“Here we go again”.
“Brace yourself for the kick to the stones”.
“Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory”.
All three of these are phrases you have likely heard in regards to Iowa State football over the past 25 years. Hell, maybe you’ve even heard them since you’ve been a fan of Cyclone athletics. They have been common phrases in our lexicon, as common as saying “ope” when you run into someone in Casey’s or “lovely weather we are having” regardless of what the weather is actually doing in an attempt to converse with a stranger.
Examples of Cyclone sporting events, with particular regard to football, going south in a hurry are too numerous (and often too painful) for me to regurgitate here and now, especially after a loss in the Big 12 title game to Oklahoma. A loss that may have felt familiar to some.
Heck, it felt familiar to me, as I sadly decided to Tweet as I left AT&T Stadium on Saturday.
Wait a second...
Did you catch what I said just now?
I Tweeted something self-deprecating and snarky as I left AT&T Stadium on Championship Weekend after a title game loss to Oklahoma.
Let’s unpack that statement for a second.
Cyclone fans traveled to Dallas in droves, and the stadium was easily 60% cardinal and gold despite the close proximity of the opponent. Cyclone fans also showed up in Jack Trice Stadium this year, creating a fun atmosphere and cheering on the Cyclones. And at the end of the season, the College Football Playoff rankings featured Iowa State, as they had most of the season. To top it all off, Iowa State is getting a nice warm weather bowl game against a quality opponent.
That all sounds familiar to me. That sounds like the Cyclone football experience of recent years.
Except that it isn’t.
The Cyclone Football experience is undergoing a seismic change. Tectonic plates move slowly past one another, until they suddenly they don’t and one forges ahead of the other.
When you watched this team on Saturday, you saw some of the same guys on the field who went 3-9 in 2016, losing several games in heart-breaking fashion. Most of the players running around on that field were here for monumental victories over TCU, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. And they were responsible for disappointing losses, rockin’ Brocktobers, and soul-crushing November fades.
Matt Campbell and his players are also responsible for just delivering the best season in Iowa State history. A season that will end with the Cyclones playing in the freaking PlayStation Fiesta Bowl in January.
And all of this happened in a year impacted on every level by a crippling pandemic. Yes, Cyclone fans traveled in droves to Dallas, but attendance was capped at just over 20,000 fans. ISU fans did continue to turn out to Pack the Jack, which this year meant either family and friends only or 15,000 fans.
Still need more proof of the experience changing?
Iowa State, the lovable loser, the little program that could, the school with great fans and terrible football, is not getting praise for their newfound football prominence as one might expect. In fact, we are getting the opposite from fanbases across the country and from talking heads across the college football landscape.
My wife, understandably frustrated with the vitriol aimed at the Cyclones, asked me why we are apparently the most hated team in college football now, and it took me a moment to land on the answer.
After some reflection, I think I’ve got it: The college football world is simply not ready for Iowa State to be relevant. For too long they have been comfortable in their knowledge that our program was hopelessly doomed to football irrelevancy, and it shows in how they have always talked about our program.
“You just can’t win in Ames”, “you can’t recruit good players to Ames”, and “probably the worst job in the Big 12” are all telling phrases of how others viewed Iowa State football.
When you contrast that to what is now being said, the “how can you be a top-10 team with 3 losses”, “Matt Campbell is just going to leave anyways”, and “they shouldn’t be in the Fiesta Bowl with that resume” comments simply reveal how upsetting it is to the college football world that Iowa State insert themselves into the national conversation and rise out of the cellar in which the program has dwelled in for the entirety of its existence.
French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr coined the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, a phrase we all are know but likely do not understand.
To me, this phrase means that turbulent change may do nothing but cement the status quo unless a change of heart accompanies the experience.
Unfortunately, it may take some time for the rest of the college football universe to have a change of heart. Cyclone fans, however, can do it today.
Cyclone fans, the Iowa State football experience has changed, and if you haven’t done so already, it’s time for a change of heart.
That is what I realized after reflecting on my thoughts after Iowa State’s loss to Oklahoma on Saturday. There can be no “same old Iowa State” after making your first conference championship game in a century following a historic season filled with record breaking individual performances and countless well-deserved honors.
Iowa State no longer needs fantastically lucky breaks or down games from a good opponent to win football games. In fact, like we saw Saturday, the Cyclones can now play B- or even C+ football and still have a better than reasonable chance to come out victorious against even the best of opponents.
Matt Campbell and his staff preach the process, his players believe in the process, and devotion to the process continues to produce unprecedented results.
On top of it all, Matt Campbell wants to stay here, to build Iowa State into a perennial football power.
And, college football fans, Iowa State is here to stay too.
The Iowa State football experience has changed.