Liberty Bowl 2.0: ISU to face Memphis in Memphis

Nov 11, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Joel Lanning (7) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass to Cyclones wide receiver Allen Lazard (5) in the fourth quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cowboys beat the Cyclones 49-42. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Memphis it is.


Five years have passed since Iowa State’s last bowl bid and Sunday it was revealed that the Cyclones will play, ahem, Memphis at 11:30 a.m. in the Dec. 30 AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

Deja Vu? Beale Street Blues? For some fans, certainly, but a first-time, first-hand postgame experience for ISU’s players, at least one of whom attended the last trip the Cyclones last foray into Tennessee as a fan.

“I just remember it was really cold that day,” said star senior receiver Allen Lazard, who witnessed the 31-17 loss to Tulsa in the 2012 Liberty Bowl. “Very wet.”

Weather conditions aside, ISU (7-5) will be faced with a potent group of Tigers (11-2), whose only two losses this season came at undefeated Central Florida.

Memphis, which is ranked No. 20 in the College Football Playoff final standings,  reeled off 753 yards of offense in a 62-55 double-overtime loss to the 11th-ranked Knights in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference title game in Orlando.

“No better way to go out than with a challenge,” said Cyclones linebacker quarterback Joel Lanning, who stands among four Paul Hornung Award finalists.

Even as the “home” team in a de facto “road” game?

“Again, what a great opportunity,” ISU coach Matt Campbell said. “You know you’re going to get a great crowd. You’re certainly going to get a great fan base. And, again, I got the chance to watch a little bit of the end of (UCF-Memphis), which was I thought one of the best games (Saturday). So we know what kind of football team we’re getting too. Just another great challenge for the Cyclones. It seems like another big football game and away we go, but I don’t think we’d want to have it any other way.”

Certainly not the seniors — once the dust settled on a regular season that included several near-misses alongside greatest hits such as wins over Oklahoma and TCU.

Each of the past three seasons, Lazard watched a different batch of seniors clean out their lockers and close their careers. And it hurt deeply.

“I remember after that last game of the season, those guys just breaking down,” Lazard said. “You know, having a tough time kind of just taking it all in knowing that it’s their last football game.”

One more remains for Lazard, Lanning, offensive lineman Jake Campos, safety Kamari Cotton-Moya and 15 others.

Most of the seniors are performing light to moderate individual workouts, 7-on-7 drills and rest and recovery work until the final batch of the 15 pre-bowl practices crop up after finals week.

While they’ve been on the mend and refreshing their bodies, the Cyclones’ youngest players have been on the rise, getting crucial added reps, which could be the biggest benefit of taking part in bowl season.

“It’s monumental and being a part of a program (Toledo) where this was the norm, you knew how critical these practices and this time is,” Campbell said. “You have two objectives this time of year. Number one, is to continue the growth of your program. Take what you’ve done, what you need to continue to do; find those margins and continue to fill those in. But then the second piece of it is to take this team, this 2017 Cyclone team, and put a stamp on what their season looks like and what they’re about. That’s the challenge and I think there’s a recipe to it. We’ve got to find the perfect recipe and make sure we put it together to go out the right way.”

That’s with a win, of course — something ISU hasn’t done in its past two bowl appearances.

“We’re up for the challenge and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure we come out with a win,” Cotton-Moya said.

Robust fan turnout will help, of course. Cyclones fans tend to travel anywhere in great numbers to lift up their team, even when being slotted in repeat destinations that lack exotic or sun-kissed appeal.

“I didn’t go to the last one, but if I remember right there was a good crowd out there,” Lanning said. “Iowa State fans travel well. The  most loyal fans in the nation, so I’m sure there’ll be good amount of people out there.”

That includes lots of family. As starved as ISU’s players and fans have been for a bowl trip, imagine how parents and siblings have felt. One more game to cheer — anywhere, against anyone — puts smiles on their faces, while simultaneously putting travel plans in high gear.

Memphis? Again? Off they go.

“They’re super excited,” Campos said of his family. “They’ve never got to go to a bowl game. My older brother never made one and for me to get to go and finally get these experience is awesome and they’ve been so excited. I’ve been getting badgered with questions for the last probably week in a half like, ‘Where are we going? Where are the tickets?’ — that type of stuff. So you can tell their super excited.”


Campbell said first-team, all-Big 12 tailback David Montgomery is recovering well from a leg injury sustained in the regular-season closing 20-19 loss at Kansas State.

“I think David’s really good,” Campbell said. “He didn’t do much this week, but he’ll be ready.”


Campbell was flying off to a recruiting home visit within hours of finishing off practice No. 3 and addressing the media about the Liberty Bowl berth. He also wanted to send a pre-departure message to ISU fans, though.

“I would say this, this fan base hasn’t disappointed,” Campbell said. “I certainly know Memphis thinks it’s going to be a home game and I’m sure it will be a great crowd from the Memphis side, but the one thing I know about Cyclone fans is they won’t disappoint. I guess I’m calling all Cyclones and right now. We need you there, ready to rock and roll, but I know they’ll be there ready to go. What a great atmosphere for college football and I couldn’t think of a greater way to go out.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.