Iowa State is in an unusual position heading into its game against Kansas State on Saturday.
The 17th-ranked Cyclones (5-2, 5-1 Big 12) lead the Big 12 with three games to play, the first time they've been in first place this late in a season since they were tied at the top of the old North Division in 2004.
Iowa State has been poised to make late-season runs in recent seasons under coach Matt Campbell but have been unable to finish the job.
“We’ve been here before, the coaches have been here before,” quarterback Brock Purdy said, “so we’re really excited being able to capitalize this year. That’s our goal and we’re going to find out.”
Iowa State, after hosting K-State, closes the regular season at No. 22 Texas and against West Virginia at home.
“It's going to reveal if you’ve got the ability to become the best version of yourself that you can be,” Campbell said. “What a unique year and unique time to say that statement right there. This has been a long, challenging season, not just physically but mentally for everybody involved with any football team across the country.”
Campbell was referring to the pandemic, which has led to schedule juggling for many teams. Iowa State has not had any games postponed or canceled because of the virus, though this week's game was a close call.
Kansas State (4-3, 4-2) began the week with 12 active COVID-19 cases and 66 other players have tested positive and recovered, according to the Riley County (Kansas) Health Department website.
Wildcats coach Chris Klieman said he's been on edge waiting for players' test results this week. The team has been short of players at practice because of positives, contact tracing and regular injuries.
The Big 12 requires teams have at least 53 players available for a game. Of those, seven must be offensive linemen, four must be interior defensive linemen and one must be a quarterback.
If that threshold can't be met, the game would be declared a no contest unless it can be rescheduled. A team is given the option to play if it has fewer than 53 players but enough at the positions mentioned.
Klieman said the Wildcats began the week “on the cusp” of not having players available.
“I’m a little bit amazed that we’re going into game eight, and there’s a lot of schools that are trying to get through game three and four,” Klieman said.
YOUNG AND FAST
K-State's offense leads the Big 12 with seven plays of 50 yards or longer. Freshman quarterback Will Howard is in line for his fifth start, and freshman running back Deuce Vaughn and Clemson's Travis Etienne are the only players in the country to have more than 300 yards rushing and 300 yards receiving, and the Wildcats lead the Big 12 with .
“Both of them are playmakers, especially 22,” Iowa State cornerback Anthony Johnson said, referring to Vaughn. “He can go the distance at any given moment. They're a disciplined football team, physical. You've got to be on your stuff or they're in the end zone right before you know it.”
IF K-STATE WINS
Klieman would become the first coach in program history to post winning conference records in his first two seasons. It also would tie the series 50-50-4 and give K-State three Big 12 road wins for the first time since 2017.
Kansas State's special teams rank first in efficiency, according to ESPN. The Wildcats blocked a kick in each of their first four games and Phillip Brooks ran back two punts for touchdowns against Kansas.
TOUGH AGAINST THE RUN
Iowa State's defense is limiting opponents to 3.08 yards per rush to lead the Big 12 and rank 10th nationally. Kansas State runners were averaging just 3.4 yards per carry before Howard broke loose for 125 of the Wildcats' 227 rushing yards in a loss to Oklahoma State in their last game.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Iowa State is limiting attendance to families and guests of athletes and staff because of the surge of COVID-19 cases in the state. Attendance was capped at 15,000 for the previous three games.
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