AMES — Iowa State finished in sole possession of first place at the end of the regular season. With an asterisk.
The asterisk is to denote that the Cyclones accomplished this feat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s to take nothing away. In fact, it’s to give more credit. The Cyclones didn’t miss a single game this season and played at the highest level any Iowa State team ever has to boot. The Cyclones finished 8-2 overall and 8-1 in the Big 12.
No. 9 Iowa State capped this historic season by beating West Virginia 42-6 on Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. The Mountaineers’ two field goals came in the fourth quarter when the game was already well out of hand.
Brock Purdy completed 20 of 23 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score. Breece Hall rushed for 97 yards and a TD on 22 carries. Will McDonald tallied two sacks as the defense held West Virginia (5-4, 4-4) to 263 total yards.
The Cyclones left no doubt about whether or not they deserved this or earned this.
Campbell knew what the formula for success was going to be on Aug. 21 — weeks before Iowa State’s first game.
He said the team that is able to stay on the field and can stay healthy throughout the season will finish on top.
That was Iowa State.
“I think the people who were able to adapt their training habits and the people who make health and safety a concern, they’ll put themselves at an advantage,” Campbell said then. “It’s certainly something we’ve tried to do a great job of. We feel like we’re in as good of a position as we can be right now.”
This accomplishment is something that required buy-in from the whole team.
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“It tells you what kind of young men sit in our locker room,” Campbell said. “They were on a mission. They have been unbelievably relentless about doing the little things right outside of here and they’ve stayed the course.
“That’s hard enough for everybody else in our society to figure out — let alone asking 18-to-22-year-olds to figure it out. And yet these guys have done an incredible job of staying the course. I say that knowing that anything can happen, and I get that, but what these guys have been willing to sacrifice since March — it’s unheard of. I think it’s very telling of what they’ve been able to do.”
Not only did Iowa State not miss a game, it didn’t miss a second of practice time.
The Cyclones only had a small number of COVID-19 cases since the players were brought back to Ames in June.
“From the very top of the organization to the bottom, all the coaches and players are making sacrifices,” tight end Charlie Kolar said. “It’s not fun to stay in the bubble. It’s not fun to not go out. It’s not fun to not hang out with people outside of the team. But that’s what’s keeping us safe. That’s where other programs have had problems.”
By Iowa State staying on the field, it’s been able to grow week-to-week.
“I think it’s defining of Iowa State,” Campbell said. “It’s really hard. This is really hard. What just occurred since March is really hard. Not just on football teams but on people. You have to have a special courage and commitment and willingness to grow in times like this. I’ve always said this, ‘Adversity defines who we are and what we become. We’re not defined by when it’s going well and when it’s easy.’
“I think it’s very defining that this team, through its toughest and most trying times, has had the unique ability to stay the course. I think it’s fitting for this senior class to be quite honest with you.”
But the Cyclones aren’t done yet. They’ll play in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 19.
“We didn’t set out to be regular-season champs and be 8-1 in the Big 12 and 8-2 overall,” Kolar said. “We set out to win every game we play and the job’s not finished.”
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