Ah, the new year. January is a time of reflection, resolutions, and new beginnings. This year is no different, but Iowa State fans might have noticed a different feeling in the air to start 2019. No, not the unseasonably warm weather. Actually, you could say it’s more of a sound—a vibration.
It’s the Iowa State Hype Train. And it’s packed to capacity, running full speed ahead.
As history tells us, it doesn’t take much for Cyclone fans to book themselves a ticket. Even during bleak stretches of football that saw no more than 3 wins in a season from 2013 to 2016, the die-hards dutifully packed their bags in the offseason and boarded a train that was bound to careen off the rails before the end of October.
But for every fan the train lost during football season, it gained two-fold as it rolled toward January and the start of Big 12 basketball. Until recently, the train more closely resembled a rollercoaster, with a cycle that gave fans thrills from January through the end of March, then slowly clacked its way up the hill as fans tried to get themselves excited for a football season that was more than likely going to disappoint.
Until it didn’t.
Last year was an anomaly, with the hype train reaching near-record speeds in December after the best football season in 17 seasons, and a thrilling bowl win. It then came to a screeching halt as the men’s basketball team struggled to an 0-4 start in Big 12 play during an injury-laden rebuilding year. So the roller coaster continued.Embed from Getty Images
But for 2019? New year, new beginnings. And a resolution — keep the hype train rolling.
The Cyclones wrapped up one of the most successful football seasons in school history at the Alamo Bowl in late December, spending the final five weeks of the season ranked. Just as the hype threatened to start fading, the basketball team shoveled a load of coal back into the furnace as they throttled #5 Kansas at Hilton, launching them into the top-20 before the football off season officially began.
So, the train rolls on with a combination of passengers and speed that hasn’t been seen since… ever. The Cyclones are going on six straight months of hype staying on the tracks, and conductors Matt Campbell and Steve Prohm are trying to extend that streak. The school that is referred to as “little brother” and all but embraced the lovable loser mantra is now getting national attention in the off season and has upgraded its talent to catch the attention of blue bloods.
And the hype isn’t just barrelling down the tracks with reckless abandon — there’s reason to believe it doesn’t derail in a fiery crash this time around. Campbell has improved recruiting classes four consecutive seasons and set school records for talent in the last three. David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler are the first ISU players to garner enough interest from the NFL to forego their senior seasons since Troy Davis did it in 1997.
Prohm has done his own roster rebuild, bringing in one of the most talented freshman classes in the country this season and continuing to utilize high-level transfers to balance his classes. And while some of Fred Hoiberg’s former players are starting to make a name for themselves in the NBA, three of Prohm’s players are currently catching unprecedented attention on NBA draft boards, with two currently projected as first rounders.Embed from Getty Images
Pretty good for a school that has (probably unfairly) been considered a dead-end for aspiring pro athletes.
And what about the conductors of this train? Iowa State has always been considered, at best, a stepping stone job for coaches, and at worst, a coaching graveyard. Not even one of the most pureblood Cyclones of all time, Fred Hoiberg, stuck around when the NBA came calling. So what makes these guys different? Actually the better question: Are these guys different?
The safe answer is we won’t know until we know. There’s so much money and politics involved on the coaching carousel that no coaching job truly seems safe anymore. But there does seem to be something different with these guys. Both have young families that have planted roots in Ames. Both gush about the culture and community and have talked candidly and emotionally about their desire to stay at Iowa State. While it’s easy to dismiss it as coach speak, there’s one undeniable factor: there’s never been a better time to be a coach at Iowa State University.
The resources, the facilities, the fan base, and the culture are at levels that many couldn’t have even imagined 10 years ago. And the dean of Iowa State coaches, ISU women’s basketball coach Bill Fennelly, is a testament to longevity in Ames while building a successful program. Heck, the women’s program is just as much a reason the hype train continues to roll as they also cracked the top-20 in the AP Poll and have its most talented roster in years.
But hype breeds high expectations, and high expectations breed disappointment. What used to be dreams of Big 12 championships in both sports are now becoming cravings. Beating ranked teams used to be monumental occasions, and now it’s expected. The hype is bound to catch up with fans at some point, likely before the basketball season is over.
But until then, fans will continue to jump on the speeding locomotive, one that continues to add boxcars to keep up with demand. And this time, it’s staying on the tracks longer than ever before.
Choo choo, motherf—