Belinson: A decade of resurgence — the defining moments of Iowa State football in the 2010’s

Iowa State football fans rush the field with signs dedicated to quarterback Brock Purdy following the Iowa State vs. West Virginia upset on Oct 13, 2018. The Cyclones beat No.7 West Virginia 30-14.

Matt Belinson

As 2020 draws near, it means another decade has come to a close—a decade that brought great success to Iowa State football in more ways than one.

The newfound success has come particularly in the latter half of the decade — with the Cyclones making three straight bowl games, finding a culture-changing head coach and a record setting quarterback.

When the aforementioned head coach Matt Campbell took over for Paul Rhoads in 2016, the Cyclones were mostly irrelevant.

Heading into the latter half of the 2010s, things didn’t look pretty for the Cyclones.

Iowa State ended the 2015 season 3-9 overall, with four straight losses to end the year. Rhoad’s last two seasons from 2014-15 saw a combined two wins in conference play and no bowl game appearances. 

And now, Campbell has led Iowa State to its third straight bowl game and will end the decade with another opportunity to take down a college football powerhouse.

The culmination of what this decade has been for Iowa State now ends with a face-to-face meeting with one of the most iconic college football programs in the 14th ranked Fighting Irish.

So, with the decade of Iowa State football coming to a close on Dec. 28, let’s take a look back on how Iowa State got to where it is and the moments and players that shaped the last ten years of Cyclone football.

We start this ranked list off with the five most impactful upset win the Cyclones have had this decade and what many consider the official arrival of the Matt Campbell era at Iowa State with a trip down to Norman, Oklahoma.

Upset Wins galore

1. Kyle Kempt leads the Cyclones over No. 3 Oklahoma (2017 season)

Not much needs to be said when it comes to what this 38-31 win brought Iowa State and its fans back in 2017.

Not only did quarterback Kyle Kempt get his first career start against the No. 3 team in the country on the road, but he did so against future Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and outplayed him in crunch time.

Kempt finished his day 18-24 for 343 yards and three touchdown passes — none bigger than his 25 yard touchdown pass to Allen Lazard to put the Cyclones up 38-31 with just over two minutes left in the game.

The win truly shone a light on what Campbell was building in Ames, but it wouldn’t be the last top-five upset win the Cyclones would get in the 2017 season.

The win was Iowa State’s first against the Sooners in Norman since 1990 and snapped Iowa State’s 20-game losing streak against ranked opponents.

The win over the Sooners was the first time in program history the Cyclones beat an AP top-five opponent on the road.

2. Upset over No. 2 Oklahoma State (2011 season)

At the time, this was Iowa State’s biggest win as a program.

The Cyclones welcomed the No. 2 Cowboys to Jack Trice and walked away with a 37-31 victory. It wasn’t easy for Iowa State the whole way, as the Cyclones had to erase a 17-point deficit.

Iowa State churned out 568 yards of offense and created multiple turnovers on defense to make its mark against Oklahoma State.

The Cyclones were 0-56-2 all-time against teams ranked sixth or higher coming into the game and walked away with its first win ever. 

3. No. 4 TCU goes down in Jack Trice Stadium (2017 season)

Adding on to its magical 2017 season, Iowa State took down the undefeated No. 4 Horned Frogs in front of 56,259 fans on Homecoming and grabbed its second win over top-five ranked opponents in the 2017 season.

A Marcel Spears interception sealed the win for the Cyclones and once again started to turn heads to what was taking place in Ames.

The win would give Iowa State bowl eligibility for the first time under Campbell.

4. Cyclones knock off Will Grier and the No. 6 Mountaineers (2018 season)

The most recent win on this list still holds plenty of importance even as the decade draws to a close.

The 30-14 upset win over the No. 6 Mountaineers was only the second of Brock Purdy’s career, but the then-freshman quarterback showed little struggles all night.

Purdy threw for 254 yards and three touchdowns as the Cyclone offense out gained West Virginia 498 to 152.

Iowa State picked up its fifth win over a ranked team from 2017-18, after being 0-20 from 2011 to 2016.

5. James White sends the Hawkeyes home in triple OT (2011 season)

After back and forth touchdowns, James White took an option run into the end-zone to put the Cyclones on top over the Hawkeyes to end its three game losing streak over its in-state rival.

The triple overtime win kicked off the beginning of the decade with Iowa State’s first big win of the 2010s.

White scored his first two career touchdowns on the day and cemented his name in the memories of Cyclone fans forever. 

Program-changing players

1. Brock Purdy (QB: 2018-present)

It’s safe to say, Iowa State has never had a quarterback as successful early in their career than Brock Purdy.

Even with one more game left to play in his sophomore season, Purdy is already 4th in career passing yards at Iowa State with his 6,010 yards and third in career touchdown passes.

He needs three touchdowns against the Irish to move to number two on the list.

The Gilbert, Arizona, native’s nine 300-yard passing games is the most in program history.

In the 2019 season, Purdy has set the record for most passing yards in a single season with 3,760 yards. Purdy also has the most touchdowns in a single season with 27 scores.

2. David Montgomery (RB: 2016-2018)

A two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection, Montgomery is currently the starting running back of the Chicago Bears, but his legacy was first created and set in stone in Ames.

His 2,925 rushing yards is good for sixth in program history and his 26 touchdowns is tied for eighth in program history.

Campbell said Montgomery was one of the most consistent players and leaders the Cyclones had — making Montgomery’s impact hard to miss.

3. Allen Lazard (WR: 2014-2017)

The Urbandale, Iowa, native may have been the best wide receiver the Cyclones had in the 2010s.

As a two time First-Team All-Big 12 selection in 2016 and 2017, Lazard put up 3360 career receiving yards and 26 touchdowns in his time as a Cyclone and has his name at the top of multiple records.

He leads Iowa State in career receptions, receiving yards and is second in touchdown catches.

Lazard is currently a wide receiver on the Green Bay Packers and has 363 yards and two touchdowns in Green Bay.

4. A.J. Klein (LB: 2010-2012)

The two-time All-Big 12 First Team linebacker was one the best defensive players Iowa State had in the last decade.

His 233 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, two interceptions and three sacks in his career all rank high in the linebacker ranks in Iowa State history.

Klein’s on the field success was good enough to be named co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 along with Frank Alexander of Oklahoma.

Klein’s impactful play did not end in college, with Klein being drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the 2013 NFL Draft. 

Since 2015 however, Klein has been a contributor at linebacker for the New Orleans Saints after being picked up in free agency.

Klein has 2.5 sacks, 42 tackles and a forced fumble this season for the Saints.

5. Hakeem Butler (WR: 2015-2018)

One of, if not the biggest over-the-top threat Iowa State has had this decade, Hakeem Butler proved to be a matchup nightmare during his Cyclone tenure.

In Butler’s time in Ames he was one of Kyle Kempt and Brock Purdy’s favorite targets, particularly in the red-zone.

Butler ranks fourth with his 2,149 career receiving yards, third in career touchdowns with 18.

His 1,318 receiving yards in the 2018 season is still the most in a single season at Iowa State.

Butler was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft but suffered a broken hand before the season began and was unable to play this season.