Cyclones chase bowl berth against struggling Buffaloes


Photo: Rebekka Brown/Iowa State Daily

Iowa State’s A.J. Klein gets back to his feet after a tackle agains Nebraska’s Cody Green on Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium

Jake Lovett

Iowa State’s opponent Saturday has been through a lot in the past week.

Colorado gave up 35 points in the fourth quarter of its 52-45 loss to Kansas last Saturday, capping what is now a five-game losing streak. Then, on Tuesday, coach Dan Hawkins was let go by the Buffaloes after five seasons and a 19-39 record in Boulder.

Still, the Cyclones (5-5, 3-3 Big 12) must travel west to face the Buffaloes (3-6, 0-5), now playing under interim coach Brian Cabral, for a chance at getting their sixth win, making them bowl eligible for the second straight season.

“We can’t look at all of that,” said ISU sophomore linebacker A.J. Klein. “They’re really a dangerous team and I don’t think people give them enough credit.”

Klein heads an ISU defense that has held opponents to 67 points during the last three weeks after allowing 120 points the previous two weeks. Colorado’s offense — a unit Klein described as versatile and dangerous — has scored just 21 points per game this season despite the 52-point outburst last week.

“It’s going to be another tough game for us,” Klein said. “We can’t go into this game taking it for granted just because of record, because we’re going to have to work for it.”

Still, a 3-6 opponent dealing with a coaching change can be a tantalizing thought for a young team, especially one so close to achieving bowl eligibility.

To fight that, coach Paul Rhoads turned the tables on his team to give it a wake-up call.

“I talked to them about putting themselves in their shoes and asked them how they would react,” Rhoads said, “how our seniors would play in this situation, how our underclassmen would play for our seniors. They’d play their hearts out just like Colorado is going to do.”

The Cyclones last went through a coaching change in 2008 after Gene Chizik departed for the head job at Auburn. However, that change happened after Iowa State’s 2-10 season had concluded in December. Rhoads’ boss during his first stint at Iowa State, Dan McCarney, finished his final season at Iowa State, but not without heavy speculation he’d depart following the season.

Several ISU upperclassmen, including quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson, were a part of the team during McCarney’s final season in Ames, and the team is prepared to face a motivated, hard-working Colorado squad.

“[Rhoads] woke us up with that, gave us a wake-up call Tuesday and put us in their shoes,” said offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele. “It shouldn’t be a problem. We’re a hard-working group just like them, so we’ll just have to come in and work like we always do.”

Ten weeks into the season, the Cyclones have faced one of the nation’s toughest schedules — six of their opponents are currently in the top 25 of the Bowl Championship Series rankings — and have done so without a bye week.

A win Saturday would give Iowa State bowl eligibility for the second time under Rhoads, after going three years prior to his arrival without a postseason appearance. Even with all the talk surrounding the game, the thought of playing December football isn’t on the players’ minds.

“All we know is this is week 11 and we have to go out and get win number six,” Klein said. “We don’t think of win number six as a bowl game or anything like that; we think of it as another win and another step for the program.”

The game Saturday kicks off at 12:30 p.m. CST from Boulder, Colo., and will be aired on Fox College Sports.