Dec 19, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners cornerback Tre Brown (6) celebrates an interception in the fourth quarter against the Iowa State Cyclones at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State football reached unprecedented heights in 2020, reaching the Big 12 championship game for the first time in program history and then winning the school’s first New Year’s Six bowl game against Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
Still, it felt as though there was unfinished business for those Cyclones as they came up roughly 30 yards short of a come-from-behind win over Oklahoma in that Big 12 title game.
This program is striving to win championships. It is what Matt Campbell and his staff have preached since the moment they arrived in Ames five-plus years ago.
It is that idea of winning a championship that has been the underlying tone of every player who has announced their intention to return to the program in 2021. This group of Cyclones, many of them very familiar faces with 20 of 22 starters coming back, has one big thing on their mind coming into this fall…
“I think for our players after the Big 12 championship game, it was gut-wrenching,” Campbell told Cyclone Fanatic publisher Chris Williams earlier this week in the first episode of our new Built 2 Lead podcast series. “It was to be 32 yards away from what you set out to do and put yourself in a position to do it and to come up short. That’s gut-wrenching. Those are hard, hard lessons and hard, hard things to swallow.”
Now, obviously, we all know how the Cyclones bounced back from that gut wrenching loss and disappointment by putting together a more or less completely dominant performance against the Ducks. It was an admirable bounce-back from a program that came so close to attaining something that’s been elusive for more than a century.
The ability to put that disappointment in the rearview mirror and move on to the next task is impressive when you consider these are still 18-to-22 year olds that we’re talking about.
They had done everything asked of them in being part of one of the safest college football programs in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic while still succeeding at an elite level each and every week.
“We also grew immensely along the way and were able to do some more really good things for the betterment of the program. But I think we’re all set out to continue to grow to become the absolute best versions of ourselves that we can be,” Campbell said. “I do think that’s one of the great joys that I appreciate about the young men that that have come back in our program, that nobody’s just satisfied with being good enough. You know, I think we want to find ways to continue to be the best. And so that was really hard. And I think a really hard pill to swallow. And yet, I also felt like we had enough humility, as we continue to get farther away from it, to sit back, look at it, evaluate it for what it was, and then say, Man, where are some of those areas that we all need to grow?”
That quote, and everything else this team put on the line last fall, tells me everything I need to know going into 2021. There won’t be anybody resting on their laurels or getting complacent in thinking they’ve already accomplished everything they set out to.
The 2020 Cyclones still came up short for their ultimate goal — even if it was by only 30-something yards. Sure, they bounced back in spectacular and historic fashion, but they never reached the mountain top its taken Iowa State 110-plus years to climb towards.
2020 was a historic year for Iowa State football — and that will always be the case. It was about breaking down walls and through glass ceilings many people never thought could be demolished.
What does that leave for 2021?
Business to be finished.
“Obviously, that was a very hard game, and that was a hard situation to have to go into and then, obviously, at the end of it fail. We didn’t get to where we wanted to go in that game,” Campbell said. “It was great to be able to go play in the Fiesta Bowl and win that game and that’s great to finish the season with a win, but, also, ultimately, there’s areas we need to continue to grow and want to continue to grow to get where we’d like to be.”