Matt Campbell is quickly becoming one of the hot names in college football.
And why not? Iowa State’s second-year coach has the Cyclones heading into the final weekend of October with a 5-2 record, almost unheard-of territory on the plains of central Iowa.
Since 1978, the Cyclones have started 5-2 only once, in 2000, when they went 9-3 and won the Insight Bowl.
This year’s version already has road wins at then-No. 3 Oklahoma and Texas Tech, sandwiched around a beatdown of lowly Kansas. They’re ranked in the AP Top 25 and in great shape to make a bowl game for the first time since 2012. But now the goals could be higher. A lot higher. And people everywhere are talking about that, even if Campbell wants to tune it all out.
“If you really want to be a good football team, then all you can worry about is what you do,” Campbell said after last week’s win at Texas Tech. “As soon as you start buying into everyone wanting to say nice things about you, bad things happen.”
Campbell is an Ohio guy, with coaching stops at sites like Mount Union, Bowling Green and Pitt. He joined the Cyclones before the 2016 season, leaving his post as head coach at Toledo. He’s discovered a new star at quarterback in former third-stringer Kyle Kempt, who has been at the controls of all three games in the recent winning streak.
Kempt again leads the Cyclones into battle in another full Big 12 slate this week.
Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) at West Virginia (5-2, 3-1)
This one has been circled on both teams’ radars since the start of the season, and for good reason. Now, a major hurdle for each in trying to claim a spot in the Big 12 title game could be cleared.
While the obvious Will Grier-Mason Rudolph matchup at quarterback will get plenty of hype, these teams both have excellent running games, with Justice Hill pacing the Cowboys and Justin Crawford carrying the biggest part of the load for the Mountaineers. And don’t forget elite receivers on each side, James Washington for the Cowboys and David Sills for WVU.
Either way, it figures to be a long day for both defenses with a lot of points likely going on the board both ways.
Texas (3-4, 2-2) at Baylor (0-7, 0-4)
There may not be too many more chances for the Bears to score a win in what’s been a disaster of a season.
Texas, meanwhile, had another near-miss last week in its overtime loss to Oklahoma State. Suddenly, a promising start to the year could get away from the Longhorns if they can’t right the ship in a situation they ought to dominate.
TCU (7-0, 4-0) at Iowa State (5-2, 3-1)
Unlike the OSU-WVU game, few people came into the season expecting this to be one of the biggest conference games of 2017.
But with TCU unbeaten and the Cyclones one of the hottest teams in the country right now, it’s going to be one of the biggest games played in Ames in many years.
It may come down to efficiency at quarterback. Kempt has shined so far for ISU but not seen a defense quite like this. And Kenny Hill has held up well for TCU but everyone seems to be bracing, waiting for him to make the big mistakes that have been there at times in the past in his career.
Texas Tech (4-3, 1-3) at Oklahoma (6-1, 3-1)
A rowdy Saturday night crowd in Norman awaits a Tech team that is slipping the wrong direction in the league standings.
It’s a last chance for Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield to face his former team, and a first time for Sooner head coach Lincoln Riley to lead his troops against the school he once played for and coached.
Kansas State (3-4, 1-3) at Kansas (1-6, 0-4)
While this game isn’t as ugly as their meetings in the early 80s when they were Big 8 doormats, this one certainly won’t be of much concern for anyone outside of the Sunflower State. Inside it, it’s still a big game every year for bragging rights.