When Matt Campbell took over at Iowa State, there is no question he had his work cut out for him. He took over a program that that had a combined record of 8-28 in the three seasons prior to his arrival.
In his first game as head coach, Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa 25-20 back in 2016. Now that may seem like a shocker to some but back then, it really was not all that surprising. It was actually kind of par for the course.
Despite the program turning a corner the next year in 2017, the same early struggles would follow years down the road. In 2018, Iowa State’s first game against South Dakota State was cancelled and their season started with an ugly 13-3 loss against in-state rival Iowa.
It even took the Cyclones three overtimes to beat Northern Iowa two years ago and of course, we can’t forget about last season’s embarrassing opening loss to Louisiana-Lafayette.
Matt Campbell owned up to the early season struggles back at Big 12 media days. He did not shy away from it by any means.
Forget about last year or any year before that. This 2021 Iowa State team is different than any of the previous Matt Campbell teams. In past years, some thought that Iowa State was good enough to make some noise in the Big 12. Last year, they broke that barrier by making a Big 12 title appearance and by winning a Fiesta Bowl in convincing fashion.
Yet the goal this season is not just to make noise in the Big 12. The goal is not to make a Big 12 title game appearance. It’s to walk away from Jerry World on December 4th hoisting the Big 12 championship trophy with confetti falling down.
One could argue that this team is the best Iowa State football team in program history. The return all the key pieces they need to not only win a conference championship but possibly be in the national conversation as well. After all, they are a preseason top ten team.
But what will make this 2021 team different from the 2020 team? It appears that Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley has the answer for that. “What’s different about them from past years is that they’re confident,” Farley said. “They’re very confident and disciplined, and that can make teams great.”
That is exactly what this Iowa State team wants to be. While Iowa State did accomplish plenty last season, they did not have the preseason hype a year ago. Most thought the 2019 Iowa State team was going to breakthrough including myself but maybe we were all just a year too early.
No matter how good we think a team is on paper, games still have to be played. It’s a see it to believe it type of thing. The journey to the national title picture starts on Saturday. I know that and so does every college football fan in America.
Sure, this first game has no Big 12 implications but look at the bigger picture here. Say Iowa State won their opener last year and beat Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. The Fiesta Bowl would not have happened because Iowa State would have clinched a college football playoff berth. If the goal is more than winning a conference title, then every game because just as important as the next no matter the opponent. The road to the playoff starts against Northern Iowa. Now it’s time for the Cyclones to take care of business on the field.