Okay, so maybe not our only hope…
But the rest of the Big 12 would definitely appreciate your help on this one. As the regular season winds down and the bowl season gears up, each team has to evaluate their future competition, and take a few weeks to prepare for a team in another conference. This is an odd, archaic system that really makes very little sense, and that’s why I love it. It’s the most “College Football” thing about the post-season.
Iowa State has had their best season in years; the 7-5 Cyclones took down Big 12 giants Oklahoma and TCU, and suffered last minute losses to Oklahoma State and Iowa (OT). This is a Cyclone team that has some serious firepower, and although their season ended just above .500, they never lost a game by more than 10 points. Of their 5 losses, 3 of them were by 4 points or less. ISU was competitive this year, and it really helped the Big 12 out.
How did it help the Big 12? Well, there are two knocks on the Big 12 of today. (1) They don’t play any defense, and (2) there’s no depth to the conference. The Cyclones have the 31st ranked Defense according to Bill Connelly’s S&P+ Index, which is superb for a 7-5 team. Teams like Baylor and Kansas make conference outsiders scoff at 7 win seasons, but Iowa State shut those people up this year. The Boys from Ames have a losing record against every single team in the conference except Kansas State, and this year they beat both of the teams playing in the Big 12 Championship Game, one of which is now in the CFP. Iowa State added some serious legitimacy to the competitiveness of the Big 12.
Which brings me to my point…
Iowa State winning their bowl game, the Liberty Bowl, would be huge for the Big 12. In an era where conference strength can determine a team’s post-season fate, a conference’s record in bowl games is a citable statistic. Iowa State is currently 3-9 in bowl games all time–not the best, but it could be worse. However, the Cyclones could make a serious statement by taking down AAC runner-up Memphis. This is a Tiger team ranked 18th in S&P+, and 19th in the AP Poll. The 10-2 Memphis team has lost twice, but only to one team: undefeated UCF.
People this year cried out for UCF to receive more public notoriety, and the Knights are cited as a reason for the necessity of an 8-team playoff. The AAC is typically a doormat, but UCF and Memphis did everything in their power to change that. The Memphis team that Iowa State will square off against in the Liberty Bowl outscored their opponents an astonishing 572-401, and average 52 PPG, which is 2nd in the country. The Tigers are no slouch, and the media doesn’t think so either. Memphis HC Mike Norvell is currently being courted by other teams, including and especially Arkansas, and this bowl game may be an audition for his next job.
Now that all of that is clear, even a Hawkeye can see that Iowa State winning would be huge. Huge for Iowa State, huge for the Big 12, and honestly (kinda) huge for TCU and Oklahoma, who still have to explain losses to ISU. With the SEC, ACC and B10 being as dominant as they are, the Big 12 is constantly in competition. Texas is not back, which weakens the conference. Oklahoma, TCU and OK State can carry the Big 12, but only so far. Until Texas actually is back and Baylor recovers, somebody needs to pick up the slack.
So what if Iowa State wins?
If they win, the landscape in the Big 12 might be changing. I say that with a fair bit of caution in my voice, but equal excitement. I don’t know about y’all, but I kinda hate Baylor. Always have. If Iowa State replaces Baylor as the small school with an attitude, ruining Oklahoma’s seasons, I will be elated. Iowa State is .453 all time, and Matt Campbell in his second year is 9-11, but this feels different. Campbell just resigned for a 6 year, $22.5M contract, so he isn’t going anywhere. The Cyclones are on the upswing, and this win over Memphis would remind everybody that going into 2018, you can’t walk into Ames unprepared.
There will be 8 teams from the Big 12 in bowls this year. That’s insane, but it’s really, really good for the Big 12 if they can perform. Obviously Oklahoma plays Georgia in the CFP. But every team in the Big 12 beside Kansas and Baylor made a bowl! So all I want for Christmas is the Big 12 to go 8-0 in bowl games this year. Iowa State, please do your part and go dominate Memphis. Y’all Cyclones scare the hell out of me when we play in Ames, but until October 6th, 2018, I’m your biggest fan. Go get that W.