First impressions are important, but they aren’t permanent. As Iowa State sits on the verge of clinching a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game, I think back to its season-opening loss to Louisiana as a good example. I wasn’t surprised that the Cyclones lost that game, but my big takeaway was that they weren’t good enough to really make noise in the Big 12 Championship Game race, let alone win it all.
Boy, was I wrong.
Let me explain. My rationale was that while the 31-14 score was misleading — the Ragin’ Cajuns had two special teams touchdowns and one explosive 78-yard score — an otherwise evenly-played game was still a problem for Iowa State. Should the Cyclones really be going blow-for-blow with a Sun Belt opponent if they’re going to be one of the two best teams in the Big 12?
As it turns out, though, Louisiana is pretty damn good, too, and headed towards a Sun Belt title game rematch with Coastal Carolina. The Cyclones were also missing top tight end Charlie Kolar that day. And it was the first game of 2020. Who knows with these teams sometimes?
That’s not to say that the Louisiana loss doesn’t matter now, but not when it comes to the Big 12 race. Iowa State has capitalized on a rare window by beating Oklahoma early in the year when the Sooners were more vulnerable and then inching past Texas over Thanksgiving weekend on a short week. Running back Breece Hall’s “five-star culture vs. five-star players” money quote has become the unofficial M.O. of the Cyclones’ 2020 season. Coach Matt Campbell has almost always had his team ready to play big games, but this is the first time the Cyclones have topped the Sooners and Longhorns in the same year.
Iowa State has clinched at least a share of the Big 12 regular-season title, but hasn’t won a conference championship since 1912. To be clear, there’s still some work to be done before it can break that streak. But the Cyclones, ranked No. 9 in the latest College Football Playoff poll, are in good position to do that. It starts with the final regular-season game against West Virginia. Speaking of which …
West Virginia at No. 9 Iowa State
I’m not particularly worried that the Cyclones will look toward the end zone before catching the ball, if you catch my drift. This is a good defensive battle and the score should reflect that. If taking the under on the 49.5 point total is your thing, I don’t think it’s a bad play. The key for me is that while West Virginia’s offense has been better, it’s mostly been better at home against so-so competition. Conversely, it hasn’t traveled well and the Mountaineers would need to prove otherwise for me to ride with them. Pick: Iowa State -6.5
No. 15 Oklahoma State at TCU
You smell that? We have a stinky line in Fort Worth,