesorge at center.

Defensively for the Jackrabbits, last season's sack leader Ryan Earith returns at end, but SDSU will be very young on the interior of the line.

The linebacking trio of Christian Rozeboom, Dalton Cox, and Logan Backhaus are all returning starters and the most stable part of the defense.

Returning starting cornerback Jordan Brown is back after a big breakthrough junior season. He be joined by a rotation of other players in the secondary, each with some playing experience.

The SDSU kicking game is solid with placekicker Chase Vinatieri back after an All-American season in 2017. Punter Brady Hale also returns after averaging better than 40 yards a kick last season.

Iowa State meanwhile is coming off of one of their best seasons in quite a while.

The Cyclones went 8-5 in head coach Matt Campbell's second season last year. Those eight wins were the most for the program since 2000.

ISU had the third best defense in the Big XII in 2017, allowing opponents just 366 yards per game.

Six Cyclones defenders were All-Big XII picks last season, including end JaQuan Bailey, who has 10.5 sacks in his career. Cornerback Brian Peavy is a pre-season All-American and leads all active FBS players in career passes defended (35).

Offensively, Iowa State returns two players who have 1,000-yard rushing seasons to their credit. Mike Warren did it in 2015, David Montgomery last season.

Quarterback Kyle Kempt hasn't thrown an interception in 130 straight passes. He'll be throwing to a talented group of receivers, led by Hakeem Butler who had 41 receptions for 697 yards and seven touchdowns in 2017.

The Cyclone offensive line returns four starters.

One of the keys for the South Dakota State defense will be trying to force Iowa State to turn over the football. The Cyclones led the nation last season with just one lost fumble - one of only ten turnovers for all of 2017.

Kickoff in Ames, Iowa is 7:00 PM, Saturday.

I talked with Jackrabbits head coach John Stiegelmeier about the the match-up with Iowa State: