Our state has two teams in the major-college football national rankings this week, something California and Florida can’t say. Nor Michigan and Pennsylvania. Or 41 other states.
Only Texas has more ranked teams (3) than Iowa, and Texas has 12 FBS programs. We have just Iowa and Iowa State.
The Hawkeyes are no strangers to the Top 25, but this still is relatively new stuff to the Cyclones. After being in this year’s Associated Press preseason and Week 1 polls, they fell out only to return this week at No. 23. They were unranked from midseason 2005 through 2016, then were ranked for three weeks in 2017 and five last year. They haven’t finished a season in AP’s Top 25 since 2000.
But here’s where we are now: On Wednesday, renowned Washington Post columnist John Feinstein wrote an essay about Cyclones football. The online headline: “Iowa State football is finally a winner under Matt Campbell. The next step is winning big.”
Feinstein wrote: “Iowa State has beaten TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech by a combined margin of 59 points. The fact that the three-game winning streak has raised few eyebrows around the country is a measure of how far the program has come since Campbell arrived in 2016."
Which brings us to the present. Iowa State faces Oklahoma State in Ames Saturday. It’s a chance for ISU to take a 6-2 overall record and 4-1 Big 12 mark into a bye week.
Waiting on the other side is a Nov. 9 game at Oklahoma followed the next week by a home contest against Texas. What fun it would be to have those games mean something significant. For those who say the Cyclones have no chance at Oklahoma, you undoubtedly joined me in saying the same thing two years ago before Iowa State shocked us all with its win there.
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All that matters for now, though, is Saturday’s game at Jack Trice Stadium against Oklahoma State. The Cyclones are favored to win partly because the Cowboys have a defense in name only. They’ve allowed 45 points in each of their last two games, losses that squandered the talents of a running back from Alberta named Chuba Hubbard, who has 1,265 rushing yards through seven games.
That’s 297 more yards than anyone else in the nation. That’s 180.7 yards per game. That’s crazy.
Iowa State, however, has a defense to go with its 37-points-per-game offense, and a freshman running back in Breece Hall who had 256 total yards last Saturday. So this should be fun.
Feinstein was right. The Cyclones quietly stacked up their three straight wins. None of the vanquished are world beaters this season, but consider this: Iowa State has caught and passed all three programs. No big whoop? Guess again.
TCU has three seasons of 11 or more wins since 2014 and six since 2009. West Virginia won 10 games as recently as 2016, and was 30 games over .500 over the previous 10 years.
Texas Tech has been a mediocrity of late, but was well ahead of Iowa State in football status before Campbell came along.
Sometimes things happen quickly in sports and you don’t realize it until they’ve become established facts. One such thing is that many Big 12 football programs now envy Iowa State.
“Matt Campbell has the team and program I believe (Texas Tech Coach) Matt Wells aspires to,” wrote Don Williams of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal after last Saturday’s game.
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Enter Oklahoma State, another of the programs the Cyclones used to crane their necks to see. The Cowboys had four 10-win seasons among the six immediately before this one. They had beaten Iowa State six straight times before ISU got them in Stillwater last year.
Lose to Okie State Saturday, and there is no Big 12 championship-game chatter for the Cyclones. There is no more Top 25 for a while, either.
Win, however, and that game at Oklahoma in two weeks is something to await with excitement rather than dread. Win in a convincing manner, and Iowa State will have left a fourth-straight Big 12 program eating the Cyclones’ dust.
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