Now that Iowa State has found its way back to the win column, we can all breath a sigh of relief and start assessing the landscape of the remaining six games on the schedule. Saturday's win over Toledo may have lacked style points, but it was a win nonetheless and those have been very hard to come by for this program lately. Iowa State will look to make it consecutive wins this week as they travel to Austin to take on a Texas team that is in desperation mode.
Truth be told, this is one of those stories that kind of writes itself. It was a little more than a year ago that a 1-2 Cyclone unit held a 30-24 lead over the Longhorns in Ames with only a few paltry minutes left on the clock. What ensued from there may have set in motion the disaster that became the 2013 season.
You likely don't need to be reminded, but Texas marched down the field with the help of a few pass interference calls and found themselves inside the Iowa State five yard line, looking to punch one in. Jonathan Gray took the hand off and wiggled his way through the scrum, only to be held up by the Cyclone goal line defense. And then it happened. Jeremiah George appeared from the pile with the ball in hand and open real estate in front of him. He had stripped Gray of the ball and was going to take it back for a defensive touchdown. Except that didn't happen.
The officials blew the play dead, saying that Gray's forward progress had been stopped, thus nullifying the fumble and giving Texas another shot at the winning score, which they naturally came away with two plays later. Instead of going to 2-2, Iowa State fell to 1-3 after the controversial loss and proceeded to lose another six in a row afterwards. We'll never know how the season would have ended up had the Cyclones held on, but that goal line play may have been the turning point of the season.
So it would only be fitting that these two programs meet again under similar circumstances. You see, while that game sent Iowa State spiraling out of control, it may have had the opposite affect on the Longhorns. They came into that game at 2-2 and a loss to lowly Iowa State may have accelerated Mack Brown's retirement. Instead, at 3-2 they ended up winning their next four and were in the conference title picture until the end of the year.
It would be easy to brush Saturday's game off as simply a couple 2-4 teams trying to avoid the conference cellar, but that would be minimizing things. Just like Iowa State, Texas has played a very difficult schedule and is likely better than their record suggests. Securing a win against the Cyclones is an absolute must for first-year Longhorn coach, Charlie Strong, especially if we wants to show the burnt orange faithful that this is an improving team.
For Iowa State, this is a turning point game. This program has faced a number of these under Paul Rhoads and has unfortunately wound up on the wrong side of most of those contests. Even with a win on Saturday, Iowa State is going to have an incredibly difficult time scraping and clawing its way to a bowl game, but if anything else it would keep the bowl hopes alive and represent progress, which is really the one thing we all wanted to see this year anyway.
Iowa State has won at least two road games in four of Rhoads' five seasons in Ames and already has one locked up in year number six, so it's not as if going into Austin and walking out with a win is impossible. More importantly, this program has shown they can beat a less than stellar Longhorn team before, doing so in 2010 in Austin.
Should a "W" happen, the bowl conversation becomes a legitimate talking point. The home date with Oklahoma and the road finale at TCU don't look like possibilities at this point, but a three-game stretch in November could be just the scheduling break this program needs to find its way back to the post season.
Iowa State will travel to Lawrence to take on Kansas on November 8th before returning to Ames to host Texas Tech and West Virginia to close out the home portion of the schedule. Both the Jayhawks and Red Raiders are 0-3 in conference play and while West Virginia sits at 2-1 in Big 12 play, their two wins came over you guessed it, Kansas and Texas Tech. We'll find out soon enough if the Mountaineers have a little bit of fool's gold to them.
So there it is, all laid out and in the open. A pivotal chance awaits at redemption not only for last year's controversial loss, but for this Cyclone program that desperately needs to turn the corner.