An Iowa State program that has alternately been an underdog and overachiever in its modest football history is on the cusp of going somewhere it's never gone before.
Beat No. 20 Texas (5-2, 4-2) on Friday, and the 15th-ranked Cyclones (6-2, 6-1) are in the Big 12 championship game.
Under fifth-year coach Matt Campbell, the Cyclones have pushed their way out of the bottom half of the conference and are getting accustomed to playing meaningful November games.
“We've been in this position in years past,” linebacker Jake Hummel said. “This year it feels less anxiety-ridden. I feel the team is ready for the situation and we’re treating it almost the same way as any other game.”
Iowa State's pregame media literature made no mention of the stakes, and Campbell said he had not spoken with his players about what a win would mean. In fact, he avoided the subject in interviews this week.
Texas coach Tom Herman was upfront about the situation. The Longhorns must win their last three regular-season games to assure themselves a spot in the Big 12 championship game in Arlington, Texas, on Dec. 19.
“Every game from this point forward is the biggest game of the year for us,” Herman said. “We’re one of the few teams in America left that still control their own destiny in terms of the ability to reach their conference championship. We know you can’t win ’em all until you win the first one.”
Sustained success has been hard to come by in Ames, Iowa, and the Cyclones mostly have been closer to the bottom than the top of their league going back to the days of the Big Six.
“It's so different than years past,” tight end Chase Allen said. “I don't know exactly what it is, whether it's confidence, newfound confidence, or whether we've had these situations before so we're a little more aware of what it will be like. It's just the feel of the team.”
WHAT'S DONE IS DONE
The Cyclones have matched the school record for conference wins (6-3 in 2018). They've also assured themselves of a winning overall season and conference record for a fourth consecutive year for the first time in the modern era that started in 1928.
TOUGH AFTER OPEN DATES
Herman is 8-1 at Texas following an open date, 5-0 since 2019. The difference this time is that Texas has had two weeks off because of a regularly scheduled open date and the postponement of last week's game at Kansas because the Jayhawks didn't have enough players available due to injuries and COVID-19 contract tracing.
“This is 20 days without playing a game," Herman said, “and the most important line you walk is you have to get the full-speed reps or you’re going to be extremely rusty having not played anybody other than your scout team.”
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger is among 16 Texas seniors playing their final home game. The Austin native will be starting for the 40th time and is the FBS active leader in touchdown passes (90), total touchdowns (122) and total offense (12,557 yards). He ranks second to Colt McCoy on most of Texas' all-time charts.
“He's going to go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever put on the burnt orange and white, not just from a statistical standpoint — which the numbers bear that out very plainly — but all of the things he has done in terms of the stabilization of this program from the time both he and I arrived,” Herman said.
CYCLONES IN AUSTIN
The Cyclones are 3-14 overall against the Longhorns and 1-8 in Austin, their win coming in 2010.
Texas has outscored Iowa State by 120 points in nine all-time meetings in Austin, a margin of 13.3 points per game.
Iowa State beat Texas 23-21 on a game-ending field goal in Ames last year.
HE SAID IT
Herman said it won't be as emotional as some might think when he and Ehlinger meet on the field during the senior day ceremony.
“Our plan is to have a relationship throughout the rest of our life,” he said, “so it's not like this is a goodbye scene in some rom-com movie.”
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