This weekend, Iowa State hopes to win their first conference title since the Taft Administration (1912) and beat Oklahoma a second time. While many know of this drought, not many people remember the heartbreaks that the Cyclones endured in 2004 and 2005 when they were on the brink of making the Big 12 Championship Game.
The beginnings of Nebraska’s decline made the Big 12 North more wide open than it had ever been. In 2004, this was evident as an Iowa State team that went 2-10 the prior year, was in the front of the race on Thanksgiving Weekend.
In the top two spots heading into the weekend were Iowa State and Colorado. The Cyclones came into their game with a 4-3 record in conference, while the Buffaloes owned a 3-4 mark. Iowa State simply needed to beat 4-6 Missouri, who was 2-5 in conference to earn a spot in Arrowhead to play Oklahoma, and win the North outright.
As many know, things hardly go as planned during rivalry weekend, as Missouri controlled the Telephone Trophy game throughout. The legendary Brad Smith topped 100 yards rushing and passing for Missouri, as the Cyclones fought to tie the game at 14 with nine minutes left. Despite their struggles, Iowa State had a chance to win it with a minute left, but Bret Culbertson’s field goal sailed wide right from 24-yards out. In overtime, the Tigers intercepted Bret Meyer’s third down pass inside the ten to win 17-14.
Colorado did their part and beat Nebraska 26-20 to win a share of the Big 12 North. Owning the head-to-head advantage over Iowa State, by way of a 19-14 victory. Maybe it was better for the Cyclones to not make the title game as the Sooners held the Buffaloes to 46 yards and three first downs in a 42-3 blowout. Iowa State hoped to rid themselves of their late season troubles the following year, but the script was all too similar.
Deja Vu All Over Again
The following year, Iowa State was once again in the front of a wide-open Big 12 North, as it once again came down to Colorado and the Cyclones. This time Iowa State owned the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Buffaloes as they beat them 30-16 on November 12th. Standing in their way was a 5-5 Kansas team that was 2-5 in conference play, but fighting for bowl eligibility.
This time, Iowa State controlled the game throughout, intercepting Jason Swanson three times and leading by as much as 11. The Cyclones took a 21-14 lead midway through the 4th quarter, before the Jayhawks made a quarterback change and turned the tide of the game.
Brian Luke replaced Jason Swanson for the Jayhawks and tied the game with a minute left, forcing overtime. Once again, a Bret Culbertson miss, this time from 40 yards out, set up an underdog to spoil the Cyclones Big 12 title game plans. Scott Webb was good from 34-yards out to deny the Cyclones a birth in the Big 12 title game for the second straight year.
For Luke’s efforts off the bench, ABC Sports nominated him as a candidate for the All-America Player of the Week. Like last year, it may have been better off that Iowa State missed out on the title game as Texas humiliated the Buffaloes 70-3 in Houston.
A Team of Destiny?
This year just seems different, and I am not just saying that because of all the pandemonium of 2020. Iowa State has shown flashes over the past few years, but nothing sustainable to hold the label of an elite team. Despite stumbles over Louisiana and Oklahoma State, the Cyclones have been the top team in the conference, beating traditional powers, Oklahoma and Texas along the way. The fact that they are in this game is an accomplishment in itself, given these past failures. The Cyclones seemed destined to shake the ghosts that lingered from 15 years ago, the question remains as to whether they will be able to do away with their 108 year-old ghosts.