Apr 13, 2019; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns Orange quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) and head coach Tom Herman try to stay warm from the chilly breeze at the Orange-White Texas Spring game at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports
Few coaches in the Big 12 have a better understanding of the limitations that accompany being on staff at Iowa State better than Tom Herman.
The Texas head coach experienced those limitations first-hand while serving as Paul Rhoads’ offensive coordinator in
Siberia Ames from 2009 to 2011, helping to engineer some of the most historic wins in program history.
That is why it stood out when Herman was asked if this year’s edition of the Cyclones is the best Iowa State football team he’s ever seen ahead of a Black Friday matchup between his Longhorns and the Cyclones in Austin (11 a.m. on ABC).
“They’ve got great players up front on defense. They’re two deep of guys that are very, very difficult to handle up front on defense. You know about Greg Eisworth and what he’s done in his career as well as Mike Rose and the season that he’s having,” Herman said during the Big 12 coaches teleconference on Monday. “That side of the ball, both talented and very cohesive, well-coached. Obviously, on the offensive side of the ball, you’ve got the nation’s leading rusher, you’ve got Brock Purdy and you’ve got NFL draft picks at tight ends. It’s definitely the best team that I’ve seen Iowa State field in a long, long time.”
These Cyclones are on the cusp of breaking through a glass ceiling the program has been looking up at for more than a century. A win against Texas would more or less clinch Iowa State a spot in the Big 12 championship game for the first time in program history.
Doing that will give the team an opportunity to become the program’s first conference title winner since 1912.
Iowa State’s rise to this point is the culmination of a nearly four-year process that has included bringing talent to Ames, developing that talent and building a championship level culture. Sure, there have been bumps along the way, but that is to expected when you’re forced to sometimes insert inexperienced players into big roles or you’re still working to fill out holes on what was a depleted roster when Matt Campbell arrived in Ames five years ago.
The result of that process and those bumps is a team full of veteran leaders on both sides of the football with a great deal of experience in big games. None of those players, including the ones Herman mentioned in the answer above, would have been considered big-name recruits (perhaps with the exception of sophomore tailback Breece Hall, who was a four-star recruit by the end of the 2019 recruiting cycle).
They are all guys Campbell and his staff targeted on the recruiting trail, convinced to come to Ames with the vision of winning championships and gave them a blueprint to get there.
“We do have talented football players,” Campbell said. “They certainly weren’t a four or five star coming out of high school, but what they have had the ability to do is be really good players and become the best version of themselves that they can be. I think that’s what our program will always be, the ability to develop and grow. We’ve been fortunate to have some guys here that have really worked hard to become their best.”
It would be somewhat fitting to see Iowa State break through that glass-ceiling on Friday and further solidify their chances of playing for a conference championship against one of the league’s big-dogs.
It would be even more fitting to do it against someone who knows full well how difficult it can be to do
a three-year sentence coach football at Iowa State.
This isn’t Siberia anymore. This is Matt Campbell’s Ames, Iowa.
“He’s done a really good job,” Herman said of Campbell.
That he has.