Iowa State has a rare opportunity Saturday. The Cyclones can make a statement against an FCS opponent.
In a strange alchemy of ISU’s program profile, its recent history and the huge expectations for 2019, the Cyclones can actually prove something in the type of game that’s usually just a warm-up for the rest of the season.
There’s no doubting that Matt Campbell has reoriented ISU over the last three years. He took a program that had run out of steam under Paul Rhoads, and has reinvigorated it not just with enthusiasm and hope, but with a heap of talent, a steady foundation and sustainable growth.
To meet the anticipation of this season - in which winning a program-best 10 games or going to the Big 12 title game is on the table - the Cyclones will have to do something Campbell has yet to accomplish in Ames.
Get off to a strong start.
The Cyclones are 4-8 in the season’s first month under Campbell, putting them in early-season holes that they’ve need spectacular Octobers the last two years to climb out of.
Now, certainly there’s noise in that statistic. ISU probably is 5-8 if last season’s South Dakota State game doesn’t get interrupted by lightning. The Cyclones also have Iowa every September, and there have been difficult Big 12 tests rather than a parade of cupcakes on the schedule.
So the slate undoubtedly plays a part, but the bottom line is the Cyclones have had to play catchup because of poor Septmebers.
Saturday’s matchup with Northern Iowa also presents a unique opportunity with ISU’s lackluster resume against FCS opponents.
From 2013-16, the Cyclones lost to a lower-division opponent three times. They had to eek-by non-scholarship Drake by a field goal last December.
So the Cyclones can show just how for real they are by dominating, dismantling and destroying the Panthers for 60 minutes.
If these guys are a top-25 team with conference championship aspirations and a far cry from the program where success seemed at time flukish, a throttling of UNI would help prove it.
Now, of course, a lopsided win and an impressive performance won’t earn ISU any trophies nor will it likely put fear into Iowa’s heart for Game 2, but it would be a clue that not only has ISU turned a corner - which seems inarguable - but that they’re miles down the road.