Royston: Breaking down the Big 12, Iowa State’s bowl game potential


Tyler Coe

Defensive lineman signals a fourth down in 24-21 loss to Texas on Oct. 15.

I’m going to start by saying that this is not Iowa State’s year.

I had hopes early in the season that the Cyclones had the talent and leadership to make waves, but the Big 12 has chewed them up and spit them out. At this point, a bowl game is a big ask.

I’m not going to sit here and bash the offense and question the coaching staff’s ability to close out games. I think we all know by now that you should not get your hopes up when it comes to Iowa State finishing out these one-possession games.

I’m also not going to blame the refs for close losses since Iowa State had plenty of chances to take down Texas just as they did in weeks past. Every loss comes down to the same offensive issues, and I really don’t want to sound like a broken record. Obviously, the Cyclones moved the ball better than in recent weeks, but there were still turnovers and dropped passes in crucial moments.

So, what I wanted to talk about is how confusing the Big 12 is this year and where each team currently sits.

Top dogs

Every week confuses me more and more, to the point where I’m not sure who’s going to come out on top at the end of the year. I was sure that Oklahoma State was the clear-cut leader of the pack until the overtime loss to TCU on Saturday.

I think Oklahoma State is still a team to watch out for, but the Horned Frogs look to be better than anyone’s wildest expectations. They are currently the last undefeated team in the Big 12.

Even Kansas State has made a push for the top. I think the real test will come when the Bobcats take on TCU and Oklahoma State in back-to-back weeks. Having the last week off should help them erase the sloppy win over Iowa State.

Texas is the last Big 12 team that rose up in the rankings in the last few weeks. Texas looks to have the offensive firepower to compete with the rest of the top teams in the Big 12 and the nation.

Quinn Ewers looks to be the real deal, picking apart the highly touted Cyclone defense on Saturday. The ground game also gives the Longhorns great flexibility.

The ranked teams in the Big 12 look as solid as ever, but that doesn’t mean anyone is safe from an upset in the volatile conference.

Middle of the pack

When looking at the Big 12, the biggest thing I notice is how razor-thin the margin between the middle of the pack and the top is. Any team sitting outside the top three could still have a shot at beating even the best teams.

The team that looks the closest to the ranked teams is Kansas. Although Kansas has been the perennial laughingstock of the Big 12, the Jayhawks have looked competitive in every single game this season.

I think I would’ve put Kansas above Texas, even after the loss to TCU, if it wasn’t for Oklahoma’s victory. The Jayhawks have now lost two-straight games and seem to have a tough road ahead. It will be interesting to see how well they can contest the rest of the teams on their schedule.

When talking about unpredictability, Baylor is the team that comes to mind for me. The Bears are now sitting at a 3-3 record after topping the Big 12 preseason poll to start the year.

I’m not going to put the loss to BYU and Oklahoma State against Baylor because let’s face it, those were both strong teams at the time. The biggest concern came on Thursday when Baylor was taken down by West Virginia of all teams.

The last team that’s been slightly underrated this season is Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are sitting at the same record as Baylor and West Virginia, but their wins and losses look better.

Texas Tech beat Texas and played both Kansas State and Oklahoma State fairly closely. All those are ranked teams; plus, the only other loss came to a ranked NC State team.

I’m not going to go as far as to say Texas Tech is going to make a push for the top of the Big 12, but I think it could surprise a few teams that don’t prepare well for it, including Iowa State.

Bottom feeders

I don’t necessarily think there is a bottom of the Big 12. The conference is so unpredictable that it seems any team can win or lose on any given Saturday — or Thursday in West Virginia’s case.

The Mountaineers looked like the new Kansas until their miraculous win over Baylor. Now I’m not sure if Baylor is worse than I thought or if West Virginia is better.

This same sentiment is true for Oklahoma. The Sooners have been absolutely trounced by teams this season, which is refreshing given their typical dominance of the Big 12.

After the shutout in the Texas game, I was sure Oklahoma was through. Now, one week later, they seem to be back after dropping 52 points in the win over Kansas.

I still think the Sooners are competing with the bottom teams in the Big 12, but those sparks of life make it seem as though they aren’t going down without a fight.

This is where it looks like Iowa State has made its home, too—right at the bottom of the Big 12.

Currently, the Cyclones are the only team without a win against a Big 12 opponent, sitting at the worst record in the entire conference at 3-4. Saturday’s loss to Texas really opened my eyes to the trend of this team through the rest of the year.

Four-straight heartbreaking losses are never something a team wants to see. If the Cyclones don’t turn things around soon, a bowl game is out of the question.

I was optimistic at the start of the season, predicting that 7 or 8 wins would be a realistic mark to hit. Now, I think the Cyclones will be lucky to sneak out six wins.

I do think the road ahead is going to be easier than the start of the Big 12 season, but not by much. Oklahoma on Oct. 29 is going to be one of the biggest games for keeping Iowa State’s hopes alive.

With Oklahoma State and TCU still left on the schedule, the Cyclones can’t afford to lose any more close games, especially at home.

Do I think a bowl game is possible?

Yes. However, if the Cyclones can’t turn things around quickly, Iowa State’s season is going to end as fast as it started.