I’ve been trying to put my feelings into words about a top-10 Iowa State Cyclone football team and the progress this program has made under coach Matt Campbell, but words have escaped me. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said and with so much happening in the world outside of sports, writing about the greatest era of Iowa State football just hasn’t felt appropriate yet.
So instead of trying to contextualize my thoughts on something bigger than wins and losses, I’m going to stick to just wins and losses—actually, just wins. All 35 of them in the Matt Campbell era, to be exact. What better way to celebrate the greatest era of football in school history than to relive every win?
Now, I won’t include a recap of every single game below, just the ones worth re-hashing. The games are ranked based on a few criteria:
- Strength of opponent
- Dominance of win
- Importance of game
I enlisted the help of some fellow Cyclone fans to rank the top-10, but the bulk of the list is simply me sitting in front of a computer for hours reliving Iowa State wins through the years, so I’d love to hear your feedback. Please direct any disagreements to @tedflintkansas on twitter.com.
Without further ado, here’s your worst-to-first list of Iowa State wins in the Campbell era.
35. #24 Iowa State 27, Drake 24 (2018)
Every game on this list is up for debate… except this one. On a cold, wet, sloppy December afternoon, the FCS Drake Bulldogs came into Jack Trice Stadium as 41-point underdogs and nearly pulled off an upset for the ages. The game was horrible—neither team could get any footing on the torn-up field and the only reason either team eclipsed 20 points was because each team was gifted short-field scoring opportunities off oddball turnovers. The Cyclones won the game despite losing the turnover battle and gaining just 273 yards of total offense.
34. #21 Iowa State 29, Northern Iowa 26, 3OT (2019)
Just two games after avoiding disaster against Drake, the Cyclones opened the 2019 season with UNI and almost let disaster strike, again. This one was far more dramatic—including a miraculous fumble recovery by Brock Purdy to save the game in the third overtime—but realistically far more unlucky. The Cyclones out-gained the Panthers by 200 yards and UNI’s only touchdown of the day came on a controversial fumble recovery that was inexplicably upheld despite fairly clear video evidence to the contrary.Embed from Getty Images
33. Iowa State 31, Kansas 24 (2016)
32. Iowa State 26, Akron 13 (2018)
31. Iowa State 41, Kansas 31 (2019)
30. Iowa State 42, Northern Iowa 24 (2017)
29. Iowa State 27, Kansas 3 (2018)
28. Iowa State 44, San Jose State 10 (2016)
While San Jose State wasn’t an opponent to brag about, it was a milestone victory as Campbell’s first win at Iowa State. Jacob Park threw for three touchdowns, Joel Lanning threw for two more, and Mike Warren rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown.
27. Iowa State 41, Akron 14 (2017)
26. Iowa State 23, Baylor 13 (2017)
25. #23 Iowa State 52, Kansas 22 (2020)Embed from Getty Images
24. #17 Iowa State 38, Baylor 31 (2020)
This game wasn’t particularly important, Baylor wasn’t particularly good, and the Cyclones didn’t particularly dominate, but every Cyclone fan knows what this win meant for the program. Trailing 24-10 in the second half, the Cyclones rattled off 28 unanswered points to win a game that the team historically loses. The Cyclones improved to 5-1 in league play for the first time in school history to set up the best season in school history.
23. Iowa State 34, Texas Tech 24 (2019)
22. Iowa State 40, Texas Tech 31 (2018)
21. #23 Iowa State 28, Baylor 14 (2018)
20. Iowa State 31, Texas Tech 13 (2017)
19. Iowa State 38, West Virginia 14 (2019)
18. Iowa State 45, Kansas 0 (2017)
17. Iowa State 72, Louisiana-Monroe 20 (2019)
700+ yards of total offense, six touchdowns by Brock Purdy, and 35 different Cyclones registered a tackle. We call this type of game a spanking.
16. Iowa State 49, TCU 24 (2019)
15. #24 Iowa State 31, Texas Tech 15 (2020)
14. #25 Iowa State 42, Kansas State 38 (2018)
For much of this game, it looked like another Farmageddon heartbreak for the Cyclones. Iowa State simply wasn’t playing well and trailed by 17 points in the fourth quarter to a Bill Snyder-led Kansas State team that honestly wasn’t very good. Their luck changed with a Mike Rose mid-air fumble recovery for a touchdown that will go down as one of the most iconic plays of the Campbell era. Although the win didn’t mean much on the national scale, breaking a 10-game losing streak to the Wildcats in Snyder’s last game felt like vanquishing a vampire.
13. Iowa State 37, TCU 34 (2020)
12. #12 Iowa State 42, West Virginia 6 (2020)
11. #17 Iowa State 45, Kansas State 0 (2020)
The three games above showcased just how far Iowa State has come under Campbell—three opponents that have traditionally given Iowa State fits were overmatched and dominated (TCU’s garbage time touchdown notwithstanding) in games with Big 12 title hopes on the line.
10. Iowa State 66, Texas Tech 10 (2016)
In a first season where it was obvious the team had some building to do, no one saw 66-10 coming. With star QB Patrick Mahomes leading one of the nation’s best offenses, everyone expected points, but not the way they came. Joel Lanning rushed for 5 touchdowns in his second to last game as a quarterback before becoming an All-American linebacker and the Cyclones launched themselves into the best four-year stretch in school history.
9. Iowa State 48, #25 Oklahoma State 42 (2018)
The Cyclones are 1-3. They’re down 7-0 on the road against a top-25 team. The excitement of 2017 has worn off and apathy is setting in—that is, until Brock Purdy takes the field. The pump-faking freshman quarterback came out of nowhere and put on a show, accounting for more than 400 total yards of offense and 5 total touchdowns, catapulting himself into the starting role on his way to breaking 20+ school records.
8. Iowa State 23, #19 Texas 21 (2019)
Walk-off field goals against ranked Texas teams will never not feel great.
7. Iowa State 21, #20 Memphis 20 (2017)
In Iowa State’s first bowl game in five years, the Cyclones were matched up against one of the best non-Power 5 teams in the country… on their home field. The Cyclones overcame a controversial David Montgomery fumble (which looked like a touchdown to my completely unbiased eyes) and the Cyclone defense held the powerful Memphis offense on the final drive to earn their first bowl win since 2009.
6. #25 Iowa State 14, #4 TCU 7 (2017)
In my opinion, this is the part of the list that becomes nearly impossible to rank. The #4 TCU win wasn’t the first big win of the Campbell era, it wasn’t the most impressive, and it didn’t define the season, but it elevated Iowa State from “plucky Big 12 team that can pull off an upset once a season” to a serious threat in the conference. You can tell it was important to the fanbase the way the ESPN cameras shook throughout the broadcast.
5. Iowa State 37, #18 Oklahoma 30 (2020)
Trailing 17-6 in the second quarter and staring a 1-2 record in the face, it felt like the 2020 season was slipping away from the Cyclones. Enter: Breece Hall. The All-American took over, finishing with 139 rushing yards and two touchdowns as the Cyclones outscored the Sooners 31-13 in the final 34 minutes of the game, giving the Cyclones their first victory against Oklahoma in Jack Trice Stadium history.
4. Iowa State 30, #6 West Virginia 14 (2018)
You can’t appreciate just how dominant Iowa State was against #6 West Virginia by just looking at the final score. WVU quarterback Will Grier came into Jack Trice Stadium a Heisman candidate and left with just 77 total yards of offense on a day his team accumulated just 152 yards total. Meanwhile, Brock Purdy threw for three touchdowns and David Montgomery rushed for 189 yards and another touchdown to vault the Cyclones into the conference title race.
3. #15 Iowa State 23, #20 Texas 20 (2020)
The most important regular-season game in Iowa State history was a rematch of the 2018 Texas game that similarly gave the winner an all-but-guaranteed spot in the Big 12 title game. And for much of the game, it felt like we might get the same result. The Cyclones trailed for 55 minutes before rallying in the fourth quarter and taking the lead on a Breece Hall touchdown run with 1:25 to play. A missed 58-yard field goal as time expired gave the Cyclones their first Big 12 Championship game berth in school history.
2. #12 Iowa State 34, #25 Oregon 17 (2020)
This is the type of win college football fans dream about—a dominating performance in a New Year’s Six bowl game against a Power 5 conference champion. Let opposing fan bases put all the asterisks they want on it, it doesn’t matter. Oregon was out-matched in every aspect of the game from the opening kick and the Cyclones capped off the best season in school history with a win that launched them into the top-10 of the final AP Poll.
1. Iowa State 38, #3 Oklahoma 31 (2017)
There are a handful of iconic games in every program’s history, and unfortunately for Iowa State, their list is pretty short. If your first thought is the upset of #2 Oklahoma State in 2011, then this is probably your second one. You really have to transport yourself back to 2017 to fully appreciate just how improbable this win was. Starting quarterback Jacob Park had just left the team for personal reasons and a third-string walk-on named Kyle Kempt was making his first collegiate start on the road against the #3 team in the nation, led by soon-to-be Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. The Cyclones rallied from three separate 14-point deficits to hand the Sooners their only regular season loss and set up the Cyclones’ first 8-win season in nearly two decades.
Special shoutout to Jacqueline Cordova for the candid photos she supplied.Embed from Getty Images