Iowa State drew national attention by beating Oklahoma earlier this month.
The 17th-ranked Cyclones could take perhaps a bigger step when they visit Oklahoma State.
For all their improvement in recent years, the Cyclones have yet to play in a Big 12 championship game under fifth-year coach Matt Campbell. Iowa State and No. 6 Oklahoma State will enter their showdown on Saturday as two of three unbeaten teams in the Big 12, so a victory would put the Cyclones in an unusual and enviable position in the conference race.
The Cyclones (3-1, 3-0 Big 12) have never won their first four league games. Even while on the verge of history, they will take a measured approach to Stillwater.
“Our mentality is level,” Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy said. "We’re not getting too high and we’re not getting too low. We’ve been in situations like this before the past couple years and I think we’re ready to be able to take the next step. We’re going to find out Saturday.”
Campbell wants to turn the corner and make the Cyclones a consistent power.
“That’s still a real big challenge for our program, something we haven’t done here yet, and it’s going to take great leadership from our coaches and our senior leadership to be able to forge forward and get better as the season goes on,” he said.
Oklahoma State (3-0, 2-0) hasn't played since a 47-7 win over Kansas on Oct. 3. The Cowboys were supposed to play Baylor last Saturday, but the game was postponed because the Bears had too many COVID-19 cases.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said the Cowboys have had good practices and are ready to go.
“They seem focused and really excited about getting back to work," he said.
Oklahoma State ranks second nationally in scoring defense, allowing just nine points per game. The Cowboys are tied for the national lead in yards allowed per play and are sixth in total defense.
“Our defense seems to be really focused,” Gundy said. “I’m sure they’re enjoying people telling them how good they’re doing. I’ve also cautioned them about that. But in practice, they seem to continue to run around and be enthusiastic and give really good effort.”
RUNNING BACK SHOWDOWN
The game could hinge on the two lead running backs.
Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard has the reputation, and now, Iowa State's Breece Hall will have the spotlight.
Hubbard finished eighth in the Heisman balloting last season. He has yet to unleash one of his monster games yet this season, though he has been steady. He ranks 11th nationally with 113.0 rushing yards per game.
Hall is the one putting up the bigger numbers so far. He leads the Big 12 and ranks second nationally in both yards rushing per game (132.8) and rushing touchdowns (8).
“We really like Breece,” Campbell said. “He’s growing as a football player. Those are things that allow you to steady the ship in a year like we’re having where all the other things you’re trying to get settled in.”
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy entered the 2018 game at Oklahoma State on the Cyclones' second possession. The true freshman threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 84 yards and another score in the Cyclones' 48-42 win. He said everything changed after that.
“A lot of the expectations after that game, and how defenses were scheming up how I played," he said. “Those are things I had to learn how to handle. From that point on, up to this point, as a leader on the team, I’ve been able to grow and help everyone else do their part as well.”
Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders injured his right ankle in the season opener against Tulsa. in the opener and hasn’t played since. Gundy said Sanders has been practicing for the past two weeks and is ready to play. Freshman Shane Illingworth has started the past two games. Gundy did not say which would start, and said both might play. Sanders is more mobile — he ran for 628 yards last season. Illingworth is a 6-foot-5 pocket passer who leads the Big 12 in passer efficiency during league play.
Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar played his high school ball in Norman, Oklahoma. He committed to Iowa State, then got an offer from Oklahoma State — the school where his brother, John, was playing. Charlie stayed with the Cyclones and has become a key part of the offense. The preseason All-Big 12 selection has 12 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown this season.
Iowa State is 12-1 in October since 2017, tying Alabama and Clemson for the most wins by a Power Five school during that span.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.