Iowa State’s brutal loss to Kansas State to end the regular season dimmed the program’s bowl prospects.
But after five years of staying home in December, the Cyclones are thrilled to go anywhere — including Memphis. That’s where Iowa State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) will be on Dec. 30 when it faces the hometown Memphis Tigers (10-2, 7-1 AAC) in the Liberty Bowl.
The appearance will snap a string of five seasons without a postseason appearance and give the Cyclones a shot at just the fourth bowl win in school history.
The rival Hawkeyes (7-5), who beat Iowa State in a 44-41 overtime thriller in September, will face Boston College (7-5) in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27.
“I’m really excited to play in this game. I grew up watching the Liberty Bowl. It’s got great history and great tradition to it,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said.
It’s just the 13th bowl appearance for the Cyclones, who are 3-9 all-time in the postseason.
Perhaps just as important as the game will be the 15 practices allotted by the NCAA to prepare for the matchup.
Campbell compared the extra sessions as almost like a second spring camp when asked about it last month. It will be a crucial period of growth for the Cyclones, who had nine underclassmen listed as starters prior to the 20-19 loss to the Wildcats.
“For our football team to be back in the bowl scene, and the opportunity for our fan base to really come and represent Cyclone Nation in Memphis, I couldn’t be more fired up or excited for that opportunity,” Campbell said.
The Iowa State-Memphis matchup will also mark the first time in the Liberty Bowl’s 59-year history that the hometown team has played in the game.
Cyclones fans took to social media to grumble that the matchup reminded them of the 2002 Humanitarian Bowl, when Iowa State had to play Boise State on its own field and got blown out, 34-16.
But for Iowa State’s seniors, a bowl game appearance will give them a chance to end their careers on a high note. The Liberty Bowl will mark the final game for seniors like Allen Lazard, Joel Lanning and Kamari Cotton-Moya, who made reaching the postseason a major goal they didn’t achieve until this season.
“It’s great to put the pads on one more guaranteed time,” Lanning said.
For Iowa, the only thing that linked the Hawkeyes to the College Football Playoff was the fact that its stunning 31-point blowout of Ohio State might have kept the Buckeyes out of the final four. Still, the Hawkeyes still have a lot of work in front of them before facing the Eagles at Yankee Stadium.
Iowa has dropped its last four bowl games — and three straight by at least 17 points. But even though the Eagles won five of their last six games, the Pinstripe Bowl appears to be a game the Hawkeyes could easily win.
Iowa and Boston College have never faced each other.
“Winning a bowl game is the most important thing. I have never won a bowl game since in my time here. It was one reason why I returned this year,” senior running back Akrum Wadley said.
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