Swinney and Campbell share mutual respect ahead of Cheez-It Bowl

Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell watches from the sideline during the Cyclones’ 59-7 win over Kansas on Oct. 2, 2021.

Matt Belinson

It’s the Cyclones and Tigers in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29 — two programs loaded with 2021 expectations, but now both have a chance to end their respective seasons on a high note.

For Iowa State, the 2021 regular season ended 7-5 overall and 5-4 in Big 12 play. Meanwhile, Clemson had a down-year, relative to their standards over the last seven seasons, finishing 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the ACC.

For Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell, the opportunity to play a program with as much success as Clemson in a bowl game isn’t going to go unappreciated.

After leading the Cyclones to their record-setting fifth-straight bowl game, Campbell is looking forward to bringing the Cyclones back to Orlando and continue building the program’s pedigree on the national stage. 

“I think one of the things that you’re beyond grateful for when you reflect on our program and where we’ve continued to work to grow to is to be able to continue to play opponents in first-class programs like this to see where you’re at, to continue to build your program the right way and play against people who have built it the right way,” Campbell said.

The only prior connection Dabo Swinney and Campbell have had before this bowl match-up was when Campbell went down to Clemson a few years ago to speak to the Tigers’ staff at a clinic.

As a relatively young coach at 42, Campbell has used Swinney, 52, as a resource in his six seasons in Ames on how to build a program and the right approaches to take. The two have texted each other several times over the last few seasons and commend each other on how they’ve won at this level in different ways.

“I think for me it was a transformational experience for myself because of what I saw when I got to Clemson, how I think the kindness and the care and the love and the passion that Coach [Swinney] led with and continues to lead with and I think that was a huge eye-opening experience of, man, you can lead a football program the right way,” Campbell said.

The respect goes both ways, with Swinney watching from afar as Campbell’s brought Iowa State to unprecedented heights over the last six seasons.

“Just a guy I’ve got a lot of respect for and admired what he’s done there at Iowa State. It’s been incredible for sure,” Swinney said.

Clemson has never faced Iowa State, making the late-December matchup one of a kind. But Swinney knows what kind of team the Cyclones are, and the kind of work Campbell has built in them over the years.

Quick assessment: he’s impressed.

“All I know is they’re a tough out, simple as that. They’ve been an incredibly consistent program, can beat anybody,” Swinney said. “So you know that they’re incredibly well-coached and passionate about what they’re doing and you see that when you watch them play.”

Iowa State takes on No. 19 Clemson at 4:45 p.m. CT on Wednesday, Dec. 29 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.