SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Back in September, Iowa State was 1-3, a record that looked like the Cyclones of old.
A season of big expectations — at least bigger than most in Ames — was on the brink of collapse with a canceled game, an injured senior quarterback and two straight losses out of the gate.
Then came a change to freshman quarterback Brock Purdy, a winning streak and the Cyclones’ best finish in the Big 12. That earned No. 25 Iowa State (8-4) a trip to the Alamo Bowl, where a win Friday night over Washington State (10-2) would cap one of the program’s best seasons in decades.
It also would finish two good seasons for second-year coach Matt Campbell, who has turned a perennial Big 12 also-ran into a program to be reckoned with.
“You want to give players hope, an identity, give them a chance to be the best versions of themselves,” Campbell said Thursday. “You see this senior class … it’s a group, just like last year’s group, that really went through some really hard moments during the early stages of their football career.”
The season turned on the arm and legs of Purdy, who took over the offense in early October and never let it go. Purdy led two big wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia and had the Cyclones contending into November for a shot at the Big 12 title. Behind Purdy, Iowa State went 7-1 and was third in the league, the program’s best conference finish in 40 years.
Iowa State’s eight regular-season wins are the most since 2000, and 16 wins the past two seasons mark the best two-year stretch in school history.
Washington State didn’t end on a similar high. The Cougars were in position to play for the Pac-12 title until losing to rival Washington in a blizzard.
While the Cyclones turned to a freshman quarterback, Washington State has senior graduate transfer Gardner Minshew, who leads the nation with 373.3 yards passing per game to go with 36 TDs.
Cougar coach Mike Leach’s last trip to the Alamo Bowl was with Texas Tech in 2009. That was a wild and unpleasant trip for the coach, who came to San Antonio with his team but was fired three days before the game in a dispute over how Leach handled a player with a concussion.
Back then, Leach was holed up in a San Antonio hotel as the media tried to find him. This time, he’s been out to visit the city, including the Alamo.
“Fascinating,” Leach said. “I’d like to explore more.”