STANZ: Setting the stage

I’m going to walk you through an analogy that will take a moment to explain but stay with me. There will be a payoff, I swear.

Imagine the transformation of Iowa State football as a television series.

The program’s 2020 season feels like the moment when the previously low-budget series hit its stride, blew up and became must-watch television. It wins Emmys and pushes everyone involved with its production into the spotlight.

The creator of the show is courted to write the next blockbuster Marvel film. The lead actors are courted for roles in big-budget Hollywood projects, like the show’s creator’s rumored Marvel film.

But, they all elect to return for a sixth season with increased salaries and heightened awareness surrounding them. Everyone is waiting to see if they can follow up on the previous season’s success.

Once that follow-up season arrives, it is a mixed bag of phenomenal individual performances and disappointing story arc choices. Its first 12 episodes have something like a 62 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Some people are happy with it. Some people hate it. It certainly isn’t the follow-up everyone expected from the previous year’s “Certified Fresh” performance.

People know the season-finale will be the end for most of the show’s primary characters. Its creator is once again being courted to write that next big Marvel film.

In the finale, the show puts a perfect bow on the main characters’ arcs, while simultaneously introducing a group of new characters that give fans hope the show will go on and try to find its groove again with a group of young fresh faces.

Iowa State’s Cheez-It Bowl match-up with Clemson on Wednesday in Orlando has the makings of that season finale.

It is the swan song for Brock Purdy, Charlie Kolar, Chase Allen, Mike Rose, Greg Eisworth and numerous others who have made the show great. It is also the time when we’re truly introduced to a group of actors that have spent their first few years on the show in its background.

I’m talking about guys like Jirehl Brock and Beau Freyler, who are each expected to make their first career starts in the postseason contest. They’ve both done enough to be noticed by the show’s die-hards, but have never been expected to carry the program.

That is, until now, when they’ll step into the spotlight and lay the foundation for whatever is to come in the future seasons.

“What I think is huge for those guys is they gained real-life experience this fall for our team,” said Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell on Tuesday. “In a lot of ways were a key part of our success in being able to fight through the adversities of the season and in some ways, I think our coaching staff felt like were the springboard to the future of our football program already because of what they have done this fall.”

That future is packed with unknowns.

Some people think the creator is making a mistake by trying to take the show in a new direction rather than just jumping head-on into that damn Marvel movie everyone is dying to see him make.

Others have their excitement restored by the fresh faces and are eager to see what the show does in response to the changes driven by its successes.

The writers of the show are rejuvenated by the opportunity to take the show in any direction they want behind leading performances from a crop of relative unknowns.

Basically, the show is getting back to the humble roots that allowed it to become a smash-hit, but they’re doing it with the advantages that come from prior success.

“If you would have told me any of our freshmen would have played on this year’s team, I would have chuckled at it,” Campbell said. “Yet there are so many key contributors in this freshman class that came in with that competitive spirit and came in and challenged right away and I thought were really a huge asset for our team from the time they stepped on campus. I just think it’s been really fun to watch that group grow and evolve over the length of the season. I think there’s a general excitement. I don’t know if I’ve felt as much excitement about where our team is and where it has got the ability to go than what I have felt over the last month.”

Iowa State’s journey to being a consistent contender on college football’s national scene has reached a river that outsiders believe doesn’t have a bridge to the other side.

People are going to ask how the Cyclones can continue to thrive in life after Brock and Breece because those people haven’t been there day-to-day to see the work supporting actors are doing to prepare for their shot in leading roles.

We’ll all get a glimpse of that work’s progress on Wednesday in Orlando.

“I would probably say we are as aligned today as we have ever been moving forward,” Campbell said. “I think that part is really exciting for myself and I know our coaching staff, and I think the young leadership in our football team coming back.”

Can Iowa State get back to its certified fresh status or will it fall flat after its driving forces have moved onto bigger and better things?

This Wednesday night under the lights in Central Florida could give us some indication of where this story is going next, then spring ball will be the trailer for what’s coming.

We’ll get all our questions answered when another new season drops.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.