Blum: The Final Ascent
This has been a conflicted week in Cyclone Nation. Somewhere between the high of defeating Baylor and the low of finding out Jake Knott's season-ending shoulder surgery, sits an ever-important game with the Sooners. That's the thing about sports and life, the world keeps on spinning. Time stops for no man.
The tributes and farewells to Knott have been a well-deserved deviation from most game weeks. Knott has carved out legendary status among the Cardinal and Gold faithful and not seeing No. 20 wreaking havoc on the opposition will be an unnatural sight. It will be like missing one of your closest relatives at a family gathering.
Yet, Jake Knott's career is far from over, we haven't seen the last from the Ultimate Warrior-Cyclone.
The same can be said for this Cyclone football team; there is some unfinished business that needs to be taken care of.
Paul Rhoads has built this program on emotion and discipline. Do one without the other and you end up stuck in neutral. The true essence of a successful program is filling the gaps when they exist. Well, Iowa State has an All-Big 12 gap to fill; the challenge is obvious.
Iowa State has four games remaining on the regular season schedule. Win one game and the Cyclones reach their third bowl in four years. Win two games and the Cyclones finish with four or more conference wins for the first time in seven years. Win three games and Iowa State wins five conference games for the second time in school history. Win all of the remaining games and I can't even fathom the ramifications.
The final climb starts Saturday morning against Oklahoma. The series with the Sooners has been so one-sided that even the blind squirrel would feel sympathy for the Cyclones. Iowa State has matched up with Oklahoma 76 times. The Cardinal and Gold have emerged victorious on just five of those occasions. The Cyclones have never defeated Oklahoma at Jack Trice Stadium. Their last win against the Sooners in Ames came in 1960. Three days later John F. Kennedy was elected the 34th President of the United States.
And to throw some kindling onto the Sooner fire, Oklahoma is smarting after getting thrashed at home by Notre Dame a week ago. The last time OU lost two straight regular season games under Bob Stoops was 1999. Oklahoma is not a team that is accustomed to getting punched in the face without returning a haymaker. And they have the personnel to ruin an afternoon before it starts. Senior quarterback Landry Jones has thrown for almost 15,000 yards and 105 touchdowns in his career. To put that in perspective, Bret Meyer is Iowa State's career leader in touchdown throws with 50.
That said, the confidence in this Cyclone program is unrelenting. Despite the prolific Oklahoma attack, the absence of Jake Knott, and the lopsided history between the two schools, there is a quiet feeling around Story County that the Cyclones can pull off a victory. The I-State swagger starts and ends with Paul Rhoads. Despite the long odds, there is a trust in Rhoads that is immeasurable. As long as he is roaming the sideline, the Cyclones have life.
The last game I recall feeling that the Cyclones had zero chance of competing in was at Texas in 2010. Three hours later, I learned my lesson. Never count out a Rhoads-inspired club. It is that belief that has multiplied the Iowa State fan-base; you don't want to be the one that misses the next chapter. The various losing skids and streaks have been relegated to speed-bumps in the post-game media notes. There is another streak to be broken on Saturday.
Jake Knott may not be on the field, but his level of determination is prevalent among the rest of the men that will suit up. Don't count them out just yet.
This team doesn't need to "Win one for Jake," but a victory could add to the legacy Knott has helped build. That may be the greatest tribute of all.