MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As he went through the past four seasons with Georgia, Reggie Wilkerson saw bowl-game preparations up close. It became a part of the season that was expected, but not taken for granted.
Now in his first season with Iowa State, and entering his final collegiate game, Wilkerson has witnessed up close a team ending a postseason drought and players ready to change the fortunes of a program — players who, he said, are ready to get out there.
“Everybody’s ready to play,” Wilkerson said after the team’s second practice at Rhodes College. “Even though this is a lot of these guys’ first experience in a bowl game, they’re all ready to play. I just told them what to expect with the bowl game. They’re ready to go.”
Even though he’s one of only eight players of the more than 100 on ISU’s roster that has been through bowl practices before, he’s seen good things from the Cyclones in their preparation. There’s a right way, and wrong way, to prepare.
“Some teams will come ready to play, and some teams won’t come ready to play because they haven’t experienced a bowl game,” Wilkerson said after the team’s second practice at Rhodes College. “We have to be mindful of that.”
Mindfulness is the way ISU coach Matt Campbell is approaching the Liberty Bowl too. The game against 19th-ranked Memphis on Dec. 30 (11:30 a.m.; ABC) will be Campbell’s eighth-career bowl game and fourth as a head coach.
Campbell also won three Division-III national championships at Mount Union and two there as an offensive coordinator. His postseason experiences have shaped the way Campbell manages bowl games, the practice time leading up to them and the added components to a week away from home.
“I think there’s certainly a recipe for success,” Campbell said. “Each team’s got to find that, and especially when you haven’t been here and you haven’t done that, that’s certainly different. That’s a great challenge for this group and the seniors.
“The great thing about these guys is they listen. The senior class has always listened to our coaches and given us every opportunity to be successful. They really haven’t disappointed us leading up to this point.”
ISU’s (7-5) recipe for success hinged on getting guys healthy and using the month between games to make tweaks in the game plan. The Cyclones can put check marks next to both of them. History, specifically ISU’s three bowl wins in school history, are lost on younger players.
They’re just champing at the bit to play another game.
“You get so much time, you get antsy,” sophomore running back David Montgomery said. “You just want to play right now. If we could go play right now, I’d probably go play right now. I’m just ready for this.”
Maintaining a sense of normalcy prior to the bowl game is the best way to ensure good habits from the regular season carry over when school and the grind of a full season have somewhat subsided. That’s what Wilkerson, who went to the Liberty Bowl last year with Georgia, has stressed too.
“The most important thing is just winning it all,” Wilkerson said. “I’m just trying to let the guys know what to expect and not getting complacent with everything.”