The Big 12 schedule is over. The Cyclones, with a 7-4 record and rated No. 23 in the CFP rankings, have already secured bowl eligibility. And the game against Drake was a late addition to the schedule, made possible by a weather-related cancellation in the season opener and a desire to play a 12th game.
So while the coaching staff and players are saying all the right things about not taking the Bulldogs lightly, a possible outcome is that this game becomes a way to get some younger players more snaps while giving the upperclassmen a triumphant sendoff in front of the hometown crowd.
Drake (7-4) tied for second in the Pioneer Football League in the Football Championship Subdivision. This will be the Bulldogs’ first game against in-state Iowa State since 1985 and their first meeting against an FBS team since 1997.
“It’s not like you’re playing a spring game or something like that,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said.
“You’re going to play a game against an opponent that will come in here and their kids will want to play — what a great opportunity for them and us. We’re treating it just like we would any other football game.”
That’s all well and good, but it’s no surprise that a lot of the questions Campbell is facing this week concern which freshmen might see some action against the FCS opponent. The new rule that allows freshmen to play up to four games while still retaining a year of eligibility will come into play.
Four true freshmen have already burned their redshirts, and there are no regrets about any of them.
It’s tough to see how the Cyclones even make a bowl game without quarterback Brock Purdy (6-1 as the starter), and Mike Rose’s ability to start all 11 games at linebacker provided an instant boost to the defense.
It doesn’t sound like the team intends to play freshman defensive end Will McDonald, because he has already appeared in the requisite four games. Outside linebacker Chandler Pulvermacher has played in only three, so he could see time against the Bulldogs as long as he doesn’t suit up for the bowl game. Nobody else is in danger of burning their redshirt.
This could mean more time for players like offensive lineman Trevor Downing, who was competing for a spot in the rotation in August before the coaching staff elected to hold him in reserve.
Who knows — this could even be the week that quarterback Re-al Mitchell finally sees the field. The staff has teased this possibility for weeks, so fans might actually get the chance to see what he can do as an athletic change-of-pace quarterback.
Drake has a stout defense that ranks eighth in the FCS in scoring defense (18.3 points per game). Senior defensive lineman Nathan Clayberg was selected the Pioneer League’s Defensive Player of the Year on Monday. He has 30 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks, as well as six pass breakups and two blocked kicks.
“I actually spoke to the team at the very beginning of the year — we do our senior shares — and I challenged them. I was like, we can go out and play for a ring … but all I really care about is playing for as much time with you guys as I possibly can,” Clayberg said.
“Every second, I just want it all. And so to have another week tacked on to the season, that just so special.”
Iowa State has won six of its past seven games, losing only to Texas during that span. The Cyclones have held nine opponents below their season scoring average. Iowa State leads the Big 12 in scoring defense (22.4) and ranks second in total defense (357.5).
Although the defense gave up 38 points last week to Kansas State, a defensive touchdown on a sack, strip, scoop and score helped fuel a comeback from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit. Iowa State won 42-38.
“We’re not flashy, we’re not pretty, but you better not ever count us out,” Campbell said. “It’s a team, and a program now that’s existed that way quite honestly for the last two years.”