116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney met by chance at an airport.
The two head football coaches recognized each other, talked a bit, swapped phone numbers, and kindled a long-distance Big 12-ACC friendship.
“I don’t know if he remembers that, but I do,” said Swinney, whose No. 19 Tigers (9-3) will face Campbell’s Cyclones on Dec. 29 at 4:45 p.m. (CT) in the Cheez-It Bowl in Orlando, Fla. “I was just immediately kind of struck with his authenticity, who he is. I’ve admired what he’s done at a place that it’s not easy to (win). He’s built an incredible culture there.”
The bowl pairing was announced Sunday afternoon. Iowa State (7-5) will make its second appearance in Orlando in the past three seasons — and both times the Cyclones will have faced top-tier programs.
Iowa State lost to Notre Dame, 33-9, in the 2019 Cheez-It Bowl and now will take on storied Clemson, which owns two of the past five national championships.
“(We will) play against a football team and a program that we have the utmost respect for,” said Campbell, who has led ISU to an unprecedented fifth consecutive bowl game. “Coach Swinney, one of the best coaches in college football and (who leads) one of the most first-class programs in college football — it’s an honor to be able to play against them and compete against them.”
So what’s changed for the Cyclones from 2019 to now?
“I would say we're culturally stronger than we've ever been and that part is certainly reassuring and exciting,” Campbell said. “(These) are great opportunities to continue to evaluate, continue to learn and continue to grow about who you are and what you want to become. So I think some similarities and probably some differences, and more of the differences are inside our own walls.”
The two teams have never met, but — as noted above — the two head coaches certainly know each other well.
Swinney said Campbell visited the Tigers’ facilities a couple years ago to talk shop and share philosophical concepts.
“I got him to come in to Clemson (and) he actually spoke at our clinic” said Swinney, whose team missed the four-team College Football Playoff field for the first time since 2014. “Our defensive staff had gone in there and met with him as well and then he and I (have) just talked and collaborated and swapped texts several times over the last few years. Just a guy I’ve got a lot of respect for and I admire what he’s done.”
Campbell’s Iowa State teams are 2-2 in bowl games. This time around — even though the setting and caliber of opponent is familiar — the Cyclones will be saying goodbye to the program’s most successful group of seniors. Players such as Brock Purdy, Mike Rose, Greg Eisworth and Charlie Kolar, who all bought in to Campbell’s vision when there was no visual nor documentary evidence to back it up.
“Loyalty is a two-way street,” said Campbell, who was rumored to be in the running for numerous high-profile job openings in recent weeks. “I think the only thing that I've ever asked of our kids is to have great trust and faith in myself and our coaches — and for them to have the ability to come in every day and work really hard to become the best version of themselves that they can be.
“I would say one of the great things that this group has done is they've been able to do that and they've ever been able to persevere through hard (times). (They’ve) showed up every day with a sense of purpose to get better one day at a time.”