Dec 5, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State defensive back Greg Eisworth II (12) celebrates a stop for the ISU defense during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday. Iowa State takes a 21-0 lead over West Virginia into halftime. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports
How will the Cyclones handle the high expectations this season?
It’s a question Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell has grown accustomed to fielding in recent springs — and it’s obviously a prime indicator the program is thriving.
So when Campbell faced this oft-repeated query last week during a conference call with the media, his most recent answer sounded a lot like the other ones.
And that’s a good thing.
“We’ve really had to deal with that, to be honest with you, I think, the last three years,” said Campbell, whose team ended last season with its highest final AP ranking ever (ninth). “So I don’t think much has changed, other than maybe what we’ve learned along the way. And I think what we’ve learned along the way is really diving back into who we really are, and I think who we really are is, you know, we’re outcome aware, but I think we’ve always been purpose and process-driven.
“I think sinking back into those things that are really important to who we are, and what makes our place special — our purpose and our process — that’s kind of been us (along with) really not worrying about anything else other than those things. I think when we’ve done that you’ve seen the best version of ourselves start to come out.”
The Cyclones — who tied a program record with nine wins and notched their first berth and win in a New Year’s Six bowl game — have not only become a stunning success story for their ardent fans and regional foes across the Big 12 alike. The national media increasingly has taken notice. There’s nothing flukey about ISU’s success. It’s fully sustainable because of the foundation from which each new expectations-laden season springs forth.
“Yeah, I think consistency,” Campbell said when asked about the robust health of his program and the root causes of it. “I mean, for the last four years, I think you’ve seen a team that’s been competitive and a program that’s starting to become consistent to who we are, how we win games and really what we want to try to do in terms of becoming the best version of us. So I do think there has certainly been consistency within our walls and certainly consistency within the type of program that certainly we want to become.”
That’s a Big 12 championship program. That’s a College Football Playoff contending team. That’s an Iowa State program becoming increasingly synonymous with the term “winning” — and it’s obviously a far cry from what defined the Cyclones most seasons for decades.
Case in point: Las Vegas preseason odds for the college football national champion.
The first five top contenders (according to OddsShark.com) are stalwarts among these ranks: Alabama (+350); Clemson (+400); Georgia (+400); Oklahoma (+650); and Ohio State (+650).
Guess who comes in a distant, but still impressive sixth? You probably already knew, but, yes, it’s Iowa State. The Cyclones are considered by Vegas oddsmakers to be the sixth most likely team to win the national title (+2500).
So consistency matters. Purpose and process drive it. That’s why high expectations for the immediate future are merely one of the reasons several senior standouts such as Greg Eisworth, Chase Allen and Enyi Uwavurike are coming back for 2021, as well.
“I hope it’s a reflection of our culture,” Campbell said of seniors taking advantage of the extra season of eligibility because of COVID-19. “I hope it’s a reflection of, ‘Man, I really love playing football here at Iowa State. I really love the fact that I can grow on the field and I also have the opportunity to grow off the field. I feel like there’s a benefit to me coming back here.’ So … I think the outcomes and more on the table, or what we have to prove — I think we’ve proven a lot, to be quite honest with you So we are outcome aware, but I think our purpose and our process, and the ability to continue to grow in our process, and become better at our process, I think that’s exciting.”