McDaniel: TCU could make or break the season

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy watches the scoreboard camera footage to see who is behind him as he rushes toward the end zone against TCU. Iowa State beat the Horned Frogs 49-24 on Oct 5, 2019.

Stephen Mcdaniel

Let’s just say the Louisiana loss to start the 2020 season was less than ideal for Iowa State. Some may have a little bit more of a colorful viewpoint on that, but we’ll just stick with less than ideal.

Now Iowa State will have a weekend off before heading to Fort Worth, Texas, against TCU in what I feel is now the single most important game of Iowa State’s season after considering the start the Cyclones have had.

Let me just tell you this, the fellow football writers and I made season predictions not too long ago and we all had this talented Iowa State roster to finish at worst 7-3. I personally had them going 8-2, but none of us thought one of those few losses would have come at the hands of Louisiana.

Now it hasn’t exactly been a secret Iowa State has historically struggled to start its football seasons and last year is the perfect example.

It took three overtimes to beat Northern Iowa and then a special teams mishap became the story of how Iowa reclaimed the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series Trophy live on College GameDay.

But here’s the thing about last season. After an all-too-close win over a team the Cyclones should have beat by multiple scores and coming so close to finally getting the upper hand on Iowa just to fall short, Iowa State flipped the switch in their third game.

That third game was against Louisiana-Monroe and it might have been the most dominating Iowa State win I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life. The Cyclones obliterated the Warhawks 72-20 and where I felt Iowa State really got their wheels turning.

Following a last second loss to a Baylor team that ended 11-3, Iowa State rattled off three consecutive conference wins.

But here’s the thing, last season and this season are drastically different for one major reason: nonconference games.

The 2019 Cyclones had that luxury of facing three nonconference opponents to start their year out. They were able to take a look at what was working and what wasn’t working. In the case of the Louisiana-Monroe game, they found a lot of things that were working and it definitely carried into conference play.

Despite going 5-4 in conference play, Iowa State, on more than one occasion, was one score away, or in the case of the Oklahoma game, a two-point conversion away (or a defensive pass interference call if you still have stock invested in that controversy) from potentially ending up 8-1 in conference play.

I think the successes and near-successes of 2019 can really be attributed to working out the kinks in those nonconference games before getting into the football that really mattered.

But now when you look at the 2020 season, the only shot Iowa State had to work out those early season kinks against a nonconference foe, especially after lack of spring football and extended offseason, was against Louisiana and it didn’t work out so well.

But now we really get to the topic at hand here: TCU.

As I mentioned before, I don’t think most people thought Louisiana would be able to walk into Ames and defeat a ranked foe like that. We didn’t think that at all, but now that one loss already fills up the losses we had Iowa State penciled down for.

There was a sense of agreement that Iowa State could struggle with Big 12’s predominant powerhouse in the Oklahoma Sooners, as well as the Chuba Hubbard led Oklahoma State Cowboys and I still think the Cyclones will.

The Oklahoma and Oklahoma State games don’t fall far after the upcoming TCU game, with Oklahoma coming to town the week after TCU and Oklahoma State also coming to town two weeks after Oklahoma.

For Head Coach Matt Campbell and company, I think this upcoming TCU game is essential to how this season will turn out.

Coming off a very rough loss to Louisiana, the TCU game will have to be retreated like a bounce-back game, where Iowa State is able to correct the problems they had against Louisiana, such as the special teams mishaps and the offense’s ability to get receivers open, deliver them the ball and them holding onto it.

If Iowa State has issues against TCU and they continue this streak of early season struggles, it might just end up 0-2 and on the worse side of momentum going into a game against a team that’s returning from the College Football Playoffs last season.

That’s also not to mention that Spencer Rattler already looks like a prototypical Lincoln Riley Heisman caliber quarterback in just his first game of the season after blanking Missouri State 48-0.

The Cyclones need to get a win over TCU to really get their gears turning, because we’re already in the part of the season where football matters the most.

Another bad loss could keep snowballing bad momentum and if they start racking up the losses in this first half of the season, the chances of the Cyclones finally reaching the Big 12 Championships, as some of us predicted would happen, range from slim to none.