With the regular season winding down, Iowa State finds themselves alone at the bottom of the Big 12 standings. For the second straight season, the Cyclones (2-8, 0-7) have been hampered by injuries, close losses, and some questionable calls by officiating crews. A season ago, Iowa State lost a total of five games of eight points or less. The trend has carried over to three games this season, with two remaining on the schedule. Effort is not the issue. Iowa State has shown it can be competitive with most, but not all (*cough…Oklahoma…cough*) of the teams in the conference. Iowa State fans know they are most likely not going to win 10 or more games in a season. Realistically, they know that they can get between 6 and 7 wins and a bowl game. The 2013 and 2014 campaigns have been underwhelming, relatively speaking.
In Paul Rhoads’ first four seasons, he took Iowa State to three bowl games. Those bowl games were promising for the program, considering former head coach Gene Chizik was 5-19 in his stint in Ames. It’s no coincidence that Rhoads was 9-5 in games decided by eight or less points in those bowl seasons. Including this year, Rhoads is 3-10 in those games in non-bowl game seasons (’10,’13,’14). Ames, Iowa is a place in college football where there is little to no margin for error. In order to be a successful season it’s imperative that the Cyclones find a way to win those types of games. That’s what you saw in the seasons that Iowa State was going bowling. The Cyclones would squeak out the close ones–sprinkled in with a major upset. Unfortunately for Iowa State, the last couple of years have not been so generous. I’m not a big fan of the “what if” game, but imagine if the Cyclones held on last Saturday against Texas Tech, avoided the defensive meltdown in Austin against the Longhorns, and got a stop late in the game against Kansas State earlier in the year. Iowa State would be 5-5, 3-4 in the Big 12, with two games remaining and fighting for bowl eligibility.
Instead, the Cyclones will be sitting at home during the holidays for the second consecutive year. However, in 2013 Iowa State faced a similar scenario with a 1-9, 0-7 record heading into their final two games. They played tough, they fought, and they finished the season on a high note winning the final two games and ending with a 3-9 record, which could’ve ended much worse. The key in these last two games is to not quit and play tough.
The win-loss record for Iowa State this year could be different if a couple of those close losses went the other way. The coaches know that, the players know that, and it’s important for the fans to recognize this also. In the beginning of Rhoads’ tenure, the ball took a Cyclone bounce in some of those close games. Iowa State is experiencing the impact of when the ball doesn’t bounce your way playing in the Big 12. The difference is between winning 6 or 7 games in a season, or winning 2 or 3 in a season.