Heading into the season, Iowa State was seen as a potentially bowl eligible team. Okay, maybe I was one of the few to say that. The attention the Cyclones were receiving for their receiving trio was supposed to lead to team-wide success and get head coach Paul Rhoads off the hot seat.
That hasn’t happened yet.
The Cyclones are riding a two-game losing streak after having an off week. They haven’t won since playing in-state foe, FCS Northern Iowa. And the trio of receivers that were primed to make a go for all-conference status have only three touchdowns between them.
Had ISU pulled off a win over Iowa two weeks ago, things might be looking different for this program that hasn’t gone bowling since 2012.
Iowa was the biggest game on Iowa State’s non-conference schedule. The potential to swing the state in favor of the Cyclones over the Hawkeyes was great. But now it looks like this upcoming game against Kansas holds more weight.
Kansas is being called one of the worst teams of all-time after losing a vast majority of its starters. It even lost to its FCS opponent, South Dakota State. That’s exactly why this game is so important for Iowa State. Losing to a team drenched in negatives would devastate not only the Cyclones’ season but leave athletic director Jamie Pollard in a position to move along without Rhoads.
Rhoads inherited an ISU program that had hit hard times with the short-lived Gene Chizik era. In Rhoads’ first year at the helm in 2009, the Cyclones won the Insight Bowl. That was the best season in Rhoads’ tenure, as the Cyclones have not finished better than third-to-last in the conference in the 10-team era of the Big 12.
Last season the Cyclones finished with an unremarkable 2-10 record. Their only wins on the season came from the non-conference slate. A loss against Kansas would inevitably put the Cyclones on track for a second consecutive las- place finish, not to mention the tainted view that would shift the focus of how poorly Kansas has played.
To make matters worse, quarterback Sam Richardson is nursing an undisclosed injury and is questionable to play Saturday. Richardson was one of the most overlooked players in the conference last season and was having another quiet start to the season. The last time Richardson played an entire game against Kansas, Iowa State not only won, but he had a career-best game tossing four touchdowns and completed 23 of 27 passes.
Sophomore Joel Lanning may be asked to make his first career start. He has only one career attempt after subbing for Richardson last week in overtime.
If Lanning indeed does start, that will put more pressure on the running game to keep up the pace. Freshman running back Mike Warren is the rushing leader with 154 yards on 30 carries. Last week he had 126 yards on 21 carries. Kansas ranks 123rd in the nation in rush defense, allowing 296.5 yards per game against FBS opponents. That’s the perfect platform for Rhoads to keep leaning on the running game. But it’s also what could be the demise of the Cyclones’ season.
Losing when the odds are stacked in the Cyclones’ favor in terms of mismatch in schemes would put a huge dent in the direction Rhoads leads the team.
Bottom line, the Cyclones cannot afford to lose to a team that was infinitely memed for this play.
The amount of negativity that would stem from that would wreak havoc in Ames. With the basketball program in flux because of the controversy of its new, openly religious coach Steve Prohm, the football program can’t afford to take a loss to Kansas on its own turf for the university’s sake if nothing else.