AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State is a handful of plays from being unbeaten in the Big 12 Conference and sitting alone at the top of the standings. That's the dream scenario for the Cyclones' season.
The reality is they find themselves in the middle of the pack at 3-3 in the league and, with only three games left, still not eligible for a bowl.
Iowa State (5-4 overall), which hosts Texas on Saturday, has lost its three conference games by a total of 10 points, the latest a 42-41 setback at Oklahoma. The Sooners intercepted a 2-point conversion in the final minute to deny the Cyclones a victory after they rallied from a 21-point deficit in the second half.
That's been the story of the Cyclones' season. They're in it until the end, then go unrewarded because they can't come up with the one play that makes a difference.
So, is this a team that's encouraged because it has shown it can play with everyone on its schedule or frustrated because it can't win games within its grasp?
"It's a little bit of both," defensive end Zach Peterson said Tuesday. "It's nice to be right there every time, but it's frustrating because it's all precision. Everyone or someone might be just an inch off here or there. It gets discouraging, but this team will never stop fighting."
Iowa State lost its Big 12 opener to league-leading Baylor 23-21 on a late field goal after charging back from a 20-0 deficit. Three weeks ago, Iowa State trailed Oklahoma State 21-10, rallied to a 27-all tie, then lost on an interception the Cowboys returned for a touchdown.
Those kinds of losses can sap a team's resiliency. Tight end Chase Allen doesn't see that happening.
"I believe when people are faced with that, it depends on their own mindset on which way they're going to take that, whether it's in the positive and encouraging or just lose belief in themselves," Allen said. "I can say about this team, we haven't lost belief and we're going to keep doing everything we can to show that."
Their coach hasn't lost belief in them, either.
Coach Matt Campbell said the Oklahoma game was the strongest his team has played in November in his four years with the Cyclones and despite the narrow losses, he feels the program is still on the right track.
"Those things can be frustrating if you let them be or they can be great growth opportunities," he said. "For me, you look at how young this team is in a lot of ways and you look at how this team has grown so much through the season. I think that's the thing I appreciate about our group. We've gotten better as the season continues to go on."
Iowa State's nonconference loss also was one that got away. Trailing Iowa 18-17, the Cyclones forced a late punt, then botched the return. The Hawkeyes recovered and ran out the clock.
"We're going through tough situations, tough results, maybe not the result that we would all want," Campbell said. "But the reality of it is you can look at your process and you look at how we're doing what we're doing and you know this team continues to grow. It takes great leadership, it takes great player-driven leadership and ownership to be where we are right now. "
Notes: Iowa State lost one of the league's top defensive linemen when JaQuan Bailey went down with a season-ending leg injury in late September. In stepped Peterson, a rangy farm kid from the eastern Iowa town of Long Grove and he has become one of the team's best success stories. Campbell said the 6-foot-4, 262-pound sophomore been the defense's most consistent player.
"He's a guy that got an unbelievable opportunity and made us better as a football team," Campbell said.
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