This is the 78th season in which Iowa State has played at least six conference football games. Here is the number of times the Cyclones have been 5-1 or better after the sixth one:
If Iowa State defeats Baylor Saturday night at Jack Trice Stadium, it will be 5-1 in the Big 12 and no worse than tied for the league lead.
The Cyclones are no longer the old Cyclones, or the old-old-old Cyclones. They are one win from clinching their fourth-straight winning record in the conference. They have had just 10 such seasons since 1948, in the Big Six, Big Seven, Big Eight and Big 12 conferences.
Ten measly winning conference seasons out of 72. It could soon be 11 out of 73, and four out of the last four.
People, it was only three years ago when ISU ended a streak of 11 consecutive seasons with no more than three wins in Big 12 play.
Now, the Cyclones are tied with Kansas State atop the Big 12 through five games and are a 14-point favorite to vanquish Baylor. Now, they are ahead of Oklahoma and Texas in the national rankings, as well as Michigan and Penn State and Auburn and USC and — what a time to be alive!
Now, Iowa State is in contention for its first conference football championship since 1912. That was the year Democrat Woodrow Wilson defeated incumbent Republican William Howard Taft for the presidency.
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Kansas hasn’t won a league football title since 1968. That’s 52 years ago, but it’s 56 years more recently than Iowa State. Since the Big 12 formed in 1996, three schools won football championships that aren’t even in the league anymore.
But back to 1912. Iowa State tied Nebraska for the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association title that year. Both were 2-0. The Cyclones defeated Missouri and Drake to earn their share. They’ve played Nebraska 105 times, but not that year.
Well, the Cyclones have miles to go to finish in the top two of the Big 12 standings and advance to the Dec. 12 league championship game. No reasonable person is denying they can, though.
So who’s not talking about the prospect of vying for the crown? That’s easy. It’s ISU Coach Matt Campbell.
“To me,” Campbell said Tuesday, “it’s never been about talking about that because I’ve always believed that ... if you have the ability to become the best version of yourself, everything else takes care of itself. The score usually takes care of itself. Winning takes care of itself.
“But it’s you becoming your best version of you.”
It sounds New Agey, not something you’d hear from a Nick Saban or Bill Belichick. At least not with the wording “become the best version of yourself.” Campbell, however, says that a lot. He certainly tells it to his team more than citing what it needs to do to win the Big 12.
“I think it’s a lot harder to understand that concept,” he said, “especially when you’re teaching 18- to 22-year-olds. Sometimes it’s hard for 40-, 50-, 60-year-olds to understand that process than it is, you know, speaking about the end goal and then just hoping and wishing that happens.
“There’s a way to get there. And the way to get there and become that is becoming the best version of yourself and collectively the best team that you possibly can be. Our conversations are way more about that than it ever is about what the end result truly is because I think everybody understands the standard and really has since the first day I got here.”
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Iowa State has looked like a quite capable team over its five Big 12 games, but not a great one. After ISU’s 52-22 win at Kansas last Saturday, Campbell said “There are a lot of positives, but we still haven’t played our best football.”
Some teams don’t get better in the last four games of the season. The Cyclones didn’t the last two years.
But this does feel like a team that, despite being in the unfamiliar role of going for a 5-1 Big 12 mark, can reach higher ground.
If the Cyclones become the best versions of themselves this time, they could become the best version of Iowa State football since — well, let’s just say they could make 1912 seem like a distant memory.
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