Oct 31, 2015; Ames, IA, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (18) is tackled by Iowa State Cyclones dual linebackers Willie Harvey (16) and Brian Mills (25) during the fourth quarter at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Longhorns 24-0. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State is on the rise. Texas is on edge.
And, frankly, how in the world did we get to this place, given the dollars in play?
Make no mistake, this is good for Cyclones fans, who will loyally populate the periphery at Darrell K. Royal Stadium when Saturday’s 6 p.m. and decidedly non-nationally televised Big 12 matchup kicks off in the Texas Hill Country.
Wine? Dine? Swine?
The Austin area offers fine samplings of all of the above.
But back to football, which is serious business — and wafts above any BBQ pit deep in the heart of prime smoking territory.
Longhorns coach, Charlie Strong, is in trouble. He succeeded Mack Brown, who apparently let the lunatics run the asylum too long after attaining a national championship and a handful of Big 12 crowns.
Strong was brought in from Louisville to clean house, and in that regard he’s excelled. He emblazoned his brand on the Longhorns and somewhat shockingly, they’ve under-performed just as they did in the latter days of the Brown regime.
Enter Iowa State. The Cyclones humiliated UT, 24-0, a year ago in Ames. ISU then lost four straight games to end the season.
“What’s happened is in the past and we’re ready to take on Texas now,” ISU star receiver Allen Lazard said.
Still, Texas beat Oklahoma a year ago, then was dominated by the downtrodden Cyclones, who have dropped narrow decisions to Baylor and Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks.
“I’m not disheartened by any stretch of the imagination,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said. “I really am not. I’m proud of our kids.”
So it goes. And here we are. The Longhorns are a 13.5-point favorite per Vegas as ISU seeks its first ever two-game win streak vs. their conference overlords.
What swings it for the Cyclones? Hint: Joel Lanning and Jacob Park, who likely will split quarterback duties yet again. Texas ranks last in the Big 12 in pass defense.
“I have a win in this league and should have a few more and we’re going to continue growing as a team,” Lanning said.
Lanning went 19 of 37 for 188 yards and a touchdown in last season’s matchup. He also rushed for 64 yards while ISU’s defense limited Texas to 204 total yards and nary a sniff of the end zone until the final, futile seconds.
Shocking? Yes, given pedigree and national perspective.
But how will the Longhorns respond?
Well, they’ll try to find themselves against a Cyclones team that pushed two of the best teams in a down Big 12 to the brink. Texas has the league’s worst scoring defense — and is particularly susceptible to big passing plays.
And ISU can score, which of course means Texas better follow suit if an upset bid is to be averted. Last season, some of the Longhorns found interesting reasons for a letdown in Ames.
Playing on real grass, for one.
“It was almost, you saw it coming,” Strong said, per a 247Sports report. “Okay, so we’re going to worry about the grass? You know, great, it’s slippery on both sides.”
Yes, too much slippage on the bluegrass blades. That explained a 24-0 beatdown for some in the Burnt Orange crowd.
Now, it’s a different Texas team in 2016, but if ISU can continue its offensive surge, the Longhorns won’t be fretting about surfaces.
Only the outcome, a likely shootout — and an uncertain future, down to the final seconds — will change the cultures of both programs.
Campbell would have his first Big 12 win. And Strong would be facing the abyss. Something’s got to give and the least likely team, given history and tradition — for now — is playing with house money.
“Our best players have got to step up and make plays,” Campbell said. “That’s the difference between winning and losing and we’re talking about a matter of inches now.”