AMES — Iowa State’s Big 12 football schedule is broken up into three three-game pods with a bye week between each trio of games.
The Cyclones finished their second pod two weeks ago, beating Baylor, 38-31, and finished that section 2-1. Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said after the game the second pod was about putting the team in a spot to play meaningful football in the third pod.
Well, the third pod is here. No. 17 Iowa State (5-2, 5-1) hosts Kansas State (4-3, 4-2) on Saturday and the Cyclones sit atop the Big 12 standings. The Cyclones are playing meaningful football in the final third of the regular season.
Now it’s all about taking advantage of the position Iowa State has created for itself.
“It’s going to reveal if you can become the best version of yourself you can be,” Campbell said. “What a unique year and what a unique time to say that statement right there. I would say that this has been a long, challenging season. Not just physically, but mentally for everybody involved with any football team across the country.”
The mental aspect of it all is something Campbell and his staff have focused on recently.
The holidays are coming up and many players won’t be able to see their families, even if their families live in the area, due to COVID-19 and the fact finals are just around the corner with the shortened academic calendar.
“Let’s dive into what’s really important,” Campbell said. “What’s really important to us is the relationship with our kids, the ability to handle our academics, the ability to handle the holidays coming up — the ability to navigate those things. There are a lot of things out there that are really unique challenges. The best thing we as a coaching staff can give back to our team and our players is our relationships with them outside of football.
“It’s important to keep those areas outside of football steady so inside of football, they have the ability to keep enjoying football and keep developing in the sport of football.”
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Iowa State has been able to improve its Novembers over the years. Three years ago, The Cyclones went just 1-3, two years ago they went 3-1 and last season they were 2-2.
Campbell credited the drop-off last season to having a younger team. But most of that team is back this season and Campbell is excited to see how they’re going to finish off the season.
“Obviously you want to be playing meaningful football in November and, in a positive way, we’ve been able to do that in this program over the last couple of years,” Campbell said. “Now, how do you maximize those opportunities? That’s the next stage of this team and this program. It’s been fascinating and we’ve learned a lot along the way.”
Quarterback Brock Purdy said it has come down to execution in the big moments. Last season, in the first game of November, Iowa State lost to Oklahoma, 42-41, because it failed to convert a two-point conversion.
“We’ve put ourselves in position to have success and we just haven’t executed,” Purdy said. “For this year, with this team, we have a lot of guys with experience, who know how to handle it the right way. We’ve been here before, the coaches have been here before so I’m really excited to capitalize this year. That’s our goal and we’re going to find out.”
Iowa State’s final three games — Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia — are against teams with winning records. If the Cyclones have success in the third and final pod, it will have been earned.
“Can you stay the course?” Campbell said. “Can you keep growing and keep getting better? And then No. 3, do you have the ability — us for example, have 12 guaranteed quarters left of football — do you have the ability to play your best and maximize your full potential in each one of those quarters? Those are the challenges that lie in our situation with three games left in this final pod.”