A dozen years in the making: Iowa State returns to the AP Top 25

In 2005, senior wide receiver Allen Lazard was nine years old.

The first ever YouTube video was uploaded just five months prior.

That year Iowa State finished third in the Big 12 North Division — yes, that was a thing. The Cyclones conference schedule included games against Nebraska, Missouri, Texas A&M and Colorado.

In 2005, fans could look forward to watching Todd Blythe, who would go on to become the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards. After eight weeks in 2017, Allen Lazard is 300 yards away from claiming the top spot for himself.

In 2005, the south end zone was about a decade away from being bowled-in, and there were no giant scoreboards at either end zone.

Thanks to a convincing 31-13 win at Texas Tech on Saturday, Iowa State earned a spot in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2005. The Cyclones were ranked as high as No. 22 during that season, but a three-game losing streak in October ended that run.

Simply put, a lot has changed in the time since Iowa State was last ranked. It’s been a long 12 years.

Brent Blum from the Cyclone Radio Network was a junior at Iowa State during the 2005 season, and he pointed out some of the similarities and differences between the 2005 and 2017 teams.

“That’s the great parallel,” Blum said. “There are so many similarities between this year’s team and that year’s team.”

The 2005 team was also led by a strong defense, Blum said. He noted that Blythe was Iowa State’s go-to receiver in 2005 — very similar to Lazard on this team.

The issue for the 2005 team was close losses and missed chances.

“They had numerous missed opportunities that year,” Blum said. “They lost in overtime to Nebraska, Missouri and Kansas that year. So close to having that magical season, but it never came to fruition.

“With some better luck, that could have been a 10-win team. And certainly should have been the Big 12 North champion.”

With a 5-2 record overall and a 3-1 Big 12 record, Iowa State has its best start to the season since 2002. The Cyclones felt they had a realistic shot to host ESPN’s College GameDay this upcoming weekend, and although ESPN elected to go to Ohio State instead, the Cyclones have national recognition for the first time in several years.

Cyclone fan and Iowa State alum Alex Gookin, formerly an Iowa State Daily sports editor who covered the team, said the success is unexpected.

“It’s kind of amazing that they’re there are this point,” Gookin said. “To see them be in this conversation already is really, really exciting as a Cyclone fan.”

Losses to Iowa and Texas early in the season made some fans fearful of another empty year. The Cyclones haven’t had a winning record since 2009, and close losses have been a hallmark of Iowa State football dating back over a decade.

In 2005, as soon as the team got ranked in the AP Top 25, Iowa State lost three straight games — two of which were in overtime.

“It was just a great sense of disappointment after those three,” Blum said. “If you look at all three of those games, Iowa State had chances to win the game and they didn’t.”

Fast-forward 12 years, however, and the Cyclones have hope. Iowa State turned a corner two weeks ago when it beat then-No. 3 Oklahoma on the road. It was just the third time they’ve beaten a top 10 ranked team in this millennium. The other times came against No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011 and No. 8 Iowa in 2005.

The win was arguably the biggest upset in school history.

Iowa State’s Assistant Athletics Director for Communications Mike Green said that game caused a buzz.

“If you beat a really good team on national television, people are going to talk about you,” Green said.

The upcoming matchup with No. 4 TCU is the first game at Jack Trice Stadium between two ranked teams since No. 20 Nebraska played No. 19 Iowa State in 2002, when the Cyclones won by a final score of 36-14.

While the 2005 team never got ranked again after the three-game losing streak in October, the Cyclones did have a strong resurgence before ultimately falling in the season finale and the bowl game. Iowa State knocked off No. 22 Colorado on senior night in what many people refer to as, “the Tornado Game.”

“That was kind of the stamp on Iowa State’s resurgence,” Blum said.

In the end, however, Blum said the 2005 season is widely looked upon as a disappointment.

What should have been the stepping stone to a greater success was instead a single shining moment, laced with missed chances.

Blum also noted that Iowa State didn’t have to play the top three teams in the Big 12 South that season.

Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech were the top dogs in the South, but because of the cross-division scheduling in that time, the Cyclones lucked out and got to face the three bottom teams in the division.

Instead, the Cyclones blew their chance at maintaining national relevance.

“I’ll always refer to it as the ‘what-if season,’” Blum said. “Living through it, you thought this would be the norm, but it wasn’t.

“There’s always that sense of opportunity missed and I think that’s the intrigue of being a Cyclone fan; you never quite have seen the mountaintop, but that’s the year the Cyclones got the closest.”

That leads to another parallel between 2005 and 2017. If Iowa State wants to fulfill its “raise the standard” motto, being ranked No. 25 for one week in October can’t be the end goal.

The task now becomes proving ESPN wrong for not coming to Ames for College GameDay, and showing the college football world that this three-game winning streak isn’t a fluke.

“[The Iowa win] was kind of the key game of that year,” Blum said. “From then on, it seemed like Iowa State was on the way to becoming a really relevant program.”