It has been 20 years since Iowa State finished ranked in the AP Top 25. That No. 25 finish in 2000 was one of just two times in program history the Cyclones finished as a ranked team, with the other a No. 19 finish in 1976.
With that as a backdrop, the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against Oregon on Jan. 2 (4 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN App) will be the final game for what will almost surely go down as the best Iowa State (8-3) team ever.
Still, it’s fair to question whether either team should have received an invitation in the first place.
Iowa State, which finished at No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings, received the final New Year’s Six at-large bid ahead of a Coastal Carolina team that has a more deserving résumé. The Chanticleers finished the year undefeated (11-0) as co-champions of the Sun Belt and recorded a win, on the road, against Louisiana. That game is notable because it was Louisiana’s only loss of the season and the Ragin’ Cajuns won at Iowa State by 17 earlier in the season.
Even with that unjustifiable miss by the committee, the Cyclones are more deserving of a place than No. 25 Oregon (4-2), which received the Pac-12’s automatic bid by winning the conference title game it played in only because Washington was unavailable because of a COVID-19 outbreak.
Here’s what to watch on Jan. 2 in Glendale, Arizona:
Key player for Iowa State: RB Breece Hall. Just a sophomore, Hall was named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s best running back, after leading the country with 1,436 yards rushing. He’s one of just 12 players nationally to crack the 1,000-yard mark, and his 19 rushing touchdowns ranked behind only Alabama’s Najee Harris (24). Oregon’s rush defense allowed 4.21 yards per carry, which ranked No. 30 among the 55 Power 5 teams.