116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Non-conference is over.
Iowa State will play its nine Big 12 Conference games in the span of 10 weeks with only one bye to split things up.
No. 14 Iowa State begins that stretch in Waco, Texas, Saturday, playing Baylor at 2:30 p.m. (Fox).
Last season during the pandemic, the Big 12 split its games into three, three-game pods with a bye week in between each pod. Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell loved the format and advocated for it to become permanent.
“I really think, from a planning standpoint, we should look at this in its entirety with how physical our sport has become, the grind of what our sport has become and really give these kids the opportunity to give their bodies a break throughout the season,” Campbell said last season. “I think there are some real benefits that hopefully we, as a Football Coaches Association and the NCAA, can really step back and look at this if we’re really about our kids and their health and safety.”
Campbell’s desire for the pod scheduling format hasn’t come to fruition, so the Cyclones will embark on the most grueling part of their schedule.
Campbell did his best to restructure the offseason to make sure the team would be up for the task of playing at its best during this stretch.
“We really have totally changed our training model from January on knowing the challenges at hand,” Campbell said. “Will that pay off? Was that the right move? What does that all look like? Man, I’m really confident it’s gonna be the perfect thing for this team.
“I know that this season’s schedule is drastically different. I think part of that difference is now you’re gonna get into our fourth and fifth games in a row and we’re going to find out really fast, coming this Saturday, if we can handle it.”
Baylor, which finished ninth in the 10-team Big 12 with just two wins last season, has gotten off to as fast of a start as anybody in the conference.
The Bears are 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 35.3 points. Baylor hasn’t exactly played a rigorous schedule, but it has shown improvement from where it was last season.
“Right out of the gate, we’re going to get probably the hottest team in the Big 12,” Campbell said. “It’s a great challenge for everybody involved and I do think one thing I’ve learned being a part of this conference now for six years is you have to be on your ‘A’ game because if you’re not playing your ‘A’ game you’re gonna get beat.”
It’s a message the players have taken to heart.
“If you want to play your best football at the end of the season, it has to be from this moment forward,” quarterback Brock Purdy said.
Strength and conditioning coach Dave Andrews has been a driving force in Campbell’s change in philosophy of not always working harder, but working smarter to make sure the team is at its best by the end of the season.
“I think the old-school mindset of, ‘Man, we’re just going to grind them through it,’ I just don’t think that applies anymore,” Campbell said. “I think there’s more wisdom, there’s more research, there’s a better way to do it and we’re certainly trying. Are we perfect? I don’t know that, but we’re going to continue to do everything we can to give our kids the best (chance) to be their best.”
If Iowa State reaches its best, like it got close to doing last season, the Big 12 championship is well within reach.
“All our goals are still in front of us,” cornerback Anthony Johnson said. “The Big 12 championship is still out there for us.”