COMMENTARY: Two-peat against Oklahoma State remains viable for ISU football

The OSU offense prepares to go up against the ISU defense during the game Friday, Nov. 18. Iowa State won in double overtime with a final score of 37-31, making them eligible for a bowl game.

Jake Calhoun

Fresh in my mind is that brisk November night in which the unthinkable happened.

Oklahoma State, coming in as the No. 2 team in the country while topping nearly every offensive statistical category in the nation, was upset by Iowa State in double overtime on primetime television on the evening before fall break had officially begun.

Running back Jeff Woody, who was the team’s closest equivalent to a fullback at 232 pounds in the prototypical spread Big 12 offense, buffaloed his way into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown to ensue the frenzy of a blitz of fans on the field.

“I was the exclamation point at the end of a very long story,” Woody said. “The thing that I take away from that the most is that … we were down seven, we were down 17 — at no point during that entire game did we think we were out of it.”

While Iowa State (4-2, 1-2 Big 12) has shown more signs of inching its way into becoming more competitive in the rough Big 12 Conference, it still finds itself a double-digit underdog to Oklahoma State for this weekend’s rubber match in Stillwater, Okla.

In talking to players and coaches about repeatedly being labeled underdogs, however, I’ve found they don’t exactly think that way.

“I think teams see us now as another team that can actually win the Big 12,” said tight end Ernst Brun. “The past few years, a lot of teams looked at us as a joke. So we [will] come in there and upset them. … I wouldn’t even call it an upset: We’re good enough just to beat a team. I don’t even think we should be the underdog.”

Those are bold words from someone whose team is going into Boone Pickens Stadium as the feast of Oklahoma State’s homecoming.

But then again, this is a team that has beaten four opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 in the past three seasons for the first time in program history.

Withstanding the emotional barrage of vengeance from the Cowboys is a notion that players laughed off this week as commonplace in Big 12 competition, but there’s an extra element that may prove crucial.

Humble old Iowa State, then floundering to make it to a low-tier bowl game while needing a win in three remaining games against ranked opponents to do so, upset Oklahoma State when it had a crystal-clear shot to get into the national title game.

Had Oklahoma State won that game, it would have beaten Oklahoma and played for a national title with possibly its best chance to win — if you (and Brent Musberger) will — all the Tostitos.

Thanks to that upset, Oklahoma State had to settle for a Fiesta Bowl victory and the departure of its difference-makers on offense — quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon.

The absence of Weeden and Blackmon has been somewhat noticeable, as the Cowboys (3-2, 1-1) have seen their total passing average dive by 49 yards per game. Oklahoma State’s total offense has risen to the best in the nation thanks to the increased production of running back Joseph Randle — who had a modest 49 rushing yards against Iowa State last season.

The OSU defense has also been having trouble, allowing 27.5 points per game in its two Big 12 games. The offense hasn’t been much better, averaging 28 points in those two league games.

But whether this year’s OSU team can avenge its loss to Iowa State remains to be seen, even in my eyes. The Cowboys struggled against lowly Kansas last Saturday, giving up 14 points in the fourth quarter of a 20-14 win.

Players will tell you they would never overlook Kansas, which hasn’t won a Big 12 game against a current member since beating Iowa State in 2009. But comparatively speaking, Kansas is typically seen as a barometer for a team’s vulnerability in the Big 12.

While Rhoads and Co. stopped short of saying Oklahoma State was more vulnerable than last year — typically met with the tailored “everybody is vulnerable in the Big 12” insight — they spoke with a confidence that I had heard prior to their wins against Iowa and TCU earlier this season.

Iowa State has not won in Stillwater since 2000, so a victory on Saturday would nonetheless be noteworthy.

But while Oklahoma State may be a 14.5-point favorite, don’t be surprised to see a one-possession game Saturday. Honestly, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t.

Jake Calhoun is a senior in journalism from Urbandale, Iowa.