Veteran Cyclones staying level-headed amid high expectations

National Sports

AMES, Iowa (AP)Iowa State’s coaches and players didn’t listen to prognosticators when they were picked near the bottom of the Big 12, and they sure aren’t going to start now that they’re picked near the top.

”If we ever worried about what everybody said about Iowa State football,” coach Matt Campbell said, ”we would have never got off the ground.”

Campbell’s seventh-ranked Cyclones are up and running quite nicely heading into his sixth year. They made it to the Big 12 championship game in 2020, and that’s the minimum expectation for 2021.

The program that hasn’t won a conference championship since 1912 is at its highest point of the modern era and brings back 10 starters on offense and nine on defense from a team that went 9-3.

The Cyclones beat Oklahoma in Ames for the first time since 1960 and defeated Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, yet their loss to the Sooners in the Big 12 championship game continues to drive them.

Staying humble is not difficult, especially with Campbell in charge.

”The reality of who we are isn’t very different than where we were four or five years ago other than the fact, from my standpoint, it’s not going to get any easier,” Campbell said.

Iowa State doesn’t attract many four- and five-star recruits, Campbell said, so the program’s emphasis always will be on player development.

”What allows Iowa State to win and be successful isn’t the same as for School A, B and C that maybe we compete against,” he said. ”That’s the biggest thing: know who we are, stay close to who we are and then continue to find the best way to be the best version of ourselves.”

All but three returning starters are juniors or seniors. Running back Breece Hall and linebacker Mike Rose were Big 12 offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively, and quarterback Brock Purdy was among seven other all-conference first-team picks. Eight Iowa State players are on the preseason All-Big 12 team.

Offensive lineman Derek Schwiegert reacts to the hype with a figurative shrug.

”You’ve only got 12 guaranteed games,” he said, ”and you start feeling good about yourselves, one day you’re humbled very fast.”

THAT WINNING FEELING

The Cyclones will be going for a fifth straight winning season. The program hasn’t strung together so many in a row since it was above .500 eight straight years from 1902-09.

GIVE HALL THE BALL

Hall’s 1,572 rushing yards and nine games with at least 100 yards led the nation, and his 21 rushing touchdowns were second behind the 26 by Alabama’s Najee Harris. Hall forced 68 missed tackles on his 279 carries, tied for third, according to Pro Football Focus.

TOUGH `D’ AFTER HALF

The Cyclones allowed a total of 16 points over the second halves of their last five games.

”A lot of people would ask us, `Man, what were your second-half adjustments?’ Honestly, nothing,” safety Greg Eisworth said. ”It seemed like the second half we decided to do what we’re capable of doing. It’s almost like a kryptonite thing: `Why does it take us until halftime to play our type of game?’ So that’s something we’ve been trying to work on.”

SEASON TICKETS RECORD

Iowa State announced this week that season ticket sales surpassed 48,000 for the first time, and the Sept. 11 home game is sold out.

”Our goal is to sell out as many games (as possible) this season to show the nation we have the best fans in college football,” athletic director Jamie Pollard said.

LOOKING AHEAD

The Sept. 4 opener against Northern Iowa is a warmup for the highly anticipated meeting with Iowa in Ames the next weekend. The Cyclones have lost five straight in the Cy-Hawk series. Iowa State gets Oklahoma State and Texas at home and Oklahoma on the road Nov. 20.

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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