Short yet fascinating: Iowa State’s bowl history

Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell poses with Washington State Coach Mike Leach following a press conference Dec. 27, 2018, the day before the Valero Alamo Bowl game.

Noah Rohlfing

It’s safe to say Iowa State isn’t the most well-decorated team in the history of bowl games. The Cyclones haven’t appeared in a bowl game three years in a row since the early 2000s — but when Iowa State takes the field against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Dec. 28, it’ll be the team’s third-straight bowl game in just four years under head coach Matt Campbell.

But what have the Cyclones done in their previous bowl appearances? It’s time to take a trip down memory lane and see what we can find.

The 1970s: Iowa State finally makes a bowl game

Now, obviously there were far fewer bowl games in the middle of the 20th century than there are today. Bowl games were also selected even more randomly than they are now, so sometimes good teams got left sitting at home for no reason other than location.

But still, Iowa State had been playing college football since 1892 — and it had yet to make a bowl game as the 1970s began, despite a stretch from 1902-1919 in which every coach at the school had a winning record.

It wasn’t until 1971 that the Cyclones took part in a college football postseason game — the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Head coach Johnny Majors led the Cyclones to an 8-3 regular season record, but Iowa State fell to LSU 33-15 in its maiden bowl voyage.

But the next season the Cyclones were back in the postseason, playing against Georgia Tech in the Liberty Bowl. The Cyclones somehow made a bowl game after going 5-5-1 in the regular season, but once again they fell short in bowl season — this time in a 31-30 loss to the Yellow Jackets. To add insult to injury, Johnny Majors left to take the Pittsburgh job.

Under Earle Bruce, the Cyclones returned to a bowl in 1977 — after going 8-3 in the regular season, the team made the prestigious Peach Bowl and went up against North Carolina State. The Cyclones fell 24-14 and left without a bowl victory. Iowa State went 8-3 in the 1978 regular season and found itself in the Hall of Fame Classic Bowl against future Big 12 opponent Texas A&M — it ended in a 28-12 loss, and Bruce took the Ohio State job.

Decade record: 0-4

The 2000s: Iowa State finds a bowl win

The 1980s and ’90s were a dark spell for the Cyclones. With two winning records in 20 years — a 6-5 record in 1980 and 1989 — Iowa State was a Big 12 bottom-feeder. But with Dan McCarney at the helm, things changed in the 2000s. Starting with a trip to the Bowl in December 2000, Iowa State went to bowl games five of the first six years of the decade — the best stretch in program history.

The Cyclones beat Pittsburgh 37-29 to finish with a best-ever record of 9-3.

In 2001, Iowa State went 7-4 in the regular season and lost 14-13 to Alabama in the Independence Bowl. Iowa State then had another seven-win season in 2002 that culminated in a Humanitarian Bowl loss to Boise State.

In 2004, the Cyclones returned to Shreveport, Louisiana, for the Independence Bowl. This time, however, the Cyclones won 17-13 against Miami of Ohio. The next year, Iowa State lost the defunct Houston Bowl 27-24 to future Big 12 opponent TCU and finished 7-5.

In the closing year of the decade, new Head Coach Paul Rhoads took the Cyclones back to the Insight Bowl, where the familiar 14-13 scoreline resurfaced in a matchup with Minnesota. This time, though, the Cyclones came out on top to end the decade on a high note.

Record: 3-3

2010s: A new era?

Rhoads kept the good times rolling for a little while, sending Iowa State to bowl games in 2011 and 2012. The Cyclones lost both appearances — 27-13 to Rutgers in the 2011 Pinstripe Bowl and 31-17 to Tulsa in the 2012 Liberty Bowl, the school’s last postseason appearance under Rhoads.

Iowa State made its next bowl appearance in 2017 under Matt Campbell, defeating Memphis 21-20 in the Liberty Bowl.

Last season, the Cyclones lost 28-26 to Washington State in the Alamo Bowl — now they head to Orlando with a 4-10 bowl record all-time.

And now, to close out the 2010s, Iowa State will face off against No. 14 Notre Dame in the Camping World Bowl.