Gravity, and defiance of it

Iowa State dug deep into the depth chart for a quarterback in a game no one outside the locker room thought was winnable. It was 1992, 25 years ago to the day. Iowa State 19, Nebraska 10.

But in the big picture, nothing changed.

Iowa State faced a top-five opponent, upended the postseason race with a 7-point victory, and became bowl eligible. It was 2011, six years ago this Saturday. Iowa State 38, Oklahoma State 31 (2OT).

But in the big picture, nothing changed.

This year, Iowa State dug deep into the depth chart for a quarterback in a game no one outside the locker room thought was winnable. Iowa State faced a top-five opponent, upended the postseason race with a 7-point victory, and became bowl eligible.

But in the big picture…what will change?

Since the end of World War II, Iowa State has finished with a winning record in conference seven times, and 4-4 four times. (If ties still existed, 2005 would have been 4-1-3.) Since December 29, 1978 — three weeks after Hayden Fry was hired at Iowa and two weeks before Earle Bruce left Iowa State — ISU has finished with five conference wins precisely once (2000). That encompasses coach Matt Campbell’s lifetime as well as mine.

Iowa State has never won six conference games in a season. That just was not going to happen when there were only six or seven conference games total, and two of them were Nebraska and Oklahoma. But as the number of conference games grew, ISU’s number of wins didn’t. Comparatively, Fry’s Hawkeyes won six or more conference games five times in seven years (1981-87) and Kirk Ferentz has done it five times this century, including the past two years.

When Campbell said “BS programs care about 6-and-6″ I winced, because Iowa State fans do care about 6-6. Phrasing like that is an open invitation for karma to run over a coach’s dogma. Deadspin’s preseason feature about Iowa State aspiring to maintain mediocrity wasn’t wrong, nor was Cyclone Fanatic’s Kirk Haaland writing later on about ISU fans’ learned helplessness (my description not his). As a Cyclone fan, I can not — for sanity’s sake, I must not — believe until the clock hits all zeroes. With the existence of overtime, not even that may be enough. It will take a long period of Iowa State not losing games in the most Iowa State ways possible for that to change.

This October, ISU went 4-0. Campbell tripled ISU’s all-time victories over top-five teams, doubled all-time victories over ranked teams as a ranked team, and doubled victories over Oklahoma in the past half-century. (And by “doubled” I mean “went from 1 to 2.” Details, details.)

I don’t like it when the Cyclones wear gray outfits. I don’t like Campbell’s disinclination for the color gold (he always wears black coats and hats; home outfits were red/red/red except for the Iowa and Texas games). I don’t like the obsession with social media, and I have mixed feelings at best about the “ketchup Bugle” logo. The only non-field-performance change I unreservedly agree with is the midseason replacement of “Sweet Caroline” with “Won’t Back Down” before the fourth quarter (PLEASE DON’T CHANGE IT BACK).

But on the field, I can’t dispute he got results this year. There are two regular-season games left, both eminently winnable. If Campbell’s Cyclones go 8-4 in his second season, the bowl game no one expected at late as Oct. 1 will be gravy.

And all ISU fans can be thankful Campbell isn’t P.J. Fleck … although Mr. Row The Boat just sent Nebraska up the creek without a paddle.

This entry was posted in Sports. Bookmark the permalink.