It’s been 20 years Iowa State finished ranked in the AP top 25. That No. 25 finish in 2000 was one of only twice in program history where the Cyclones finished as a ranked team, while the other became No. 19 in 1976.
With that as a background, is PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against Oregon January 2 (4 p.m. ET on the ESPN / ESPN App) will be the final game for what will almost certainly be the best Iowa State (8-3) team ever.
Still, it is reasonable to question whether both teams should have received an invitation in the first place.
Iowa State, which finished No. 10 on the College Football Playoff rankings, received last year’s six big bids ahead of a Coastal Carolina teams that have a more deserving resume. The Chanticleers ended the year undefeated (11-0) as teammates in the Sun Belt and recorded a victory on the road to Louisiana. This game is remarkable because it was Louisiana’s only loss of the season, and Ragin ‘Cajuns won at Iowa State by 17 earlier in the season.
Even with this unwarranted miss from the committee, the Cyclones deserve somewhere more than No. 25 Oregon (4-2), which received the Pac-12s automatic bid by winning only the conference title game it played in because Washington was not available due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
Here’s what to see on January 2 in Glendale, Ariz.:
Key player for Iowa State: RB Breece Hall. Just another vintage, Hall was named the finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which was given to the nation’s best runner back after leading the country by 1,436 yards rushing. He is one of only 12 players nationally to hit the 1,000-yard mark, and his 19 rushing touchdowns are only placed behind the Alabamas Najee Harris (24). Oregon’s rushing defense allowed 4.21 yards per carry. Berries, which ranked No. 30 among the 55 Power 5 teams.
Key player for Oregon: THE Kayvon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux is one of two first-team All-Pac-12 picks for the ducks and is among the country’s most dangerous pass-rushers. He led the team in both sacks (3) and tackles for losses (7.5) and is the type of talent that deserves special attention from Iowa State as it puts together a game plan. Since arriving as one of the country’s most in – demand defensive players, Thibodeaux has lived up to his billing.
Matchup to see: Since Hall deserves so much attention, it is possible that the Ducks will have to rely more on individual matchups in the secondary than they would otherwise. This opportunity makes the match between the Oregon cornerback Mykael Wright, The Ducks’ second first-team all-conference player, with Iowa State receiver Xavier Hutchinson (60 catches, 726 yards) an interesting to watch. Cyclones have a dangerously tight end in Charlie Kolar (39 catches, 538 yards) that can also cause a lot of problems.
X-factor: The unknown component of this game that is (hopefully) unique to this season is that Iowa State enters the game after playing 11 games and accumulating the bumps and bruises that come with playing an entire season. Oregon played only seven and should, in theory, be the fresher team. Is that an advantage for Oregon? Maybe. Does Iowa State have the advantage because it has trained and played longer? Maybe also.
Motivation factor: It’s reasonable to question whether the usual motivating factors apply this year at all, given how different the entire season has been, but one thing’s clear: this is rare air for Iowa State. Losing to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game could have been deflated, but the opportunity to bounce back with a New Year’s six win and end the season ranked in the top 10 figures to have the cyclones ready to go. For the ducks, this land has been plowed in the past, and as the defending Rose Bowl champion, this type of game is the expectation.