Thursday Night College Football – Texas at Iowa State
The Big XII is in the spotlight Thursday night, following a top 10 program from the conference falling from the ranks of the undefeated last weekend. Both Texas and Iowa State have more modest goals in the rebuilding process after bowl absences the past two seasons. The victor this week will be in a much stronger position to reach the postseason through the remaining conference slate.
Match-up: Texas Longhorns at Iowa State Cyclones
Venue: At Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas
Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 28, 7:00 PM ET ESPN
Line: Texas -6½, Over/Under 63½
Last Meeting: 2016, at Texas (-14) 27, Iowa State 6
The contrast in national presence for Big XII rivals Texas and Iowa State couldn’t be more severe with Texas listed as second nationally in total revenue, just short of 200 million dollars while Iowa State pulled in (and spent) 78 million in the 2015-16 financial calendar. The results the past two seasons haven’t been too far apart however with back-to-back losing Big XII seasons and bowl game absences for both programs.
There is optimism on both campuses this season with regards to the 2017 football seasons with expectations of improvement and bowl bids very possible. Late in the 2015 season Iowa State won 24-0 in the last meeting hosting Texas but it wasn’t enough to save Paul Rhoads who was released after seven seasons in Ames, getting the team to three bowl games but ultimately unable to sustain a run of respectable play.
Ahead of last season Iowa State hired Matt Campbell after four successful seasons at Toledo, ironically a team that beat Iowa State in the 2015 regular season. Campbell is one of the younger coaches at the FBS level and he brought a lot of his staff from Toledo with him. Last season’s transition featured some struggles, starting with a loss to FCS Northern Iowa and an embarrassing 42-3 defeat vs. rival Iowa. Ultimately the Cyclones finished 3-9 to match the team’s 2015 record but there were respectable late season showings with two Big XII wins and several other narrow defeats vs. quality teams including close calls at home vs. ranked Baylor and Oklahoma teams.
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This year’s team avenged the loss from last season to Northern Iowa in the opener, a quality FCS program and then took rival Iowa to overtime. Iowa State also handled Akron in its first road test to sit at 2-1 heading into a difficult Big XII schedule. Iowa State plays five road games in conference play and outside of a mid-October home game with Kansas, this is one of the more favorable home dates with TCU and Oklahoma State also visiting Ames as bowl hopes for the Cyclones might hinge on getting this Thursday night upset.
Iowa State used two quarterbacks substantially last season but this season but junior Jacob Park has held the position with strong numbers, throwing for over 900 yards in three games with eight touchdowns as the offense is starting to resemble the productive attacks Campbell led in the MAC. David Montgomery has been a bright spot in the backfield with 321 yards rushing on 5.7 yards per carry as the offense has featured decent balance, though certainly with a lean to towards preferring to throw.
The issues for Iowa State remain on defense with Campbell’s 2016 team showing no improvement over the marginal 2015 numbers and this year’s team is only marginally ahead of last season’s pace with the toughest games still to come. Iowa State has allowed 402 yards per game with particular vulnerability in the air, currently 112th nationally allowing nearly 300 passing yards per game.
Tom Herman was a high profile hire for Texas in the offseason with Texas failing to make a bowl game the past two seasons under Charlie Strong. Herman went 22-4 in two seasons at Houston after coaching under Urban Meyer at Ohio State for three years. Herman was actually the Iowa State offensive coordinator for the first three seasons under Paul Rhoads here at Iowa State from 2009-2011. In three games at Texas he is already halfway to the loss count he had in two seasons in Houston.
Texas expected instant results from Herman with a wealth of returning talent on the roster but the 1-2 start has featured encouraging performances since a surprising opening week loss to Maryland. Texas dominated San Jose State in a shutout win and then in the last game took a highly regarded USC team to double-overtime, even playing without quarterback Shane Buechele.
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While that defeat earned some respect for Herman’s transition and bolstered his big game reputation, the reality is that Texas has little margin for error remaining on the season. After this game Texas will in succession face three of the top contenders in the conference with games against Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State to start October as a 2-5 record wouldn’t be unrealistic heading into the final five games of the season.
Buechele’s status isn’t clear for Thursday night. He returned to practice this week but is still limited. Freshman backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger has had mixed results with three touchdown passes but also two interceptions and a low completion rate. The running game has been marginal for the Longhorns in trying to replace 2,000-yard rusher D’Onta Foreman as Texas has gained 4.6 yards per rush with the best results coming from junior Chris Warren III. Sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson has been the big play threat in the offense with 366 yards on only 16 catches. The kicking game has been an issue for Texas with only one made field goal in four attempts.
The numbers for the Texas defense are slightly better than for Iowa State, particularly against the pass and that is even with facing preseason Heisman Trophy favorite Sam Darnold who Texas intercepted twice in the last game, including getting a return touchdown. Texas has scored three interception return touchdowns plus a blocked field goal return touchdown this season and one big play could prove to be the difference in this type of game.
Last Season: A week after Texas had lost a tough 45-40 game with Oklahoma they looked like an upset risk hosting Iowa State riding a three-game losing streak. A tight first half broke open in the third quarter as Texas took turned a 3-6 deficit into a 24-6 edge, eventually winning 27-6 as a two-touchdown home favorite. The yardage results were even more lopsided with a 505-280 edge in one of the best performances of the season for the Texas defense. Two years ago Iowa State won 24-0 hosting Texas as a slight home underdog, the final win for Rhoads with the program.
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Historical Trends: Texas is 11-2 S/U but 6-7 ATS in this series since 1998, with Iowa State covering in three in a row until last season. Texas is on a 16-11 ATS run as a road favorite since 2008 though 1-4 ATS in that role the past two seasons. Iowa State is 7-1 ATS in the last eight instances as a home underdog though producing only two S/U upsets in that run. Iowa State is 11-4 ATS overall at home the past two+ seasons, though 6-9 S/U. In four seasons at Toledo Campbell held a 19-5 S/U record at home, going 12-10-2 ATS. Herman went 6-4 S/U and ATS in road games in his two seasons at Houston.