Nov 30, 2019; Stanford, CA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Tony Jones Jr. (6) carries the ball against the Stanford Cardinal during the fourth quarter at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
This year we have celebrated the 150th year of college football.
We have rehashed the greatest teams and games, remembered the greatest players and dove deep into its most transformational moments. ESPN’s CFB150 docu-series has done a tremendous job of guiding us through it all.
Only one program garnered its own chapter in the series, though, and that’s because college football’s story cannot be told without Notre Dame. It is perhaps the sport’s most recognizable brand. It may be the most important college football program — ever.
Nine-hundred-seven wins. Eleven national championships. Seven Heisman Trophy winners. Hundreds of All-Americans and a handful of the sport’s most famous head coaches.
Notre Dame’s story is college football — and that story’s next chapter will feature Iowa State with the Cyclones (7-5) and No. 14 Fighting Irish (10-2) set to go head-to-head on the gridiron for the first time in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28 in Orlando, Fla.
“You’re playing Notre Dame. It may arguably be the most-watched football game Iowa State has ever played in given their national reach,” Iowa State athletics director Jamie Pollard said after the game was announced on Sunday. “We can’t underestimate that or downplay that. It is what it is. We’re playing one of the most storied programs ever in the history of college football. That’s another wonderful opportunity for our brand.”
This is perhaps the biggest indicator of how Iowa State’s brand has grown in recent years. The Cyclones, once a college football afterthought, are now rubbing shoulders with the sport’s royal class.
Bowl games are passing over programs like Kansas State and Oklahoma State to invite Iowa State and its famously rabid fanbase. Do they drink Busch Light in Orlando — or South Bend, Ind., for that matter?
“This is a program that’s got one of the greatest legacies in college football,” Matt Campbell said. “To be able to go and compete with them on this stage, I think it says a lot about where we’re at. It certainly says a lot about where we want to go. It’s going to be a great challenge for our kids and our program.”
Campbell, the Cyclones’ newly extended head coach, certainly has a lot to do with the growth of Iowa State’s brand. He remains one of the hottest names in college coaching circles and will as long as he maintains success in Ames, Iowa.
In fact, there is a thought Campbell’s name would be at the top of the list should Brian Kelly ever decide or be forced to leave Notre Dame. It is hard to believe Kelly, a man who has led the Irish to one national championship game appearance and a berth in last year’s College Football Playoff, could ever be forced out but those people in green and gold can get antsy.
That’s how it goes when you lead one of college football’s most iconic programs, the only program so noteworthy it gets its own national television contract with NBC.
“I feel like growing up, it’s a team that I watched play,” Iowa State star quarterback Brock Purdy said. “To play against a program with a rich tradition like Notre Dame is pretty special, especially with all the things we’ve been through, to cap off the season with a game like that is really exciting.”
This game will be another chance for Purdy to make his mark on the national stage. As Campbell noted, if Purdy has not made himself known on the national scale at this point, the people who do not know have not been paying enough attention.
Purdy will share the field with Notre Dame’s own star signal-caller in senior Ian Book, who is tied for sixth nationally with 33 touchdown passes this season.
All of this will happen immediately proceeding the College Football Playoff, which will kick off at 4 p.m. on the same day on the same family of networks.
Iowa State has pushed itself straight into the national spotlight during the last three football seasons. Now, the task becomes staying there.
And the first challenge is doing it against the program who knows that spotlight better than anyone.
“It’s an opportunity for our seniors, as I just told the seniors, they’ll be able to tell their children, their grandkids, that the last time they strapped it up in an Iowa State uniform was the first team ever to play a bowl game in Florida and to play Notre Dame,” Pollard said. “For our underclassmen, it’s the first game of next year. This is a wonderful opportunity to send a big message about what the future holds for Iowa State football.”