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Can Iowa State Overcome Years of Failure and Finally Breakthrough in 2020?

It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom.

Iowa State v Oklahoma State Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

On Saturday, Iowa State failed to meet expectations for the 100th time in my lifetime. I should’ve known better, and so should you.

The Cyclones dropped a very winnable game against a solid Oklahoma State team and fell out of first place in the Big 12, which is a sentence I can’t believe I can write this deep into any football season. Iowa State. First Place. Terms that go together like Peanut Butter and Peanut Allergies. Like Mike Gundy and a perm. It just doesn’t happen. It shouldn’t happen; and on Saturday, it didn’t.

Only Northwestern, Wake Forest, and Indiana have a worse winning percentage than the Cyclones among Power 5 schools. Even Kansas, yes THAT Kansas, is a more esteemed program than our boys in Ames, Iowa State just doesn’t have the pedigree to take that next step and they haven’t. Saturday’s loss proved that. Or did it?

I was nervous for the game on Saturday, but as I had told friends beforehand, I was “cautiously optimistic”. After all, this isn’t your (or my) dad’s Iowa State team. Matt Campbell has done more with this program in the past 5 years than any other coach has done in Iowa State history.

Yeah I said it.

Coach Campbell is already the greatest coach in Iowa State history. The Cyclones aren’t a laughing stock and have garnered national media attention the past few year. But still, “Iowa State” remains. The letdown loss to Louisiana. The UNI debacle. The inability to beat Iowa year after year.

But still, hope.

The Cyclones haven’t had a losing record since Matt Campbell’s first year, way back when Joel Lanning was just a QB and Kyle Kempt was just a nobody. This year’s team is in the top 25 despite the loss to Oklahoma State and still controls their own destiny through 4 conference games. Iowa State has a real chance to get to Arlington for the first time in school history. Things are objectively better than they used to be.

But doubt remains. It seems as though the Cyclones haven’t quite been able to get over the hump and take that next leap that’s so very difficult. They played like a team that hasn’t been in this position before, and they really haven’t – and frankly, that’s ok.

Way back in 2018, before COVID was a thing, and football stadiums were full, I drove down to Austin to watch the battle against Texas for a chance at a spot in the Big 12 title game. This was probably the first or second biggest game in Iowa State history. There was no spark in Austin that night. No magic. I left DKR depressed and disappointed. When would this team breakthrough? “Your guys are still learning how to win” a Longhorn fan drawled at me. He wasn’t wrong.

2019 brought losses by one possession in 4 out of 6 losses and annihilation at the hands of Notre Dame in a bowl game. Winnable games (well, not Notre Dame), just out of reach. It was a disappointing season, relative to expectations.

2020 is far and away the most hyped season in school history. Led by the greatest QB in school history (sorry Seneca), the best TE group in the country, a defense with weapons all over the field, and a coaching staff that has been building to this moment since they’ve arrived. Saturday’s game was the perfect time to showcase what we all knew: The Cyclones are for real.

But an uncharacteristically sloppy game marred by penalties, mistakes, and missed opportunities had the Clones limping out of Stillwater with an L.

Universe: 1

Iowa State: 0

OSU: 24

Iowa State: 21

A text from my dad later that night validated the loss: Clearly Oklahoma State is the better football team.

But is that the case? The Cyclones were a field goal doink away from heading to OT against the 6th best team in the country. The fact that the game remained so close after so many misfires is a miracle. The defense played lights out, and definitely isn’t getting enough credit. The offense – despite uncharacteristic mistakes, drops, and decision making – still drove down the field to give a fighting chance at an onside kick recovery when it mattered most.

There is reason for hope. This team did not perform relative to expectation, yet they still almost won! How many times has that been said about any Iowa State football team?

The Cyclones control their own destiny. There are 5 games left in the Big 12, and this year’s squad has the opportunity to do something that has never been done before in the history of this school.

Minimize mistakes. Clean up special teams. Lean on the defense. Trust your TEs.

Maybe, if the Clones can do those few things, they’ll be hopping on a flight to North Texas before we know it.