AMES — Matt Campbell has led Iowa State to three bowls in three years.
First was the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., in 2017, then the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio last season.
This year, the Cyclones are once again heading to a new destination. Iowa State will play No. 15 Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla. The game is on Saturday, Dec. 28 at 11 a.m. Iowa time and will be televised on ABC.
This is only the second time in school history that Iowa State has made a bowl game in three straight years. The other time it happened was 2000-02.
Iowa State (7-5) and Notre Dame have (10-2) have never met and Iowa State has never been to the Camping World Bowl in its 30-year history.
“To be able to play an opponent like Notre Dame and have that game be how the season ends, we’re really fortunate,” Campbell said. “In this conference we get to play some tremendous programs that have great legacies and this is one of the programs with the greatest legacies in college football.
“To be able to go and compete with them on this stage says a lot about where we’re at and it certainly says a lot about where we want to go. It’s going to be a great challenge for our kids and our program.”
This is the second year in a row Iowa State has jumped over teams with better records to go to a better bowl. Last season, Iowa State jumped 9-3 West Virginia and this season, Iowa State jumped Kansas State and Oklahoma State, who are both 8-4 with wins over the Cyclones.
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A big part of that is Iowa State’s fan base. In the Liberty Bowl, Iowa State had about 25,000 fans and at the Alamo Bowl it had 30,000.
“It says a lot about their belief,” Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard said. “They’re clearly taking a chance on Iowa State. My message to the fans is we need to step up and deliver like we always have but even more so now because they picked us over two teams that beat us and had won eight games.
“We’ve shown both last year at the Alamo Bowl and at the Liberty the year before that we mobilize and our fans are phenomenal. We told the Camping World folks that we were absolutely convinced that our fans would step up and do their part to make it an incredible environment. I’m thankful they believed us.”
Iowa State is responsible for 8,000 tickets. Pollard told Camping World planners earlier in the week that if the bowl picked Iowa State, it need a pep rally space that could hold 12,000-15,000 people.
“That caught their attention a little,” Pollard said.
While Iowa State has had a pretty good product on the field this season — a top-10 passing offense and the No. 2 ranked rushing defense in the Big 12 — Campbell recognizes the Iowa State fans and their reputation helped elevate his team to this bowl.
“It takes all of us,” Campbell said. “That’s one of those things that’s really neat — our fans have had the ability to elevate us to a really prominent stage again. We’ve grown through this fan base and there has been a lot of growth inside these walls, too. All of it has collectively come to a great moment again for this football program. We’re on a really special stage in a really special moment for Iowa State athletics.”
Orlando is a bit farther than San Antonio and Memphis and over the Christmas season, plane tickets can be expensive.
Pollard isn’t too worried about that.
“It’s a place a lot of Midwesterners frequently drive to,” Pollard said. “As a child, we went down there all the time, and I didn’t fly until I was in high school. I was in the back of the station wagon. You can definitely drive there. You can leave after Christmas on the 26th, get there on the 27th to be there for the pep rally and then be there for the game on the 28th. Cyclone fans will show up like none other.”
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Not only is the game a big opportunity for Iowa State’s coaches and players, it’s a big opportunity for the program as a whole.
“It’s on a Saturday on ABC — that right there is two big triggers,” Pollard said. “Then you add in Notre Dame — it may arguably be the most-watched football game Iowa State has ever played in given their national reach. We can’t downplay that. We’re playing one of the storied programs ever in the history of college football. That’s another wonderful opportunity for our brand.”