LAWRENCE, Kan. — The words that tumbled out of Iowa State coach Matt Campbell this week may just as well have come from Kansas counterpart David Beaty, whose woebegone teams face each other Saturday.
"I continue to challenge the senior class and I continue to challenge the team," Campbell said, "because this senior class does have a chance to put their stamp on this thing and they’ve got a chance to come back here some day and say, ‘You know what? We changed this. We laid the foundation.’"
The Cyclones and Jayhawks, both winless in the Big 12 and each 1-8 overall, are in the midst of massive rebuilding jobs under young, charismatic coaches. And while Campbell is in his first year and Beaty his second, it is clear that they both have a long way to go.
Still, that doesn’t mean they are already looking ahead to brighter days.
"We’re really fortunate because (the seniors) steadied the ship. That group has not allowed this program to say, `Hey, listen, we’re just going to go by the wayside and play for next year,’" Campbell said. "I told our kids, I told our coaches, I’m not playing for next year. I’m playing for right now."
The Cyclones have at least come close to breakthrough wins this season. They blew a big lead and lost by a field goal to then-No. 13 Baylor. They lost by a touchdown a week later to Oklahoma State. They rallied down the stretch in a 31-26 loss to Kansas State. And they made life tough on then-No. 14 Oklahoma in a 34-24 loss that raised plenty of eyebrows.
Two of them belonged to Beaty, who has the utmost respect for Campbell’s rebuilding effort.
"They are a lot better than 1-8. They are the best 1-8 team in the country," he said. "Maybe one of the best 1-8 teams you really have seen."
The Jayhawks have had their share of close calls, too. They blew a 23-14 second-half lead against TCU, and were competitive into the second half against Oklahoma State.
But they’ve also been repeatedly blown out, leading some to wonder whether Beaty is up to the task.
"I have a lot of questions a lot of times about how our guys continue to move forward," he said, "and how they are so resilient, and the answer is just quite simply in our seniors and their character. They have done a really nice job. They deserve a great finish here to end their senior year."
As the Jayhawks prepare for their home finale, here are some things to note:
Big 12 DROUGHT: The last time the Jayhawks won a Big 12 game was 2014, when they beat Iowa State with Clint Bowen as interim coach. They have lost their last 18 conference games.
AS FOR THE CYCLONES: Iowa State has won only two league games the past two-plus seasons, and one of them was last year against the Jayhawks. That was a big reason why Paul Rhoads was fired after the season and Campbell was plucked away from Toledo to rebuild the program.
"Unfortunately, the last few years it comes down to this game, who’s going to be at the bottom of the Big 12," Iowa State quarterback Joel Lanning said. "We don’t go into the game thinking that. We go into the game thinking, ‘One game at a time, one week at a time.’"
QUARTERBACKS A-PLENTY: Iowa State and Kansas have both used plenty of guys under center. The Cyclones have mixed the running ability of Lanning with the big arm of Jacob Park, while the Jayhawks have used Ryan Willis, Montell Cozart and this past weekend, freshman Carter Stanley.
Neither coach was willing to identify a starter this week. Expect several to play.
INJURY UPDATES: Kansas expects to have offensive lineman Joe Gibson back from a neck injury, while Cozart and safety Mike Lee have passed through the school’s concussion protocol and should be available.
RUNNING IT UP: The Cyclones plan to rotate freshman running backs David Montgomery and Kene Nwangwu along with veteran Mike Warren, who has been the starter all season.
"It’s a good situation, in my mind," Campbell said. "It’s hard to have one guy carrying the football all the time. I think it’s a great situation for us."