AMES — Iowa State is entering its third of three pods this season.
The Cyclones’ Big 12 schedule is neatly broken up into three, three-game pods.
Iowa State went 3-0 in its first pod to put it in position to control its own destiny by beating TCU, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.
The Cyclones went 2-1 in their second pod by beating Kansas and Baylor and losing to Oklahoma State.
“I think the reality of the middle pod is are you gonna be a contender or a pretender?” Coach Matt Campbell said. “The fact of the matter of it is you’ve gotta gut through it and you’ve got to put yourself in position to play meaningful games in the third pod. This group has done that.
“I think for us now, it’s a matter of can we stay the course?”
Now, Iowa State is on a bye week to regroup and refocus as the leader in the Big 12 Conference.
When the bye week is over, it has to get through maybe the most grueling part of the schedule.
The Cyclones’ first game of pod three is a home game against Kansas State, which is 4-2 in the Big 12. The next week, Iowa State makes a trip to Austin, Texas, to play the Longhorns, who also are 4-2 in the Big 12. Iowa State’s final game of the season is another home game against West Virginia, which is 3-3 in the league.
Kansas State and Texas still have Big 12 championship game aspirations and West Virginia had a dominating win against Kansas State, so it’s no slouch, either.
To get through this part of the schedule, Iowa State needs to keep improving and stay healthy.
Teams around the country are having to shut down football operations as COVID-19 cases continue to spike nationally.
“You’re talking can we keep our players healthy? Can we stay in practice? Can we continue to grow?” Campbell said. “This 18- to 22-year-old group, boy, they’re facing the challenge of a lifetime and it’s not just about football. It’s about everything else as well.”
To get through it, Iowa State will have to rely on its senior leadership, as well as the team leaders who aren’t necessarily seniors. Players like quarterback Brock Purdy, linebacker Mike Rose and running back Breece Hall.
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Rose was just named the Big 12’s defensive player of the week after his game-clinching interception and dominating performance against Baylor as he recorded 11 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.
Hall was named this week’s Big 12 offensive player of the week to complement Rose’s honor. Hall accumulated 160 total yards of offense and three touchdowns against Baylor. This was the third time Hall was named the Big 12 offensive player of the week.
“What makes it a unique challenge here is we don’t have the human eraser or the 5-star this or that,” Campbell said. “But what we can have here is 5-star culture and 5-star leadership. These guys understand that and have bought into that.
“We are really fortunate that it’s not just one guy, it’s been a united effort and for that I’m grateful.”
This is the first time in Iowa State history the Cyclones are 5-1 in conference play.
Everything — including the Big 12 championship game — is in front of Iowa State thanks to five wins that are behind it.
“Are you gonna be a contender or pretender?” Campbell said. “Obviously this group has persevered and put itself in the position to continue to play meaningful games in the month of November.”