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Miscellaneous Thoughts On The Season That Could’ve Been

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If a few plays change, is Iowa State in New Orleans instead of Orlando?

Kansas v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

After an outstanding 18-19 campaign left Cyclone fans hungry for more, the 2019 season proved to be a lot of things. “Disappointing” and “underwhelming” were just a couple of the words being used to describe a 7-5 year that left plenty to be desired.

Undoubtedly, this was the most hyped season in Iowa State Football History. The Cyclones were fresh off an Alamo Bowl appearance, had Freshman sensation Brock Purdy back, and had an absolutely loaded defense which looked ready to cement itself at the top of the Big 12. The Kool Aid was absolutely flowing.

Even myself, a notable Iowa State pessimist, was optimistic that maybe this was the year that we could make the leap and contend for a Big 12 Title. See you in Arlington, right?

Wrong.

The year started with a shocking Double Overtime ass-clencher-of-a-game to UNI, which included our Lord and Savior Brock Purdy saving us after a miracle fumble recovery, and only got weirder as losses to Iowa and Baylor by a grand total of 3 points left fans disappointed, but hopeful about the rest of the season. After all, surely the ball would start to bounce our way?

Beatdowns against Louisiana Monroe, TCU, and Texas Tech proved what we all knew: This team had the firepower to stand with anyone. The emergence of Charlie Kolar, as well as Breece Hall, led the Cyclone offense to a record setting year, and the gang looked ready to make some noise in the back half of the schedule. However, 3 interceptions on back to back to back drives killed any hope of beating a physical Oklahoma State team, and again fans were left wondering what could’ve been. Then, an abysmal first half performance against Oklahoma, and a missed 2 point conversion nipped Iowa State’s chances of beating the Sooners in Norman for the first time since, well, the last time they played in Norman.

But finally, a breakthrough. An exorcism, even, as Connor Assalley knocked down a kick that had been missed by seemingly every single Iowa State kicker that had come before him. Iowa State had beaten Texas, and still had a chance to get to 8 wins, and eventually that elusive 9 win number in a bowl game. After sweating out a pesky Kansas team, the Clones again met the voodoo magic that resides in Manhattan, Kansas. But this time, there were no vampires on which to blame this loss. Only wind, penalties, and mistake after mistake had fans shaking their head’s and wondering what could had been. The Iowa State team that had once had aspirations of playing for a Big 12 title, was relegated to 7-5. Oh, and those losses? 21 total points.

What if Tarique Milton catches that punt against Iowa? What if the defense holds just enough to squeeze past Baylor? What if that 2 point conversion in Norman is successful?

What if?

The season that could’ve been turned into the season that, well, didn’t.

As it turns out, life in the Big 12 is hard. It’s extremely difficult to put together a complete game, let alone do it for an entire season. Just look at Baylor: 5 of their Big 12 games were decided by a grand total of 17 points. Just as easily as Baylor is 11-1, they could be 9-3, or 7-5. After all, even with the talent, preparation, and execution, you still have to get a little lucky, and the ball has to bounce your way. This year, it just didn’t.

So why are we disappointed? Is it because we manufactured the belief that we should win 10 games? Is it because we won 8 last year and thus should do the same this year? Or is it because we lost a bunch of close games we should’ve won? If we lost every game this year by an average of 10 points instead of whatever tiny number it actually was, do we have the same reaction? I choose to believe that the overwhelming majority of fans know that this team is/was capable of doing great things this season.

But here’s the thing- and some of you aren’t going to like this:

This team wasn’t ready

Last season, I had the audacity to travel to Austin to watch the Clones get ripped apart by a hungry Texas team that looked to be *Sam Ehlinger Voice* baaaaaaaaaaaack towards the peak of their powers (they weren’t). A Big 12 Title berth on the line, Iowa State proved that they while they had put together a great season, they still just had one foot in the door.

In between Lone Stars towards the middle of the 4th quarter, the game well in hand at the expense of the Texas Defensive Line, a seasoned Longhorn fan behind me tapped my shoulder as I sat, head-in-hands, thinking about how many beers it would take for me to forget all about this game (roughly 12 plus a night out in Austin, to be precise).

“I love your team, man.” He drawled at me.

“Ya’ll are young and still learning how to win. I have no doubt that Campbell is your guy.”

I nodded a thank you at him and put my head back down.

While not profound, this one exchange between a random Texas fan had stuck with me. We WERE still learning how to win. We WERE still young. The talent gap had been narrowed, and we were competing using detail-oriented game plans and hard-nosed defense.

We ARE still a young team. We ARE still learning how to win. The (statistically) greatest quarterback in our school’s history is only a sophomore. Our starting Running Back? A Freshman. Mike Rose and Will McDonald? Sophomore and Freshman, respectively.

Does this mean I’m happy about this year? Of course not. It still sucks and that’s not the point of this article.

Bu here’s the thing: The future is extremely bright. Iowa State returns a ton of contributors to next year’s team. The program is in a better place (don’t mistake me saying this for thinking I’m happy with 7-5) than it was even 5 years ago.

Oh yeah, and the man in the middle, the CEO that makes this all happen? He’s back, too.

The sky isn’t falling. Just enjoy the ride.