Matt Campbell started 1-8 in his first season as Iowa State’s head coach in 2016. He went 8-5 in 2017.
To him, the two records are inextricably linked: he told Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples that the success came because of the failure.
In his first few weeks, Campbell’s Cyclones dropped tight Big 12 matchups against Baylor and Oklahoma State after arriving from Toledo. Today, Campbell is glad he lost those games, because it showed him exactly where his team needed to improve.
“If we would have won some of those games, it would have masked the true inconsistencies that lied within our program,” Campbell told Staples. “What was great was to teach from some of those disappointing losses.”
According to Campbell, those early losses in his first season fueled a drive to improve that has boosted Iowa State ever since. Although Campbell knows that he’s never going to be able to out-recruit the Cyclones’ Big 12 rivals, his team can soon reach a point where they’re deep enough to compete with anyone.
“Will we always have the biggest names or the five-star guys? We’re not,” Campbell said. “That’s not going to be Iowa State. And that won’t be. But what we can have is on 12 Saturdays, we can be the best football team.”
Campbell specifically highlighted the development of his offensive line, which Campbell says has gone from “poor to good.” That could be a huge boost to running back David Montgomery, who rushed for 1,146 yards last season and has been highlighted as one of the best running backs in the Big 12 in 2018.
Can Iowa State shock the Big 12 in 2018?
But Iowa State may suffer from one thing: they’ve lost the element of surprise. The Cyclones knocked off both Oklahoma and TCU last season, becoming the only Big 12 team to defeat both championship game participants last season. It proves that they’ve already reached a point where they’re a threat to the conference’s best teams.
Iowa State won’t sneak up on anyone this season. The Cyclones are expected to be one of the Big 12’s better teams, but Campbell said that he’s proud of his team’s humility.
The Big 12 can be a humbling conference, and Iowa State will need to put its head down and go to work in 2018.