THE HOME STRETCH

Almost a month and a half ago (and back when the SBNation site was CloneChronicles, no less), I said that Iowa State needed to go at least 2-4 through the mid-season stretch between bye weeks to have an outside shot at a bowl game.

And then it happened, albeit in the most unexpected and yet completely predictable way possible. After a 4-game losing streak and facing a Texas Tech team fresh off an upset of Oklahoma in Norman, the Cyclones were able to pull out their seemingly annual Week 8 road win over an opponent that nobody gave them a chance against. A tough win against an increasingly hungry Kansas team allowed the Cyclones to limp into their second bye week with a 5-4 record for the third straight year.

So here we sit, perched upon a winning record that can't possibly be maintained. The hardest next three games of any 5-win team in the nation lie ahead. And should we somehow eek out a miracle win over a top ten team looking ahead to the de facto conference championship? We will be the first fan base in history to ever be undeniably excited about heading to New York City in December. Such are the hazards of being the fan of a fringe bowl team.

Paul Rhoads somehow has a .500 record at Iowa State, currently sitting at 17-17 through 34 games. Iowa State has won three games so far this year that they were not favored in. The Cyclones beat Iowa in a 3OT version of the best Cy-Hawk game ever played. Attendance records have been shattered. Excitement for this football program is at an all-time high. Even if we lose out (as we are expected to do), Iowa State finishes above expectations for the third consecutive season. We've gone from being a perennial cellar dwellar to being the conference's landmine: the Cyclones these days seem primed and ready to go off in the face of any elite team who doesn't show up to play on a given day. It's progress, slow and sure.

Even with the conference getting slightly easier next year, you've got to feel pretty good about our place in the world. Being a bottom-half team in a stable, top-tier conference is something Iowa State knows how to do all too well. How long ago was it that Iowa State's place in a BCS AQ conference was in doubt? That Nebraska was bitching about the very same unequal revenue sharing setup that had benefitted them for years? Now we're splitting the Big XII money evenly with two less shares to dole out. This is called a "best-case scenario" people, and you need to make sure you take time to appreciate it when it happens.

If and when the Cyclones lose their last three games, there's going to be a few idiots out there who wonder if this is Rhoads' peak. These fans exist in all fan bases, and tend to be the most vocal on the internet. Pay them no mind, for they are too lost in the last five minutes to know what the hell is really going on.

Instead, realize that the only reason these hopes can even be crushed in such a way is because deep down, most of us believe that Paul Rhoads really can surprise everyone and pull one more improbable win out of this team. Which, in it's own way, is the ultimate compliment for Rhoads - he has made a team, and by extension an entire fan base, truly believe in this team. This team that was picked to win 2 games all season, and is currently sitting at 5-4.

It's a great time to be a Cyclone.

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