Last year, Iowa State and Tulsa met twice in legendary contests that kickstarted a now-storied rivalry: The Storm Bowl. These two bitter rivals have battled each other since 1961, with ISU leading the all-time series 2-1.
Iowa State won the first meeting last year 38-23, and the game was quickly dubbed with the easy-to-remember moniker TGFGTHEBPOEWBP (The Greatest Football Game That Has Ever Been Played Or Ever Will Be Played, as if your memory needed refreshing). Unfortunately, the Cyclones, riding high from the earlier thrashing and the triumph of an in-no-way-disappointing 6-6 season, forgot to show up for the second meeting in the Liberty Bowl and were summarily dispatched 31-17; a game that has been designated The Worst Bowl Ever Played And The One That Nearly Killed Sam Richardson With The Flu (or TWBEPATOTNKSRWTF for short).
So before the season, excitement for the Iowa State-Tulsa three-quel was riding high. With an improved offense based around the pistol formation and a healthy Sam Richardson, the Cyclones could finally get their revenge for the bowl game embarrassment. Tulsa could prove their bowl game performance and 11-3 season in 2012 was no fluke. Most importantly, this game gave served as the launchpad to the conference schedule, allowing each team to enter conference play with a winning record.
Suffice to say, things haven't exactly worked out the way either team expected in the young 2013 season. Iowa State's offense, the one supposedly reinvigorated under Chris Klenakis' pistol? It's a goddamn Mess so far, limping to a paltry 20.5 points-per-game (97th in the country) and 113.5 rushing yards-per-game (99th in the country). Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham has borne the brunt of Cyclone fans frustration, but there's plenty of blame to go around. The young defensive front seven has been predictably torn apart by UNI and Iowa's run game, and the offense hasn't been able to do anything to match the pace of opponents' scoring. Combine these two factors, and Iowa State is sitting at 0-2.
Meanwhile, Tulsa is having its own problems. Problems deeper than having Cody Green as a quarterback. Much like the Cyclones, the Golden Hurricanes struggle to do anything on offense, with the young offensive line unable to effectively run block (120.3 rushing yards-per-game) and the afore-mentioned Mr. Green completing just 51.9% of his passes. And when a team's defense is giving up over 37 points a game to opponents like Tulsa's is, that is a recipe for a sodden 1-2 start.
So the 2013 edition of the Storm Bowl is a decidedly drizzly affair. In accordance with each team's record, meteorologists have downgraded Thursday's game from a "storm" to a "tropical depression." Instead of lightning-quick receivers, thundering running backs, high-winded passes and a hail of points in the Tulsa, Oklahoma region; fans can expect light rain, a stiff breeze and a smattering of applause as Iowa State and Tulsa try to get their respective seasons back on track.
While the newly-titled Tropical Depression Bowl isn't the marquee matchup envisioned by Fox Sports 1's programmers when they chose this game for their Thursday night slot, it's an important one for each team. Both Iowa State and Tulsa have underperformed wildly so far this year, but it's still early in the season, and both teams can use this game to rebound before the conference schedule starts next week. A win for the Cyclones will break their four-game losing streak that dates back to last season's West Virginia game and give a bruised Sam Richardson his first victory as a starter.
A loss for the Cyclones? No fan wants to imagine that. Iowa State would be sitting at 0-3 for the first time since 1997. That was the third year of Dan McCarney tenure, and he took over a program reeling from Jim Walden's coaching and NCAA sanctions. An 0-3 start in 1997 is understandable, if unacceptable. An 0-3 start in 2013, in year five of Paul Rhoads' career? That's unbelievable. Iowa State needs to win Thursday's game to keep fans and a young team on board in a rebuilding year.
Luckily for Iowa State, this game against Tulsa is completely winnable. As bad as the Cyclones have looked so far this year, the Golden Hurricanes have somehow looked worse. And the Cyclones have shown flashes of potential in very brief spots, but injuries to key starters, poor execution and questionable (read: fucking terrible) game-planning and play-calling have dashed Iowa State's chances so far. And the Cyclones should feel some pressure, because after Thursday's game, ISU's next best chance at a win is against Kansas on November 23. Even with as bad as the Big 12 is this year, if ISU goes into conference play 0-3, it's hard to see many winnable games on the schedule.
Fans attempting to brave the slightly-worse-than-usual elements are advised to bring a light jacket. 'Cause this Thursday, shit's about to get real. Real damp.