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Iowa State, Notre Dame to square off for first time at Saturday’s Camping World Bowl

By Zach Seifter, Florida Citrus Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — It’s rare to see Notre Dame play a school for the first time ever.

Iowa State is one of just eight Power 5 teams the Irish have never faced. That short list will get even shorter when the Camping World Bowl kicks off here on Saturday.

It’s a little more history for Notre Dame. And it’s a huge opportunity for Iowa State.

“Many people don’t know how good this team is,” Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly said on Friday morning.

The 7-5 Cyclones have seen quite a bit of success since head coach Matt Campbell took over following the 2015 season. This weekend will mark their third straight trip to a bowl game, a stretch that includes a win over Memphis in the 2017 Liberty Bowl and a loss to Washington State in last season’s Alamo Bowl.

But this will mark their first postseason matchup against a program of this caliber under Campbell. So a win would bring a new level of attention to the program — especially considering the huge TV audience Notre Dame always brings.

“I think, more than anything, is the opportunity to finish the football season playing our best football, and that’s always been our goal — to be able to play our best football for four quarters” Campbell said Friday. “We haven’t done that yet this year, but I think that they get another opportunity to do that, and to play an incredible program, and obviously an incredible football team like Notre Dame, I think that’s big for us.”

Notre Dame comes into this game ranked 15th and on the heels of another 10-win season, with their only losses coming on the road against Georgia and Michigan. They rank 13th in the country in scoring offense, averaging just over 37 points a game. They are also 14th in the country in scoring defense, giving up fewer than 19 points per outing.

Stopping such a balanced team won’t be easy for the Cyclones. And Campbell knows it.

“I think watching Coach Kelly’s teams, no matter where he’s been, I think they’ve always had a very common denominator, and that’s great fundamentals, great detail,” he said. “And then you look at this year’s Notre Dame team and the size, defensively, the size and discipline across the board, the ability to create turnovers with that defensive front and the ability to have the length in the secondary to be able to close the passing windows is really impressive.

“On the offensive side of it, again, the size of the offensive line, the wide receivers, the tight ends [stands out],” Campbell continued. “Certainly, I think the great understanding of the offense at the quarterback position and the detail that he plays with and the ability to make things happen with not only his feet but his arm, it’s really impressive.”

Iowa State will bring some memorable looks for new viewers and its new opponent — especially on defense. The Cyclones feature a 3-3-5 alignment with three linemen, three linebackers and five in the secondary. The goal is to deceive and confuse, and that may work well against a Notre Dame team that’s only seen the scheme on film.

“I think nationally they haven’t gotten the credit that they deserve,” Kelly said. “But I think those that watch football and understand the game know this is a team that has a number of traits that you don’t put down on paper.

“They play physical for four quarters,” Kelly continued. “They play with confidence. They play with a belief that they’re going to find a way to win, and they play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. And maybe that’s because of the conference that they’re in, that they don’t feel like they get the kind of notoriety that they deserve. But you can just see the way they play with the disdain of, ‘We don’t care what you think about us.’”

Iowa State will need to play precise to leave Orlando with a win. But if the Cyclones manage to do that, the potential result will be pretty memorable: a 1-0 all-time record against the Fighting Irish.