Football is right around the corner.
Iowa State opens up its season Saturday against the Northern Iowa Panthers, welcoming a sold-out crowd after the COVID-19 pandemic took a grand majority of fans out of the stands in 2020.
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell and company look to capitalize on the momentum from a 2020 season that saw them play in the Big 12 Championship for the first time and finish the season with an emphatic win in the Fiesta Bowl against the Oregon Ducks.
They did all of this with very few fans in the stands and many restrictions that were a stark change from their usual game-day routine.
Campbell, along with select players, spoke to the media Tuesday and discussed full stadiums returning and players that could be headed for big breakout seasons.
Cyclones ready to adjust back to full stadiums
It was an adjustment for every team in college football last year, with sometimes no more than a few friends and family in the stands. It provided teams with the ability to neutralize the threat of an away venue easier but also forced them to create their own momentum and excitement while at home.
Campbell and his team know that while it will be a plus to have 60,000 plus strong back in the stadium, he and his players are the only ones that dictate how the game plays out.
"It'll definitely be a really unique dynamic this fall... sometimes the mirage of a fanbase and a game-day experience is a thing but you have to realize it doesn't affect the outcome of a game," Campbell said.
Home-field advantage is a huge plus for any team that can create an environment that is welcoming to them and not their opponent. In the Matt Campbell era, the Cyclones have a home record of 21-12. They posted a 5-1 record at home in 2020, supporting Campbell's claim that they can still find ways to win, even in empty stadiums.
Campbell has also made sure to instill that point of view into the minds of his players leading up to an incredibly anticipated season, with quarterback Brock Purdy also echoing his coach's sentiments about how to approach the game against Northern Iowa.
"We still have to play the game of football," Purdy said to the media Tuesday. "We need to understand what we have to do each play and go out there and execute because if you get wrapped up in what's going on in the environment, obviously you're not going to be able to do your job when your team needs you the most."
Purdy could be seen as someone who benefitted the most from empty stadiums, particularly in away venues. Being able to communicate with his teammates on offense without the noise that can sometimes be deafening was surely a big plus.
Iowa State has been preaching ever since its rise as a program began that they don't let the outside noise get in. They focus on being the "best versions of themselves." While the outside noise was usually in reference to national media and other teams around the league, this time it means the literal noise or lack thereof that was unable to help or hinder them in 2020.
T.J. Tampa, Jaylin Noel impress as the season approaches
With most of the roster carrying over from their historic 2020 campaign, it may not leave much room for younger players to have an impact. But sophomore defensive back T.J. Tampa and freshman receiver Jaylin Noel are two of the names most frequently mentioned by other players leading up to the season that could get meaningful playing time.
Tampa has just recently switched his primary position to cornerback after being recruited as a wide receiver out of high school. He collected five tackles in the nine total games he appeared in during the 2020 season but looks to be slotted into the second-string role behind All-Big 12 Honorable Mention senior Anthony Johnson Jr.
Johnson Jr. and cornerbacks coach Matt Caponi have talked multiple times about how much growth Tampa has had since last season, with Johnson Jr. specifically mentioning him to the media ahead of Saturday's game.
"The biggest growth I've seen is in his preparation from last year to this year... he did not look like a cornerback when he first made the transition and now he looks like an exceptional one," Johnson Jr. said.
Noel, on the other hand, is a freshman in a receiving room that features All-Big 12 First Teamer Xavier Hutchinson, veteran Tarique Milton, as well as Joe Scates and Sean Shaw Jr., but he has firmly planted himself right behind Milton on the depth chart and has turned quite a few heads during fall camp, including that of veteran Greg Eisworth.
"He'll be special. He has all the tools to be really special," Eisworth said.
Noel, the Kansas City, Miss., native, has also been mentioned as being able to contribute in the return game. However, Noel gets on the field for the Cyclones this fall; it's clear he and Tampa are both ready to make plays to help their team.