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Peterson: Iowa State’s manageable path to eight-win regular season starts Saturday vs. the Longhorns

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Iowa State coach Matt Campbell talks about the officiating during his team’s loss at Oklahoma.
Tommy Birch, tbirch@dmreg.com

AMES, Ia. — Iowa State has more talent than 5-4 football teams usually have. That said, let’s move on to Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. big-time game against big-time Texas at Jack Trice Stadium. Biggest game this season?

They’re all big now, considering this talented outfit Matt Campbell coaches still hasn’t reached bowl eligibility, and that’s the point:

Despite three Big 12 Conference losses that just as well could have been victories, take away one or two plays in each of the losses and one or two highly-suspect officiating decisions last week at Oklahoma, I still believe the Cyclones can win eight regular-season games.

Doing that means no more flubbing what should be interceptions, no more ill-timed penalties, no more whiffing on tackles, and kicking ball through uprights (instead of left or right of them.)

Those mistakes are OK for the first couple games, but this deep in the season, they should not be happening.

Texas still isn’t great, and it’s why Vegas has Iowa State a touchdown favorite. That, by the way, is a first. Texas has been the odds-on favorite to win each of the 16 games in this series by spreads ranging from 25 points in 2006 to just one point last season. Campbell, furthermore, has beaten every Big 12 team except the Longhorns.

“No. 1, they’re pretty darn good, right?,” Iowa State’s coach said this week. “You turn the film on, and you talk about a team that oozes excellence.”

Put the kibosh on the mistakes, force a turnover or two, and Brock Purdy continues his wonderful sophomore season — and the Cyclones have their sixth win.

Next week at home against Kansas?

Over-thinkers point to the Jayhawks being better in Les Miles’ first season as the coach, but dudes, this program had no where to go but up.

The Jayhawks have had their moments — like hanging 48 points on Texas during a two-point loss in Austin. They also lost by 37 points against TCU, by 25 against Oklahoma, and 28 to Kansas State.

Play smart during that Nov. 23 game at Jack Trice Stadium, and Campbell’s team has seven wins heading into the Nov. 30 regular-season finale at Kansas State.

The Wildcats have been very good in Chris Klieman’s first season on sidelines Bill Snyder once owned. They even have Oklahoma among their six-win resume.

Weird things happen to Iowa State in games in Manhattan, Kansas — but again, eliminate errors, and the Cyclones should be good enough to overcome the adversity it always faces there.

That manageable path to an eight-win season starts Saturday.

IOWA STATE VS. TEXAS BREAKDOWN

How the Cyclones win

Eliminate mistakes that shouldn’t be happening nine games into the season, and Iowa State’s two-game losing streak is history. Here’s another factor, possibly a Plan B if playing mistake-free ball isn’t enough: Brock Purdy. If the all-Big 12 team were selected now, he’d be the second-teamer behind Jalen Hurts. The sophomore nearly led his team to what would have been a miracle comeback last Saturday with a fantastic 15 minutes that included completing 6 of 11 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Saturday, he’ll be operating against a defense that hasn’t exactly been good against the pass. Longhorns opponents have averaged 299.6 passing yards a game, and that’s better than only Texas Tech in the Big 12. Opponents have 22 passing touchdowns against Texas, too, so Purdy’s field would appear to be wide open.

How the Longhorns win

It’s not like Iowa State has played lock-down defense. The last two games, for example, opponents have averaged 280 passing yards a game. The Cyclones have faced Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts during that span, but stats are stats.

Texas’ Sam Ehlinger is good, too. The junior has completed 75 of 121 passes for 983 yards and seven touchdowns over the past three games. He’s also thrown six interceptions. Iowa State’s pass defense isn’t the greatest, partly because of muffed interception opportunities. Texas has passing plays of 63 and 71 yards the past two games, and not stopping plays like that has also been a Cyclone thing, and here’s something else:

Keep an eye on third-down plays. Texas is second nationally with a 52% conversation percentage, because Ehlinger is so versatile. Iowa State has stopped opponents on third down just 42% of the time.

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., FS1

Vegas line: Iowa State by 7 points

Score: Purdy beats Ehlinger, 41-34

BIG 12 PREDICTIONS

KANSAS (1-5, 3-6) at OKLAHOMA STATE (3-3, 6-3)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., FS1

Vegas line: Oklahoma State by 18 points

Prediction: There’s no way the nation’s 126th defense against the rush will stop the nation’s No. 1 rusher. Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard has a whopping 1,604 rushing yards, with four games left. He’s a lock for 200 more on Saturday, and 2,000 yards when he finishes the season. Oklahoma State, with West Virginia and Oklahoma remaining, still has hopes of a high-level bowl — something like the Alamo.

Score: Oklahoma State 38, Kansas 24

TCU (2-4, 4-5) at TEXAS TECH (2-4, 4-5)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPN2

Vegas line: TCU by 3 points

Prediction: TCU’s defense will be good enough to keep Texas Tech quarterback Jett Duffey from going bonkers. The Horned Frogs are the Big 12’s best defense, and they’ll take away what Duffey likes to do the best — complete 11-yard mid-range passes.

Score: TCU 24, Texas Tech 21

WEST VIRGINIA (1-5, 3-6) at KANSAS STATE (3-3, 6-3)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., ESPN

Vegas line: Kansas State by 15 points

Prediction: This will be the most lopsided Big 12 game of the day. Kansas State has improved considerably throughout the season, while West Virginia hasn’t. Legitimately, the Wildcats could be looking at a nine-win regular season — with games left against Texas Tech and Iowa State.

Score: Kansas State 30, West Virginia 3

No. 8 OKLAHOMA (5-1, 8-1) at No. 10 BAYLOR (6-0, 9-0)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., ABC

Vegas line: Oklahoma by 10 points

Prediction: Quarterbacks Jalen Hurts of Oklahoma and Charlie Brewer of Baylor will have wonderful games under ABC’s prime time lights. Defenses might as well stay home for this one, because this has the makings of being a shootout. Hurts, with 2,742 passing yards and another 869 on the ground, will be too much for Baylor’s solid defense to contain.

Score: Oklahoma 42, Baylor 38

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been writing for the Des Moines Register for parts of five decades. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete. No one covers the Cyclones like the Register. Subscribe today at Des Moines Register.com/Deal to make sure you never miss a moment.

Source: Des Moines Register