WILLIAMS: My Iowa State macro takeaways from Big 12 media days

ARLINGTON, Texas — What an odd couple of days in the “Big D.”

Here we are, about to (somehow) enter Iowa State’s eighth season under Matt Campbell (notable that he’s aging significantly better than your’s truly), and hardly anybody wanted to talk about football with the Cyclones at the Big 12’s annual media day event this week. 

Predictably, the ongoing gambling situation took center stage. As is always the case, Campbell has kept his distance from the media this summer so this was our first crack at him in quite some time. To the fault of nobody at Iowa State (of course, aside from the young men who made the bets) – this deal has served as a big cloud over the upcoming season. Admittedly, I have spent considerably less time breaking down rosters and winning/lossing the schedule because of it. 

There are just too many unknowns. 

Campbell – a pro in front of the camera – didn’t budge. Nor could he because of the ongoing legal aspect of all this. It’s unfortunate, but I appreciate the predicament that he was in. If he talks, well, it’s borderline messing with a legal process. If he doesn’t, fans gripe. It’s just a bad deal. 

*** Campbell really shines in these national media events. Gone are the days when one or two reporters would want to talk to Iowa State’s head man. Even after a disappointing 4-8 campaign a year ago, Campbell’s table was full of national and regional media members wanting to take a crack at Iowa State’s leader. 

Matt is incredibly respected in this industry and people want to know what he thinks on topics like an expanding College Football Playoff and Big 12 expansion. Personally, I enjoy watching him navigate random topics that you tend to see at these events. It’s quite impressive. 

*** But fans don’t really care about that kind of stuff, and I respect that. Iowa State diehards are interested in if the team can bounce back after the first “down” year of the Campbell era. 

The Cyclones absolutely can, but it’s is no certainty either, especially not knowing who is going to be out for what time frame. 

My read on the roster with fall camp beginning in just a couple of weeks is actually pretty bullish, all things considered. Iowa State continues to recruit well. They love their young guys and believe in the depth. This is why they didn’t go crazy in the portal. 

*** It is incredibly important to remember how many close games this program lost last season. Six of Iowa State’s eight defeats were by single digits. I think it felt worse than it actually was, mainly because of the anemic offense and maddeningly inefficient special teams. The Kansas and Oklahoma State games still give me grim night terrors. Even with those glaring warts a year ago, the Cyclones were damn close to making a bowl game. 

*** Campbell is the most successful coach in the history of Iowa State football. There is a reason why he’s been courted by other programs (including NFL jobs) nearly every offseason since he arrived in Ames. 

I wholeheartedly trust him to work out of last year’s issues and turn this thing around. 

*** As was noted in yesterday’s column, I am incredibly bullish on the future of Cyclone Football in the new Big 12.

Iowa State is far from being the best job in the league. It might not even be in the top half. But it is far from the worst and is competing against similar, like-minded institutions when it comes to college athletics. I spoke to writers from all over the country this week. NiL-wise, Iowa State is right there with pretty much everybody. That’s just a massive breath of fresh air when for 100 years, you’ve been the little guy. 

*** The one word that got brought up by Big 12 coaches more than anybody this week was “parity.” That’s often a buzzword that coaches like to throw around when they are trying to be nice to the guys at the bottom of the league. As a geek who has watched damn near every game in this conference for the last 15 years, I couldn’t agree more with this analysis. Just look at the participants in the championship game over the last three years (Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU). Consistently, teams picked near the bottom rise to the top out of nowhere. 

Scholarship numbers one through 85, Iowa State absolutely has talent to shock the league this year. But immediately, I just don’t see how anybody can be overly-confident. We just don’t know enough about who is going to be eligible and for how long.