Jay Chapman earned his bachelor’s and master’s degree from Iowa State, was a member of the marching band and has attended all but one home football game since 1986.
The president of the Cyclone Gridiron Club has seen a lot of losing. Some good players came through and there were some notable upsets. Still, in the 30 years before 2016, five coaches combined for only eight seasons of .500 or better.
“Six wins,” Chapman said, “was about as good as it got.”
And then along came Matt Campbell.
The 41-year-old Ohio native is seen as nothing short of a miracle worker by the Cyclone faithful. At a school that hasn’t claimed even a share of a football conference title since 1912, Campbell, in his fifth year, has led Iowa State to the Big 12 championship game for the first time.
The Cyclones, who at No. 8 have their highest ranking ever in the AP Top 25, play No. 12 Oklahoma on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Campbell was named Big 12 Coach of the Year on Thursday for the third time in four years and the Cyclones swept Player of the Year honors. Breece Hall was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and Mike Rose was the Defensive Player of the Year. Xavier Hutchinson was Newcomer of the Year on offense and Isheem Young shared Freshman of the Year on defense.
All told, 22 Cyclones earned all-Big 12 honors, including nine first-teamers.
“Man, is this what you envisioned or saw?” Campbell said, repeating a question. “I’ll be really honest. Early on we were trying to show that we could compete.”
Iowa State (8-2, 8-1 Big 12) finished the regular season alone in first place and in October beat the Sooners (7-2, 6-2) in Ames for the first time since 1960.
Naturally, the Cyclones are underdogs this week, which bothers them not in the least.
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The most recent federal college athletics spending reports showed Campbell’s program spent only about two-thirds the amount of Oklahoma’s Big 12-high $43.4 million football budget in 2018-19.
In his four full recruiting classes, Campbell has signed a grand total of four four-star prospects and no five-stars, according to 247Sports composite rankings. Oklahoma has signed 57 four-stars and four five-stars over the same span.
“I just think it’s more proof that when you’ve got people who are aligned toward a vision, when you have people who are in it for the right reason and you have people willing to put their ego aside and continue to grow, that’s the beauty of the sport of football,” Campbell said. “It is still a team sport, it’s not individual, and great things can really occur when that happens.
“There are great examples in the history of college football of that occurring. It just so happens it hadn’t happened yet in Ames, Iowa. I think that’s something that has been enjoyable, you’ve created at least a sense of belief that great things can happen.”
And great things happened this year.
Junior Brock Purdy (QB), sophomore Hall (RB), junior Hutchinson (WR), junior Charlie Kolar (TE), junior Colin Newell (OL), senior JaQuan Bailey (DE), sophomore Will McDonald (DE), junior Rose (LB) and senior Greg Eisworth II (DB) were named first team all-Big 12.
Senior Chase Allen (TE) and junior Derek Schweiger (OL) were second-teamers.
Eleven other Cyclones earned honorable mention — Latrell Bankston (DL), Jake Hummel (LB), Anthony Johnson Jr. (DB), Tayvonn Kyle (DB), Isaiah Lee (DL), Kene Nwangwu (KR), Darrell Simmons (OL), Dylan Soehner (TE), Eyioma Uwazurike (DL), Rory Walling (ST) and Lawrence White (DB).
Campbell’s contract runs through 2025, and he was scheduled to earn $3.7 million this year before salary cuts tied to the COVID-19 pandemic lowered his pay to $3.45 million.
He received a contract extension last year after Florida State and other schools expressed interest in him, and Pollard said another extension is in order. Pollard said he blocks out ongoing chatter about Campbell eventually leaving for a more prestigious job.
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“Matt does not have an agent, so you don’t have somebody out there shopping him, which is nice,” Pollard said. “Matt and I have always talked openly. I know what his ambitions are and what they’re not. He knows that we are in this together and at the point something comes available that may interest him, I’m going to be his biggest ally.”