ALAMO BOWL BOUND: How maintaining a routine matters most for the Cyclones

Sep 29, 2018; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Brian Peavy (10) and linebacker Willie Harvey (2) and TCU Horned Frogs running back Darius Anderson (6) in action during the game at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Practice. Study. Play. Repeat.

Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell strictly adheres to a rock-solid routine daily, weekly, bi-monthly — by every measure of time, both short and long-term.

 So when a bowl game rolls around — like the Dec. 28 Alamo Bowl will, happily, for the No. 24 Cyclones — the days and weeks leading up to it create dual pillars of challenge and opportunity.

“I think you have to have leadership within your walls in terms of balancing that, because this will be the first time that there’ll be some time that these guys have that they’re not in that routine that you know I like and you know our kids like,” Campbell said Sunday after learning ISU (8-4) would play No. 13 Washington State (10-2) in the Big 12’s top non-New Year’s Six bowl game.

“So I think it takes great player ownership and communication at this time of year to kind of handle just a new schedule and the balancing act of that schedule — not only from now until you’re really diving into true game prep, but then once you get down there and dealing certainly with being somewhere new and preparing somewhere new. But I think we’ve got great leadership and I do think that leadership will really help us anchor in and be ready to go when we need to be ready to go.”

 Players such as Joel Lanning, Allen Lazard and J.D. Waggoner, among others, served as senior anchors in the Cyclones’ Liberty Bowl win last season — ISU’s first postseason appearance in five years.

 Now it’s up to current senior leaders such as Brian Peavy, Willie Harvey and Kyle Kempt to keep the hype tamped down and the attention to detail amped up for an ISU team that closed its most successful regular season in 18 years by winning seven of its last eight games.

 “I’d say the biggest thing is trusting the process,” said Peavy, who’s not been 100 percent physically at any point this season, but still garnered second team All-Big 12 honors from coaches. “Just putting our heads down and going to work, you know? Knowing that our easiest day was yesterday.”

 As for their bowl opponent, Wazzu?

 Campbell and players alike admittedly know little about the Cougars (or Cougs, as their fans often refer to them), other than former Texas Tech coach and colorful iconoclast Mike Leach leads the team.

 “I’ve read the book,” said Campbell, referring to Leach’s 2011 book entitled, ‘Swing Your Sword.’ “I always have respect as a young coach that doesn’t have all the answers, I love guys that have not only had success but sustained success. So Coach Leach is a guy that I’ve watched from afar for a long time. I jokingly say that I read the book, but I did. I think he’s a guy that number one, he’s not trying to be anybody else. He’s trying to do something and I think he’s always had the ability to be the best version of himself that he can be. So what he did at Texas Tech and what he’s done now at Washington State, really impressive and somebody I have a lot of admiration for.”

 Leach’s Cougs had hoped to be included in a New Year’s Six bowl and have reached postseason play in five of the past six seasons.

 Quarterback Gardner Minshew has competed a heady 70.6 percent of his passes this season for 36 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

 Running backs James Williams and Max Borghi have combined for 19 rushing touchdowns as key parts of an offense that’s scored 31 or more points nine times this season.

 “A first-class bowl,” Campbell said. “An opportunity to play a big-time opponent. An opportunity for this football program to continue to trend in the direction it’s gone.”

 That’s still arched upward. ISU has a chance to win bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time program history. And upsetting the Cougs will only be possible if facing them doesn’t feel “special,” but instead seems “routine.”

 That’s the message Campbell shared with his team shortly after last season’s Liberty Bowl win: The outside world will view their 2017 success as “a flash in the pan.” They needed to see it as the first piece of bedrock positioned as a foundation for greater things to come — not every once in a while, or rarely, but day after day, week after week, year after year.

“I know a lot of people probably thought it was a fluke, or that we were a one-hit wonder,” Cyclones star receiver Hakeem Butler said when asked about Campbell’s post-2017 message. “I think that was my goal this year just to show that we are more than that. This is a program and we’re gonna keep that going for years to come.”


Campbell said it’s still not fully known how severe injuries sustained by starting offensive lineman Bryce Meeker and starting linebacker Marcel Spears were in Saturday’s win over Drake, but noted they looked worse than they might end up being.

“I do think they’re maybe not as bad as maybe what we initially thought,” Campbell said. “I think there’ll be a chance we can get all those guys back, hopefully, for the bowl game and I think by the next time we meet, I’ll definitely have a definitive (answer).”


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.