Iowa State is 1-1 in Big 12 conference play, with a loss in Waco, Texas, against the Baylor Bears and a dominant win against Kansas in Jack Trice Stadium before heading into the bye week.
Having a bye week this early in the season has its benefits as well as drawbacks. It can provide a much-needed break before they really enter the bulk of their Big 12 slate and give them a chance to get healthy.
It can also come too soon if things turn sour for the Cyclones as they weave their way through conference play. If losses start to accumulate, a team could be looking desperately for a break that will never come until the season's end.
Whatever Iowa State does with this bye week, and if it ends up helping or hindering them, could become very evident early in its final eight games.
The Cyclones boast a 3-2 record. They have beaten Northern Iowa, UNLV and Kansas, and have fallen to Iowa and the aforementioned Baylor Bears.
UNLV and Kansas both rank in the bottom 20 in total defense and total offense in the FBS. They give up about 450 yards or more each game and only account for around 330 yards of offense per game. Northern Iowa plays Iowa State tough almost every time they meet, but they are an FCS team.
Iowa State lost to both Iowa and Baylor, and one could argue they are a better representation of who Iowa State will face the rest of the way. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas are all currently ranked in the top 25. It does help that two of those games are at home, but they will be tough tests for the Cyclones no matter where they are played.
It's a bit harsh to say the age-old criticism that "they haven't beat anyone yet," and frankly, it's also a bit disrespectful to UNLV, Kansas and Northern Iowa to call them nobodies.
What is clear, however, is that the way Iowa State has been playing against perennial conference championship contenders, or at the very least teams that consistently have winning seasons, is somewhat worrisome.
In its three wins so far this season, Iowa State has a turnover margin of plus four. In its two losses, the turnover margin is minus four. It's clear that in any game and for any team that holding onto the ball is important. Even more so for a team that has preached "details and precision" a lot so far this season, as well as winning in the margins.
Last year, Iowa State went 8-1 in the conference, their only loss coming in Stillwater to Oklahoma State by three. They had blowouts of teams that proved they belonged at the top, such as home routs of Kansas State and West Virginia by at least 30 points.
They picked up wins against Texas on the road and Oklahoma at home that allowed them to stand above the rest.
It's been well-documented that Matt Campbell and Iowa State have not performed well early in the season. His record in September is 8-13, including the 2-2 record this year (their win against Kansas came Oct. 2). The good news for Iowa State is that Campbell is 13-6 in October. Some of Iowa State's biggest wins have come in October, including the Oklahoma win last year and the win over then-sixth ranked West Virginia in 2018, Brock Purdy's first career start.
Iowa State's first four games after the bye include Kansas State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Texas. If Iowa State can come out of that stretch unscathed with a 4-0 record, it will put them in a much better position to make the Big 12 championship as well as put a great deal more importance on their Nov. 20 date in Norman against the Oklahoma Sooners.
I believe that it will become abundantly clear very early on in Iowa State's games coming out of the bye what kind of team this is. If they can lean on their experience and veteran players to pick up some difficult wins, they still have a chance to make it back to the Big 12 Championship Game, a place most expected them to make a run at early this season.
If they continue to play the way they did against the Hawkeyes and Bears, there's a chance more losses could occur, and the chances of building on their historic 2020 season would dissipate, at least for now.