Big 12 opponents, lock your doors. Hold on tight to your playoff hopes and your conference title aspirations. The Cyclones aren’t coming, they’re already here.
If the close 38-31 win against Oklahoma in Norman three weeks ago was a fluke, and the dominating 31-13 win over Texas Tech a week ago was intriguing, then Iowa State’s barn-burning 14-7 victory over undefeated and no. 4 TCU was definitive: Not only are the Cyclones for real, they’re on a despondent mission to wreck the Big 12 from the inside out.
After boasting only one win over a top-five team in their last 59 games, Iowa State now has two wins over undefeated top-five teams this season—the only team to ever do so in the same month. And for the first time since 2012, Iowa State will be playing in a bowl game.
On Saturday, the Cyclones won by playing a game completely opposite to their high-scoring upset over Oklahoma. They slowed the game down and gained the edge on time of possession against the Horned Frogs by almost five minutes despite being outgained by over 50 yards.
Lest you forget, the Cyclones are led by former-third-string walk-on quarterback Kyle Kempt, who once played for Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. Kempt threw for 202 yards and two touchdowns, winning the passing battle against former four-star quarterback Kenny Hill, who had a bad night. The Iowa State defense forced one fumble and picked Trill off twice, including on the Frogs’ final drive to seal the upset victory.
As fans rushed the field at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, head coach Matt Campbell, now in his second season, quipped: “That’s why we came here, to win games like this.”
Campbell was hired in November of 2015 after a nine-season stretch where the Cyclones went 32-55 under Paul Rhoads and 5-19 under Gene Chizik before that. Heading into this season, the Cyclones held losing streaks against all of their Big 12 counterparts besides Kansas and Texas Tech. In short, Iowa State (who under Campbell finished 3-9 last season) were expected to be at the bottom of the conference again this year. Progress under Campbell was supposed to be slow and incremental. This surge, however, has been meteoric and unexpected.
For the Big 12, Iowa State has now played the role of spoiler in a year that could present a problem once the playoff selection comes around. They have handed both the Frogs and the Sooners their only loss of the year, putting the two ranked teams in a precarious position going forward. Given the undefeated and higher-ranked one-loss teams ahead of both TCU and Oklahoma in the AP Poll, winning out and winning the Big 12 title for either might not be enough to get them in the Final Four.
Speaking of winning out, Oklahoma State, who overcame West Virginia on Saturday, is also looking to sneak in as a one-loss team. In two weeks, however, they head up from Stillwater to Ames, where Iowa State will be waiting, looking not just to play spoiler, but also to get in the mix for a conference title of their own. Beware the Cyclones.