Nov 30, 2019; Manhattan, KS, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) scrambles with the ball during the fourth quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
It’s interesting how life can come full circle. A little over a decade ago, I was working down in Florida for the Orlando Magic when the Iowa Hawkeyes traveled to Florida to play in what felt like their seventh straight Outback Bowl. Even though the Outback Bowl was in Tampa, it’s a pretty easy drive to Orlando and it was fun to make the short trek on Interstate 4 to connect with some old friends that traveled to see the Hawks. I was also insanely jealous that the Hawks could seemingly plan on an annual late December jaunt to somewhere warm and throw a “we’re just happy to be out of Iowa in December” kind of party. Which candidly is most of the appeal of a Bowl Game.
At the time in December, 2008, Iowa State had just been ambushed by the Gene Chizik to Auburn news and Paul Rhoads had brought his hard-hat to Ames to be introduced. Iowa State hadn’t been to a Bowl game in three years and had never been to a Bowl Game in Florida. While jealously watching my newly-sunburned Hawk friends drink copiously, I thought “How much of a party would it be if Iowa State could go to a destination Bowl game?” It felt like a lifetime away.
Fast forward to 2019 and Iowa State is enjoying the fruits of its third consecutive bowl season and playing in its first ever bowl game in Florida. And awaiting on the other sideline is one of the most storied programs in the nation in 15th ranked Notre Dame. It is another affirming moment for the resurgence of the Cyclone Football program.
The 2019 football season was one that will be looked back on with parts enjoyment and parts regret. Iowa State set the table for a breakthrough season that has never been seen in Ames and watched conference foe Baylor be the one to take advantage. Iowa State led or was tied in the fourth quarter of three (Iowa, Baylor, Oklahoma State) of its five losses this season. The Cyclones also had a two point conversion attempt to beat College Football Playoff finalist Oklahoma in Norman in a fourth loss. Iowa State’s mantra this year was Prove It, and Iowa State proved it belongs, but also proved there isn’t a straight line to the top. Literally single plays in each game were the difference.
It was the definition of so close, yet so far.
And, as things come full circle, Iowa State is presented with one final opportunity to Prove It belongs on a national stage in 2019. The numbers and analytics and blips of brilliance say Iowa State is a great team and yet the record says otherwise. Twelve games in and we still haven’t seen Iowa State put it all together.
Notre Dame has a cachet that few other programs have. There is a reverence and a respect for the Irish (whether deserved or not) that puts Iowa State on a stage to do something meaningful on Saturday. There is no doubt the Irish have the history, tradition and a national TV contract that brings some sizzle. This isn’t Memphis in Memphis or Washington State in the Alamo Bowl, as good as both of those programs were. The Irish won 10 games this year and were in the College Football Playoff last year. They have the brand awareness that brings eyeballs, much like the Yankees or Cowboys or Duke Basketball. Compete on the same field as them and you will at least be part of a national story.
Beat the 15th ranked Irish and play a complete football game you put Iowa State on a trajectory to even greater heights in 2020. This is an opportunity to put a happy cap on a “what could have been” season and send a decorated senior class off with a bang. But it also is step one for 2020 and would enter Iowa State into new conversations this offseason. With many big-time contributors returning, including Brock Purdy, Iowa State is going to get all sorts of attention next fall. A win on Saturday amplifies that.
Iowa State may have missed its chance to bust through during the regular season in 2019, but as luck would have it, the Irish await in the Sunshine state for a chance at 2019 redemption.
Iowa State has come a long ways in a decade, the late Decemebr trips are something we can all get used to. Win on Saturday and the Cyclones enter another stratosphere entering 2020. Some say Bowl Games don’t matter, this one certainly does for Iowa State.