Life on the road in power conference college football is hard. I’m not talking about brutal, cramped 12 hour bus trips capped by accommodations in run-down off-the-highway motels like the old days. In 2014, Power five schools travel with presidential comfort: chartered planes, catered meals, police escorts and top of the line hotels.
But the level of comfort decreases once you enter the gates of enemy territory. The noise level ratchets up, opposing fans call you every name in the book and adversity strikes. Unlike home games, the only buoying force is the 70 other men wearing your colors, a few dozen coaches/support staff and a smattering of friends and family that also trekked behind competitor lines. It can be a lonely feeling when things unravel and Boomer Sooner plays on loop for hours.
So far this season in all of college football, road teams have been victorious roughly 30 percent of the time (62-154).
Historically for Iowa State, road trips have been particularly painful. During a stretch in the 90’s, Sir-Mix-a-lot had more No. 1 hits than Iowa State had road wins. From September 28th, 1991 to September 12th, 1998, Iowa State did not win a single road football game. Rewind that cassette tape. For an almost seven year stretch, Iowa State lost 32 straight games on the road (They did manage a tie against Oklahoma State in 1994). To quote my man Sir-Mix, "Oh my gawd Becky, I mean, that road record is just… so gross."
The folks that lived through that time are likely thinking that comparing anything to the Walden era is an uneven fight. Iowa State was at a complete disadvantage and there was nowhere near the support for the program that there is today, which is absolutely true to an extent. Yet even after Dan McCarney made the program nationally relevant for the first time in 25 years, Iowa State suffered through another road funk in the mid 2000’s.
After the Todd Blythe game at Texas A&M in 2005, the Cyclones went winless on the road for 17 straight games. McCarney lost his final six roadies and Gene Chizik never won a game outside of Ames. So to update the reference, Soulja Boy had more No. 1 hits in that era than Chizik road wins. "SUPERMAN THAT CHIZ!"
Needless to say, prior to Paul Rhoads arrival, not much was expected from Iowa State when they left Jack Trice. After his road win over Iowa on Saturday, Rhoads is now 11-16 on the road. While not overwhelming on its own, in comparison to the previous futility of Cyclone road football, it is pretty stellar. Rhoads has won eleven road games in a shade over five years; Walden/McCarney/Chizik won 15 games in the previous 18 years.
And it isn’t like Iowa State is racking up those win totals in games they are "supposed" to win – the Cyclones can only visit Kansas once every two years.
According to the smart men in Vegas, nine of those 11 road wins have come as an underdog. Since Rhoads took over in 2009, Iowa State and Duke have the most wins as road underdogs in all of college football.
In four of those wins, the Cyclones were expected to lose convincingly. Iowa State was a 21 point underdog at Nebraska in 2009, 21 point underdog at Texas in 2010, 16 point underdog at Texas Tech in 2011 and a 12 point underdog last weekend at Iowa.
It is because of these wins why the majority of Cyclone Nation still stands behind Rhoads and why Jack Trice Stadium continues to sell-out despite the pedestrian overall record. He has won games nobody else has won before. Iowa State has defeated six ranked teams on the road in their 120 year football history; Rhoads has half of those wins.
There is a belief, even when the odds are completely stacked against Iowa State, that there is a chance to pull off a win. That didn’t exist in the past. There were games in previous regimes where you would turn on the TV or radio fully realizing the end result before the game began. They were what Steve Deace once aptly named, "Rake your lawn Saturdays."
While logic says Iowa State has little chance to defeat upcoming powerhouses like Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, a segment in the back of the mind ponders, just maybe. There is no inevitability in the Rhoads era. He has done it before, he could do it again. That mindset keeps you coming back for more.
Life on the road is a difficult proposition, it is a hundred versus a hundred thousand. Rhoads has proven he can rally the troops in the most trying of circumstances. His Cyclones function best when the world is against them. The key moving forward is to couple the dragon slaying wins with the toss up contests. And mix in a home win while they are it. At that point, the Cyclones would not be as much of an underdog, which is needed to grow a program.
Strangely enough, six of Iowa State’s last nine wins have come away from Jack Trice.
It stands to reason with the machine-like Baylor Bears coming to town next weekend, perhaps Iowa State should wear the away whites.