Blum: Opportunity Awaits

By Brent Blum, ColumnistFollow Brent on Twitter @BrentBlum

Iowa State doesn’t get many opportunities like this. The Cyclones enter Saturday’s contest undefeated. Texas is undefeated. In October. The game is on national television. In prime-time.

Games like Saturday’s are the reason kids commit to play for Iowa State. And the reason fans go through so much agony over the years. You want to be big time? Well, here’s your chance. Go prove it.

Texas is the big, bad bully. The center of the firestorm that has taken Iowa State to the brink of BCS super-conference extinction over the past 18 months. And they are visiting the Cyclone house.

Iowa State handed it to the Longhorns down in Austin last year. It was a thorough beating in all phases. The Cyclones hit the Horns with a haymaker and they were never able to recover. It’s a great moment in Cyclone football history.

That said, Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. Chaminade beat No. 1 ranked Virginia. Hampton beat….oh never mind.

Upsets happen in sports when one opponent takes the other lightly. Texas underestimated Iowa State last year and it showed. Paul Rhoads has illustrated his Cyclones relish the underdog role.

Paul Rhoads vs Nebraska 2010 525x350

This year, a Cyclone win would be no upset. It’s a totally different opportunity. Win this type of game and the Cyclone program takes the next step. Our best can beat your best.

An argument can be made that this is the biggest game ever held at Jack Trice stadium. And that is not hyperbole.

Sure the Big 12 North was on the line in when Mizzou came to town in November 2004. But the hype was never there for that game. Win that and you got an invite to the Big 12 Championship aka "The Texas Slaughterhouse" (Texas throttled Colorado 42-3.)

The weather didn’t help, but a shade over 40,000 showed up for the 2004 game against Mizzou. It was an embarrassing effort.

That will not be the case on Saturday. There won’t be an empty seat in the Jack. And unlike the Iowa and Nebraska sell-outs of the past, it will be 95 percent Cardinal and Gold. The environment will be something we have rarely, if ever, seen.

It is only the fifth time the Cyclones have hosted a game at Jack Trice in October while still undefeated. And most of those contests came in the late 1970’s. Just one time in the last 30 years has Iowa State held a home game in October while still sporting a spotless record:

October 7, 2000. The 4-0 Cyclones hosted the 4-0 and second-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. For three quarters the crowd seemingly willed Iowa State to compete with Eric Crouch and crew. It was as if Hilton Magic  traveled across the parking lot. A Jamarcus Powers pick six in the second quarter gave Iowa State a 14-10 lead. That moment rivaled the Brian Boddicker Texas basketball game as the loudest I’ve heard a Cyclone sporting event. The Cyclones trailed 21-14 in the third quarter when Ennis Haywood marched in from four yards out. The ensuing Mike McKnight PAT missed. Everything unraveled. The Magic escaped and  Nebraska scored 28 straight points in a hiccup. Ballgame.

Eleven years later and Iowa State has another October opportunity. Win this game and the Cyclones enter the polls for the first time in six years. Win this game and the Cyclones are no longer a one-hit wonder.

The Longhorns athletic budget in 2010 was $154 million. Iowa State’s was a third of that. And that was before the Longhorn Network.

Let’s be honest, Iowa State gets Longhorn leftovers. And the Texas attitude conveys the Cyclones should be happy with the scraps.

It’s about building a program. If Iowa State wants a seat at the big-boy table, two straight wins over Texas makes a statement. It’s no longer what Texas didn’t do, it’s what Iowa State has done.

As the late, great Lou Brown said in Major League,

“I’m not much for inspirational addresses. I just want to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press thinks we’d save everybody a lot of time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I like to waste sportswriters’ time so I’m for hanging around and seeing if we can give all these guys a nice big ****burger to eat.”

The Cyclones had a chance last year to take a step against Utah. Same story against Nebraska. They couldn’t get it done. Just like so many occasions in years past, the good fortune disappeared and the Cyclones were left at the altar in the waning seconds.

This year has proven to be different. The usual Cyclone calamities have been replaced with last-second reclamations.

And with FX’s Gus Johnson in the house, who knows what kind of histrionics we could be in for on Saturday night. (Unofficially, the last Iowa State game Gus called was the 1997 NCAA tournament win against Cincinnati–highlighted by the "hook heard ’round Story County" from Klay Edwards.)

The 55,000 strong on Saturday night will be expecting a win. There may not be a better atmosphere in College Football on Saturday than the one in Ames.

Texas and the rest of the nation may think of Iowa State as a speed bump now. But let’s see if the Cyclones can give everyone a nice big ****burger to eat. Opportunity awaits.