Iowa State was never going to have a magical run to the College Football Playoff. Even if they won the rest of their games and took down the Big 12 title, it just wasn’t going to happen. Their two losses in September to Iowa and Texas would have always kept them out (although that Iowa loss looks even better this week!).
Iowa State’s four-game winning streak came to an end with a 20-16 loss to West Virginia, there is still a ton to play for in Ames.
Maybe their were some delusional ISU fans who were booking tickets to the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl for a semifinal game, but realistic fans knew that the new goal was a Big 12 championship appearance (which by the way, who the hell thought that might happen in August?!?). And guess what? A trip to AT&T Stadium is still very much in the discussion, and much more affordable.
The Cyclones only had three points by halftime and the hole against the Mountaineers on the road proved too big to dig out of. Campbell admitted after the game, “We are who we are [on offense], and we just got to be consistent in situational football, that would probably be my biggest thing.”
Long story short, this isn’t a traditionally explosive Big 12 offensive like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. It’s not and Campbell knows he doesn’t have the personnel for that.
But Campbell knew his guys wouldn’t roll over despite the 17-point halftime deficit, saying, “There’s too many really good seniors in there and too much good leadership in our locker room for our team to quit or bag it.”
Iowa State was better on offense in the second half, but far from perfect. West Virginia penalties extended three scoring drives for the Cyclones in the second half. But Iowa State couldn’t capitalize with touchdowns when they needed to, settling twice for field goals inside the 10-yard line to pull within 20-16.
“I think this is all a growing process. I think one of the things that’s really rewarding about these kids is what you saw today, it’s one of the toughest group of kids I’ve ever been around. We kept fighting,” head coach Matt Campbell said.
Toughness will certainly be one of the defining qualities of this team. And if there’s one thing we know about this Cyclones squad, this group isn’t going to quit.
With three weeks left in the regular season, Iowa State is still in great positon for the Big 12 championship game. The teams that are in first and second play in the conference, Oklahoma and TCU, play each other next weekend. Oh yea, ISU has also beaten both of those teams. That sets up the Cyclones to be in a great position.
But, they need to go out there and get back to winning games. The Cyclones welcome in an Oklahoma State team that is coming off a tough loss 62-52 to Oklahoma, which knocked the Cowboys out of the College Football Playoff picture.
How does Mike Gundy’s team rebound? They were a trendy pick to reach the Playoff, and those goals are toast by the first week of November. Regardless, Iowa State’s offense will need to help out a defense that will have its hands full. After OSU, it’s very winnable games at Kansas State and at Baylor.
So not only is this a huge game this weekend against the Pokes, it’s senior day for an incredibly special group of leaders like Joel Lanning, Allen Lazard, Jake Campos and Kyle Kempt who have helped turn around this program under the guidance of Matt Campbell.
So while Iowa State goes back to Ames with their first loss since September, there is no reason to hang their heads. Everything they wanted to accomplish as of one week ago is still in front of them.
And they control their own destiny.