AMES — Playing in the Big 12 Conference, Iowa State has a few opportunities every season to play “national brands.”
Iowa State’s games against Oklahoma and Texas always seem to be prime-time games that draw a lot of eyeballs.
Over the last few seasons, the Cyclones, under Coach Matt Campbell, have had opportunities to play in high-level bowl games against national powers.
Two seasons ago, Iowa State played Washington State and its head coach, Mike Leach — who always seems to have a sound bite playing on ESPN — in the Alamo Bowl. The Alamo Bowl gets the team that finishes second in the Big 12 — unless a team makes the College Football Playoff.
Last season, Iowa State played Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl.
It goes without saying but Notre Dame is one of the most well known and prolific football programs in the nation.
It was after that game, which Iowa State lost, 33-9, that Campbell knew he needed to make changes.
“We’ve never let one game define us,” Campbell said. “I think that’s why this program and this team has been able to grow and do great things. You take those lessons, you grow from those lessons.”
Now, No. 10 Iowa State will play No. 25 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2.
“When you play in our conference, you play some phenomenal programs,” Campbell said. “Then, when you earn the right to go to some of these types of bowl games to play the elite programs in college football, it helps you grow to what you want to become.”
Oregon made the College Football Playoff in 2014 and made it to the final.
Since 1998, Oregon has made either a New Year’s Six Bowl, the College Football Playoff or the BCS National Championship game 12 times.
The Ducks are undoubtedly a power on the west coast. Since 2009, Oregon has won the Pac-12 six times. Stanford is the next closest with three Pac-12 titles.
“When you say Oregon football, everybody has an instant respect factor for that program,” Campbell said. “They have credibility from both their coach and from a program standpoint.”
Oregon’s coach, Mario Cristobol, isn’t one Campbell knows personally, but he has coached against him.
In the 2010 Little Caesars Bowl, Campbell’s Toledo team played Cristobal’s Florida International team.
“That was a classic,” Cristobal said. “That was the first bowl game in the history of FIU. It was the Little Caesars Bowl — Hot and Ready — that’s what I remember about that week. I ate more pizza that week than I ever have before. I felt like a Ninja Turtle.
“We had so much respect for them — they were lighting it up on offense. When you fast forward and look at Campbell’s career, there are a bunch of things that really stand out and the deeper dive you take into it, the more respect you have for the level of culture they have and the standards and level they’re held to. They have a constant commitment to physicality. I have a tremendous amount of respect for who they are and what they represent.”
FIU won that game 34-32 on a last-second field goal.
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