Believe it or not, Iowa State's season is a quarter finished. If the first three games are any indication of how the next nine will play out, we're in for a lot more heartbreak, but also a few thrilling finishes. The Cyclones have shown steady progress each week and that measured improvement manifested itself into a win in week three in Iowa City against Iowa.
That brings us to game number four as Iowa State welcomes in a top ten Baylor juggernaut that is absolutely bulldozing the competition.
*Warning: The following text may cause increased level of stress, followed by spells of anxiety and could lead to outbreaks of uncontrollable rage.
Yeah, I made it big and bold for all the world to see. There's no hiding from it. You may have tried to erase Saturday, October 19th, 2013, from your memory, but you can't. That game happened and there's simply no way to re-write history.
For me, I missed the game live as I was at a wedding, but as I kept refreshing my phone throughout the evening, the shear terror and horror of what I was seeing made me wonder if it was actually happening. My fears were confirmed the following day when I fired up the DVR (against the advice of friends) and watched the massacre unfold.
Iowa State experienced more than a few "lows" during the 2013 campaign, but that night in Waco is when the program hit rock bottom. Nearly one year later, this game serves as a barometer not only for the season going forward, but also the program as a whole.
Realistically, I don't think Iowa State has any shot to win this game. If these two teams play at the top of their games, Baylor wins comfortably. Hell, even if the Bears give a "B" effort on the road, I still don't know that the Cyclones have the firepower and ability to keep pace. At 654 yards per contest, Baylor is head and shoulders above their next closest competitor (Texas A&M - 612). To say that this is a well-oiled machine is an insult to the brilliant engineering and nearly flawless marvel that Art Briles has created. When Bryce Petty sat out with an injury following their win over SMU, his back up, Seth Russell, stepped in and threw for 438 yards and 5 touchdowns in the first half of their 70-6 ass-kicking against Northwestern State.There are no recalls or defects with this Baylor operation. Only production. Explosive, unfathomable production.
So yeah, I'm not in love with Iowa State's chances this Saturday. But you know what, as the cliche says, this is why they play the games. If you're looking for angles, Iowa State has played much better competition to date and under Briles, Baylor just isn't as dominant on the road. Sure, the Bears went to Buffalo on September 12th and thrashed the Bulls 63-21, but it was a little sloppy. Buffalo had chances in the first half to put points on the board and simply couldn't convert. It wouldn't have mattered as we're still talking about Buffalo after all, but you get the point.
All time, Iowa State is 4-2 against Baylor in Ames and Paul Rhoads is 2-0 when when hosting Briles and company. I don't know if that's worth noting or not because there's never been a Baylor team like this one making the trip north on I-35 (yes, I realize they'll travel by air).
Game notes aside (and back to the original point), this is where we find out just how much progress this team and this program has made. I don't believe in moral victories, but if there were ever an opportunity for one to exist, this would be it. Nobody and I mean nobody is going to give Iowa State a shot in this game. A loss on Saturday doesn't necessarily derail the season and even at 1-3, a bowl game isn't out of the question.
This is a losing mentality and I understand that, but I'm simply being frank and honest. If you want to get cute with it, you can cite Rocky Balboa's performance against Apollo Creed in Rocky. As you may remember (SPOILER ALERT), Rocky didn't beat Apollo, but he did go the distance against the champ, losing on a split decision. Naturally, this set up the rematch in Rocky II where our man Sly's character, now fighting with confidence, was able to take down Creed (while also establishing Talia Shire as the most annoying love interest in cinematic history).
The prevailing point here is that while a win would be incredible, the experience of knowing that Iowa State can play with a team of this caliber could prove to be just as valuable going forward.
Ever since Iowa State's painful loss to Kansas State, we've been talking about progress. That conversation continued after winning at Iowa and now, it's a fully established theme. More than just a feel for the game, this program finally has results that they can point to when talking about improvement. We've seen this team consistently get better from game to game and did you realize that Iowa State is actually 3-2 in their last five games?
After a disastrous 2013 and a dreadful season opener, we can see things getting better in Cyclone land. On Saturday night, we'll find out just how far the program has come.