Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State in rare spot atop Big 12 as it faces fellow front-runner Oklahoma State

Matt Campbell: 'Not getting caught up in the hype is the challenge'

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell reacts on the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game again
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell reacts on the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Texas Tech, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 31-15. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

AMES — The Iowa State football team hasn’t been in this position since 2002.

The No. 17 Cyclones (3-1, 3-0) are undefeated through three conference games and sit atop the Big 12 standings with No. 20 Kansas State (3-1, 3-0) and No. 6 Oklahoma State (3-0, 2-0).

The Big 12 race will begin to have some separation Saturday as Iowa State travels to Stillwater, Okla., to play Oklahoma State at 2:30 p.m. (Fox).

Iowa State has had impressive wins this season over then-No. 18 Oklahoma and a good TCU team. Coach Matt Campbell doesn’t want his team to be measured on those two wins and an undefeated start to conference play.

“I still think it’s really early in the season,” Campbell said. “We’re going into our second pod of games. For us, continued growth is our measurement. We had a bye week so we really had a chance to home in on some of things we saw in the first pod of games.

“Can we continue to grow through the entirety of a season? That’s still a really big challenge for our program and it’s something we haven’t done here, yet.”

Iowa State is off to its best start since it was 6-1 in 2002. But as fans may remember, that season went south pretty quick when the Cyclones traveled to Norman, Okla., and fell 49-3 to Oklahoma. The Cyclones ended up losing six of their last seven games.

That team controlled its own destiny, and even though Campbell danced around it, this team also controls its own destiny.

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“We’ve been in moments over the last three years where — I think you could, in theory, look at it and say almost every team at this point in the season still controls its own destiny,” Campbell said. “I think that’s what becomes tricky about this time of year. You’ve got to really take the noise and you’ve got to throw it away.”

Oklahoma State Coach Mike Gundy has taken a bit of a different approach.

He knows his players are thinking about their undefeated start. Why hide from the fact you’re in the driver’s seat?

“The players are smart enough to figure that out,” Gundy said. “We’re going to be really challenged over the next month. For some of us, we control our own destiny. Win and you keep going, get knocked off and then you have to hope somebody beats someone down the road.”

To Campbell’s credit, he recognizes that it’s hard, or impossible, not to be aware of the opportunity the team has.

“I think what you do is you just continue to go to work and become the best version of yourself you possibly can be,” Campbell said. “And not getting caught up in the hype is the challenge. It’s a challenge when you’re dealing with 18-to-22-year-olds and there’s a lot of times (that’s a) challenge when you’re dealing with 20, 30, 40, 50, 60-year-old coaches sometimes.”

In years past, Campbell has called positive and negative recognition from outside sources “poison.”

The positive “outside noise” can over-inflate an ego and the negative can chip away at a team’s confidence.

Luckily for Campbell, his players have bought into what he’s preaching.

“We’re just keeping it simple,” Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy said. “We’re taking it one week at a time and we know that every single game in the Big 12 matters. Any team can take down anybody at any moment. So that’s how we’re taking it.

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“Our mentality is level. We’re not getting too high, we’re not getting too low or anything. We’ve been in situations like this for the past couple years and I think we’re ready to take the next step. We’re going to find out Saturday.”

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