In any sport there are blue bloods then there are the other teams that are built to beat the blue bloods.
That's exactly what a Matt Campbell-led Iowa State team does.
Since Campbell came to Iowa State in 2016, the Cyclones have played 18 ranked teams and have beaten seven of them, including No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 TCU in Campbell’s second season as coach.
Before Campbell took over, the Cyclones program was struggling with no winning seasons since 2009. In Campbell’s second season, he led the Cyclones to an 8-5 mark and won Big 12 Coach of the Year.
“I think we've continued to pound away at that over the last four or five years,” Campbell said. “I think that was probably the greatest thing that I think was missing is belief. And I think that's something now that our kids, I really believe, feel that they have the belief that they can become the best version of themselves whether it's personally or maybe even collectively as a team."
During his tenure at Iowa State, Campbell has a 1-3 record against Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, but the average margin of victory in the series is 6.75 points per game. With each team’s highest margin of victory being seven.
Iowa State and OSU have always been a close series, even before Campbell and Gundy, but Campbell has built a program that consistently makes bowl games and competes for the Big 12 title.
“All the credit to them, they're a pretty good football team, Iowa State,” wide receiver Tylan Wallace said. “They don't make too many mistakes and they're fundamentally sound on defense. That's a key thing that they've been doing since I've been here. They've just been so sound on defense it's hard to do certain things against them offensively.
"We got to come out there on offense and do what we're supposed to do and make sure we don't make more mistakes than they make.”
The seniors on the OSU roster will be playing Iowa State for the fourth time Saturday, giving them a lot of experience on how Campbell handles his teams.
“Iowa State is a very well-coached football team,” senior defensive tackle Cameron Murray said. “They always give us a good game since I've been playing, they always play us tough. They challenge us, they make us play harder. With them, the offense and defense is really good. That's just a good football team all-round.
"They've got some good tight ends, and a quarterback coming back, a decent O-line, so they're just an all-around pretty good team. That's the main thing that makes them go.”
This season was supposed to be one where ISU took off, but instead the Cyclones got upset by Louisiana Lafayette in Week 1.
A lot of teams came out flat in Week 1, but still, few people expected Iowa State to lose.
Campbell had a simple message for the team.
“I think for all of us, it's just been the understanding that this, the football season, is a marathon, it's not a sprint,” Campbell said. “And we've just got to continue to get better.”
Since the opening loss the Cyclones have gotten better, winning three straight, and now have a shot to tie OSU at the top of the Big 12.
“I think the biggest thing that we've lacked is the ability to sustain and stay the course and not even so much in the wins and loss column, but continuing to get better as the season goes and having the chance to become the best version of ourselves,” Campbell said.
“Coming off another bye week and getting back on the football field and measuring yourself against what we know is an outstanding team, it's just another opportunity to continue to pound away at that challenge that we're all seeking within our program.”
Despite not being able to build a strong relationship with Campbell, Gundy had strong words about a Campbell-coached team.
“Well I don’t really have a relationship with any coaches we all work at the same time, so I don’t ever see Matt except for the day that we play him and Big 12 meetings,” Gundy said. “I think he’s a good football coach and he’s done a really nice job at Iowa State.”