116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ORLANDO, Fla. — Iowa State was No. 7 in the preseason Associated Press college football rankings, and 7 is where it ended the year.
How you measure progress in a program is tricky. The curve sometimes still is rising even when results suggest otherwise. Iowa State’s recruiting is as good as it’s ever been, and the national image of the Cyclones is likewise.
The only people who think ISU is a second-class outfit are those who are stuck in the past. This is five straight winning seasons, five straight bowl trips, the best five-year stretch for the Cyclones in the last 100 years.
A small thing, that isn’t.
But we measure these teams on wins and losses, on how you fared when the most people were watching. The 20-13 Cheez-It Bowl loss Iowa State took against Clemson Wednesday at Camping World Stadium closed a 7-6 season, the same mark the Cyclones had when they were defeated here two years ago in the same bowl by another marquee team, Notre Dame.
When the nation saw Iowa State as a playoff contender entering the season because of all the talented, experienced players Matt Campbell had at his disposal, it’s the fairest thing in the world to call a 7-6 season a considerable disappointment.
“I think you guys will probably write that story, I'm sure, however you want to write it,” Campbell said. “In my mind it's all about what we believe in our locker room and what we saw.
“Now, if we are going to be honest about results, we fell short, and those are things that's my responsibility and our staff's responsibility to continue to dig deep and close some of those small margins that existed.”
This game was the Cyclones’ fifth loss by one score, making 7-6 even more of a drag.
“You can go down any wormhole you maybe want to try to go down, or you look at the reality of where we are and what it's going to take,” Campbell said, “and I think what it's going to take is we have always lived in the margins here.
“What this season taught us is exactly who we are. What we have to do is we have to win with detail. We have to win with precision. We are going to play a lot of really close football games.
“And I've always said in football, it's not about luck. You create your own luck in our sport. And creating that is in precision and detail. And we've got to be better there, and that starts with the head football coach.”
The story of this season was sort of told in this game. Iowa State, once down 20-3, trailed 20-13 with 89 yards to go in 1:52.
On fourth-and-2 at the ISU 36, senior quarterback Brock Purdy kept the ball and ran past the first-down marker, but was hit as he was trying to head out of bounds. He fumbled the ball backward, and recovered it a yard shy of the first down.
“To go out like that sucks, I’m not going to lie,” Purdy said.
In the third quarter, a pass of his was deflected by a Clemson defender, and caromed back to Purdy, who tried to spike it to earth like a volleyball player. Instead, he popped it up. Cornerback Mario Goodrich caught it and ran 18 yards for a touchdown.
Two bizarre plays, and defeat. In between, Purdy fired his 81st career touchdown pass. Fittingly, it went to another ISU all-time great, tight end Charlie Kolar.
Purdy, Kolar, and many more Cyclone household names like Breece Hall and Mike Rose, are heading off to give pro football a shot. Now we’ll find out if Campbell has a new wave of players as skilled and as made of the right stuff as those who came before them.
“We are not going away,” Campbell said. “We are strengthening. And I think one of the ways we were able to strengthen ourselves was to really use the last three to four weeks, get ourselves aligned and get ourselves ready to continue to come back in January and really push ourselves forward.”
“They’re a scrappy team,” said Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney after locking up his 11th-straight 10-win season.
“Scrappy team” isn’t the goal. Not when you’ve beaten Oklahoma twice, taken Texas down three straight times, rolled over Oregon in a Fiesta Bowl.
This season, though, was a backward fumble on the final offensive play of a one-score game.
“We are not perfect, and it's not going to be easy and it's going to keep getting harder,“ Campbell said, ”but this group's taught us to stay the course. This group's taught to us believe, and they showed us what it's going to take to get it done.
“And what it's going to take isn't easy, but you'd better be willing to stay the course to get it done.”
There will continue to be expectations for Cyclone football. They just won’t be as high again for a while.
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