Iowa State can't help but play every big game down to the wire. It seems like it's in the Cyclones' DNA to make things as tight as possible.
Now, as an unbiased reporter, I love it — it makes covering the games fun when you have no real idea what's going to happen. Although, it does make it difficult to know when you can start writing.
I understand how Iowa State fans can see it differently, but rest assured; it's a big positive for the Cyclones to be involved in so many close games. Among other things, it's a big sign that the Cyclones aren't so far off of the Big 12's elite anymore.
You can see it in Saturday's walk-off win over Texas — Matt Campbell's first win over one of the Big 12's standard-bearers, not just because it was a win over Texas, but because of the manner in which Iowa State came away with the win — one week after fighting back from 21 points down to nearly defeat the ruler of the Big 12, Oklahoma, on the road.
Iowa State has played six games decided by seven points or less this year alone — going 2-4 in those contests and coming so, so close to having a much better record than its current 6-4 mark.
"They've continued to fight when I think everybody's written us off at times," Campbell said after the game. "Our kids just keep playing."
Until Saturday's game, the Cyclones had lost to each ranked team they had come up against, but in each game, they had the ball and a chance to tie or win with less than a minute to play.
Talk about playing with no margin for error. Unfortunately, at programs like Iowa State that's how it's always going to be.
The Cyclones will never be able to recruit the consistent blue-chip players Oklahoma and Texas bring in — it's just a fact of circumstance. The Cyclones have never had and won't have the history, location and NFL readiness aspect many five-star recruits are looking for. That's not going to change. But it doesn't mean the Cyclones have to sit and search through the metaphorical scrap heap for players — otherwise, they wouldn't have players like Brock Purdy, Charlie Kolar and Breece Hall. Purdy was recruited by Alabama for much of the process, and Hall was widely regarded as a four-star prospect.
This season they've grown into Iowa State's most consistently productive backfield in ages. Purdy is second in school history in single-season passing yards with two games to play, and Hall has run for 100-plus yards now in four of the last five games.
Finding game-breakers isn't easy for Iowa State, which means recruiting wins such as Hall, Purdy and even redshirt freshman Jirehl Brock are so important to building a roster that can go toe-to-toe with the conference's best.
Campbell has done a great job of building a competitive roster — one that was able to beat a Texas team many thought would have a chance of ending the year as a top-10 team. Texas has been disappointing, but that's not close to the point — this win wouldn't have been shocking if Texas were 8-1.
Iowa State played alright, but it was far from their best performance of the year. The second half of the Oklahoma game and the dominant TCU performance struck me as better than Saturday's game. The Cyclones out-gained Texas 466-327, but the Cyclones gave up 136 yards and 14 points in the fourth quarter, blowing a 13-point lead in the process.
That itself is huge. The ability to beat a ranked team while not having a perfect game on either side of the ball was not there for Iowa State under previous coaches.
Now, Campbell won't stay at Iowa State forever (at least, not in my opinion). But he's laying a foundation the Cyclones can attempt to maintain if he ever leaves — and despite four losses this season, it's clear this team is maintaining its upward trajectory.
In fact, they're probably closer to the top than ever before.