Oct 1, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell watches his team play the Baylor Bears at Jack Trice Stadium. The Bears beat the Cyclones 45-42. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
The first five games of the 2016 Iowa State football season have been fascinating.
Games one and two could not have gone worse for Matt Campbell. An offseason full of optimism quickly turned into embarrassment as a lackluster loss to FCS Northern Iowa kicked off his tenure. The Cyclones followed that up a week later by being absolutely dismantled by the rival Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
Game three, a 41-20 loss at TCU, was a bit ‘blah’ but subtle improvement had visibly occurred.
At home against Baylor and on the road at Oklahoma State, the heavy underdog Cyclones clearly outplayed two very good teams for three quarters. Then the fourth quarter collapses occurred.
Matt Campbell: Welcome to Iowa State football.
Your team had a three-score lead on Saturday and my Twitter feed was full of fans fretting about impending doom and nut-cups (For the record, I am guilty of this too.).
When it comes to football around here, we expect the worst and frankly, it is hard to blame us for feeling this way. When you have been beaten over the head with a baseball bat for decades, it’s difficult to not start ducking instinctively.
This is the culture that Campbell has inherited and it changing it will ultimately be his greatest challenge.
I heard the following story regarding Campbell following that loss to Baylor: Iowa State’s new coach was confused and semi-annoyed when people kept coming up and congratulating him for coming close to pulling the upset.
Inside the football facility hours after the game, Campbell out loud pondered why people were telling him “good job” for losing a football game and blowing a 14 point fourth quarter lead.
Campbell could not have handled both losses better publicly. No excuses. “We’ve got to get better.” You know the drill.
The key going forward is keeping that edge and not being sucked into our Iowa State way of life when it comes to football around here as tough losses continue to pile up – because they likely will.
What we are witnessing right now reminds me of Fred Hoiberg’s first season when the Cyclones went 3-13 in Big 12 play but blew a hefty handful of leads in the final five minutes of games. Hoiberg was going to battle with a less talent and no depth, but continuously put the players in a position to win. For one reason or another and more often than not, the Cyclones came up short.
Still, fans could see progress and potential of Hoiberg’s program. The common theme around Ames at that time: “Once he gets his guys in here, watch out.”
That is exactly how I feel about what we are all witnessing with Iowa State football right now.
The coaching job we have seen from week one until now has been nothing short of phenomenal. After that loss to UNI, I wasn’t sure that Iowa State would win a game this season. For three quarters against Baylor and Oklahoma State, the Cyclones looked like one of the best teams in the Big 12.
It is easy to take a job and talk about changing the culture. But keeping your foot down and staying the course when folks are congratulating you for blowing 14-point fourth quarter leads becomes difficult when it happens multiple times spanning multiple years.
Based off of what we have seen from Campbell and his staff so far – from the recruiting to doing more with less on the offensive line and an offense that can put up points with others in the Big 12 – this feels different though.
Stay tuned for more, as a major opportunity for Iowa State to change this conversation against a reeling Texas program is on the horizon Saturday (6 p.m. on Cyclones.tv).