WILLIAMS: My final thoughts leading up to one of the biggest games in program history 

AUSTIN, Texas — Saturday night’s game between the No. 15 Texas Longhorns and your No. 16 Iowa State Cyclones (7 p.m. on the Longhorn Network) might be the biggest regular season game in program history…

Might. It really depends on who you talk to. 

I’m not about to question the more seasoned Iowa State fans when it comes to the 70’s. My parents got married in 1976. I was born in 1984. Do the math. I wasn’t even a thought during the Earle Bruce years.

However, I do feel somewhat qualified to “rank” these games from the McCarney era on, which I refer to as the “modern era” of Iowa State football.

To me, when it comes to build up (without knowing the result), what we will all witness on Saturday in Austin is probably the biggest. 

Ones that immediately come to my mind were the final games of the 2004 and 2005 seasons. Had Dan McCarney’s teams beaten Missouri at home or Kansas on the road, they would have played for a Big 12 championship the following week. 

Win one of those games and there’s a serious argument to be made that McCarney would never have been fired following the 2006 season.

Iowa State lost both games in heartbreaking fashion though. In front of like 30,000 fans (an embarrassing effort by what was then a much smaller and less passionate Cyclone Nation), Iowa State lost in overtime 17-14 to a very average Missouri team. Iowa State missed a 24 yard field goal in regulation to win it.

The Kansas game in 2005 still gives me nightmares. The Cyclones led 14-3 at halftime but were outscored 15-7 in the fourth quarter and eventually lost 24-21 in overtime. I’ll spare you anymore details. 

But if we’re being honest, nobody thought that Iowa State was the second best team in the Big 12 those seasons. Unranked (both years) Gary Barnett and the Colorado Buffaloes were the North’s sacrificial lamb on both occasions, losing to Oklahoma 42-3 in 2004 and 70-3 to Texas (who on the back of Vince Young eventually beat USC in the national title game) in 2005.

While the 2004 Missouri and 2005 Kansas games were technically being played for the right to compete for a championship, tomorrow is different.

There is nothing fluky about what Iowa State is doing right now. If somehow the Cyclones end up playing in Dallas on Dec. 1, it will be because they deserved it and are a championship caliber squad.

It’s also worth nothing that Iowa State missed Oklahoma and Texas on its schedule in 2004 and 2005. 

Just for fun, I did consider a few other games as the “most important” in the modern era. 

They were:

— Oklahoma in 2002: At 6-1, the Cyclones were ranked 9th in the country with their only loss coming to No. 3 Florida State in the Eddie Robinson Classic (Seneca was in). In front of nationally televised audience (which was rare back then) on ABC, the Cyclones were beaten 49-3 and labeled as a “pretender” the rest of the way. Iowa State lost five of its last six games that season, including a 37-20 stomping from UConn (huh?) In the final regular season game of the season. 

— Nebraska in 2002: The Cyclones convincingly won this one over the 20th ranked Huskers, 36-14, which set up that Oklahoma stinker that occurred two weeks later (“The Run” occurred vs. Texas Tech in between). 

— TCU in 2017: This was a major “prove it” game for Campbell’s program. Three weeks prior, Iowa State had upset No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman. Iowa State had beaten Kansas and won at Texas Tech in the two weeks prior. TCU was ranked fourth coming into this one. The Cyclones bowed up and proved their worth to many around the country. 

A handful of games in the Rhoads era stand out as missed opportunities, but didn’t have the meaning going into them that this weekend does. Some examples include:

— Nebraska in 2010: Had Iowa State converted on an overtime 2-point conversation attempt (fake PAT), the Cyclones would have gone to bowl games in Paul Rhoads’ first four seasons as head coach, which is significant around these parts. Jack Trice Stadium was electric that day, all of us knowing that it would be Nebraska’s final trip to Ames as a member of the Big 12.

— Texas in 2011: Iowa State started the season 3-0 in a non-con that included that memorable 44-41 overtime victory over Iowa. Excitement was at an all-time high on Oct. 1 when No. 17 Texas came to town. Then the game started, which Iowa State surrendered by a 37-14 final. The Cyclones went on to lose their next three. 

— Texas Tech and Kansas State in 2012: Both were considerable blown opportunities by what I consider to be Rhoads’ best team. The Tech game, in my mind, will always be the Steele Jantz turnover game. The game against No. 6 Kansas State, a 27-21 loss, was a Vampire Special. Jared Barnett, Iowa State’s starting quarterback at the time, completed 16 of 36 passes for 166 yards in the loss. Gross. 

STAFF PICKS: Texas Longhorns

More of what’s on my mind…

1 – Over the last two years, Iowa State has beaten every team in the Big 12 except two of them: Texas and Kansas State. The Cyclones will host the Wildcats next weekend in what could be the final game of the great Bill Snyder’s career. 

2 – If that’s not enough motivation, here’s some more, although I don’t think that Matt Campbell or his team give a rip about it. 

But the amount of Iowa State ties to this current Texas program is significant. Of course Tom Herman, Texas’ head coach, was Iowa State’s offensive coordinator from 2009-2011. Herman coordinated the offense during Iowa State’s lone victory in Austin back in 2010. 

There’s more though including:

Yancy McKnight: He was the strength and conditioning coordinator under Paul Rhoads from 2009-2015. He took the same position under Tom Herman at Houston and moved with him to Texas. 

Drew Mehringer: Was a graduate assistant from Iowa State in 2009-10 and is now Herman’s passing game coordinator. 

Clayton Oyster: Texas’ assistant strength and conditioning coordinator took over for McKnight when he bolted in 2015. Oyster spent a total seven seasons in Ames. 

Roosevelt Maggitt: He played defensive end for Iowa State from 2009-2012 and is now the Quality Control Coordinator for Texas’ defense. 

3 – Perhaps this is the side of me that generally just walks around with a chip on my shoulder, but I can only imagine what those guys think looking back on their time at Iowa State compared to the gold plated toilets they sit on in Austin. 

It’s nothing personal, but there are a lot of people around Ames who would really like to see the Cyclones stick it to them. 

4 – I find it interesting that only two FBS coaches offered Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler a scholarship out of high school: Those men were Paul Rhoads and Tom Herman, who was at Houston at the time. 

Butler has eight touchdown receptions so far this season. Iowa State’s season record is 10, which Allen Lazard set a year ago. 

5 – The quarterback matchup on Saturday will be fantastic. We all know about what Brock Purdy has done since getting an opportunity in Ames. As Herman simply put it during his weekly press conference, “He’s undefeated.”

Purdy changed Iowa State’s offense and because of that (mixed with Texas’ poor defensive play over the last month or so), I do expect the Cyclones to put up plenty of points in this one. 

Texas sophomore Sam Elingher is a much different cat than he was a season ago.

Elingher is currently on a Big 12 record 280-pass streak without throwing an interception. The last time Elingher threw a pick was on the final drive of Texas’ season-opener – a 34-29 loss to Maryland. 

Iowa State’s defense is statistically elite. That side of the football is what Herman ultimately began to rebuild Texas’ program on. However there’s no question that vastly improved quarterback play has been the catalyst to both of these programs being in the Big 12 title hunt this season. 

6 – Last but not least, I did some research this week as to what freshmen have played how many games so far for the Cyclones. Because of college football’s new redshirt rule, this is something that we all need to follow closely as it could greatly play into a team’s strategy throughout the season. 

The following true freshmen have played over four games, which means they will not be eligible for a redshirt: Brock Purdy (QB), Mike Rose (LB), Anthony Johnson (CB). 

These Cyclones are currently at the four game limit, and note that I do not expect them to exceed it in the coming weeks: Will McDonald (DE), Zach Peterson (DE). 

In addition to the above, defensive tackle Isiah Lee has played in one game while linebacker Gerry Vaughn has appeared in three.