Bye week gives Cyclones chance to regroup, experiment before Cy-Hawk circus

Fans wait in the line that wrapped all the way around Hilton Coliseum for ESPN’s College GameDay to show support for the Cyclones on Jan 17, 2015.

Noah Rohlfing

The hype is everywhere, and it’s nearly inescapable. Iowa and Iowa State are primed for what could be the most important game in the history of the rivalry.

Iowa is coming off of easy wins over Miami (Ohio) and Rutgers. Iowa State is one game in — a sloppy 29-26 triple-overtime win over Northern Iowa. But the Cyclones haven’t had a second tuneup — instead, they’ve had a bye week at what could be the best or worst possible moment. 

So what did the Cyclones do over the bye week, and why was there a bye in the second week of the season?

The second question is easier to answer — due to a calendar quirk, college football has a 14-week regular season for the first time since 2014. This allows teams to take two bye weeks in a single season, something the Cyclones have not been able to do in Campbell’s tenure. It creates another quirk, too — Iowa State generally doesn’t take a bye week so early on, usually having its bye in the month of October or late September. Instead, the Cyclones got one of theirs out of the way (the Cyclones’ other bye this year is the weekend of Nov. 2).

But some of Iowa State’s players, like senior guard Josh Knipfel, were a tad skeptical about breaking up the game flow so soon into a season.

“At first, I probably wasn’t too happy with the bye week,” Knipfel said. “I think a lot of teams, a lot of players would agree that sometimes it just cuts the flow off of a normal everyday, every week routine.

“We were smart about it, we didn’t do anything super crazy that would risk us the rest of the season.”

Teams often come out of bye weeks differently, as it’s more of a case-by-case basis than anything else. But Iowa State had two goals in mind after the Northern Iowa game — attempt to get healthy and try to fix the many flaws the team showed against the Panthers before GameDay rolled into town. 

The injuries aren’t fully healed — it sounds less likely each day that starting center Colin Newell will hit the field Saturday, and safety Braxton Lewis is still up in the air after missing the season opener — but the Cyclones’ focus on shoring up mistakes has Campbell sounding more sure of his team than after week one. 

“I thought for our team and who we are as a football team this year, it was a perfect situation for us,” Campbell said. “The ability to find out who we were, really put our focus back on the Cyclones the last week, was really important.”

The Cyclones have been dealing with reaction from what was a lackluster performance against the Panthers, and there has been no mistake they’re trying to reverse course before heading up against Iowa’s physical defensive line. 

A week off also gave the Cyclones a chance to complete a week of work before the College GameDay hype train rolled into the station. 

And boy, is the hype train here.

GameDay started set construction Thursday, with other distractions like ESPN TV hits and more construction continuing through Friday before the main event at 8 a.m. near Reiman Gardens. The fan hype is crazy, and it’s one of the biggest moments in Iowa State football’s rough history.

But so far the Cyclones are giving off mixed signals on the impact GameDay has had on the team. 

The old heads, like Knipfel and Lima, have downplayed GameDay, with Lima taking the extreme stance that he’d never heard of the ESPN show before it was announced Iowa State would be hosting. 

“I’m just not really into all that,” Lima said. 

Whether it’s true or not, it’s one of a few instances of the Cyclones’ leaders trying to limit the impact the circus of GameDay and the Cy-Hawk game is having on the team’s psyche. 

Not Mike Rose, though. The sophomore starting linebacker — who has been moved out to the SAM position after playing all of 2018 at middle linebacker — didn’t downplay GameDay’s significance.

“It’s good for the university, good for the program,” Rose said.

Rose added the bye week had been good for him to get more practice at his new position.

This weekend is one crucial to Iowa State’s season and its national prevalence. Whether the bye week the Cyclones had before has done the job and cured their woes will be found out very quickly. As will the impact of the circus atmosphere of College GameDay on the team’s focus. 

But don’t tell the Cyclones that — Iowa State says the bye week and GameDay won’t be the reasons, win or lose.