Oklahoma and Iowa State seemed destined to meet in the Big 12 title game.
The teams met in Arlington, Texas last season to decide the conference winner, and the Sooners and the Cyclones finished No. 1 and No. 2 in this season's preseason conference rankings, respectively. But based on how this season has gone, Saturday will likely be the only time these two teams meet this season.
Iowa State (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) has disappointed this season and currently sit at No. 4 in the conference standings, but they’ve remained competitive. In their three conference losses — Baylor, West Virginia and Texas Tech — the Cyclones lost by a combined 12 points. They’re also the only team to defeat Oklahoma State this season.
If not for last season’s surprising 3-point loss to Texas Tech, the Cyclones would still be in the race for the Big 12 title game. Despite their record, OU coach Lincoln Riley has been careful not to overlook them.
“They've been right in the middle of every single game,” Riley said Tuesday. “You could easily be talking about a team that's got a record like ours right now, easily. If we didn't know this team as well as we know them and had the battles [we’ve had against them], you might worry about a team looking at the record and thinking it's just an average football team coming in here. This is not an average football team coming in. I mean, it's not.
“We know what they're about. We know the way that they're coached, the way that they play. I think in a lot of ways [they’re] one of the most talented teams that we’ll play all year without a doubt on both sides of the ball. … We've been in too many battles with these guys to not have that respect.”
Riley’s right about the close battles.
Iowa State has beaten Riley twice since he took over as head coach in 2017. In 2019, the Sooners escaped with a 42-41 win at home.
Last season, the Cyclones won the first meeting by seven points before OU responded with a 27-21 win in the Big 12 title game.
The Cyclones returned plenty of players from last year’s team, including offensive players Brock Purdy, Breece Hall and Charlie Kolar. The sooners come into this year’s matchup as 3.5-point favorites, but Iowa State has motivation to steal one from the Sooners at home.
“Whenever a team faces Iowa State, you have to bring that physicality,” OU’s Delarrin Turner-Yell said. “You have to have that type of mindset that it’s going to be a physical game, it’s going to be a battle for all four quarters. Because those guys, no matter the score, they're gonna continue to play.
“As you’ve seen, I think two years ago, we were up on them pretty big and then they came back. ... So you just have to have that mindset [that] you're gonna have to go out and you're gonna have to play for all four quarters. And those guys are going to be physical. So you'd have to have that type of physicality mindset coming into the game.”
If Oklahoma wants to remain as the favorite to play for another Big 12 title, they need to win these final two games.
And despite Iowa State’s record, it likely won’t be easy for the Sooners to dominate.
“They're a good team,” OU’s Brian Asamoah said. “[I] can't wait. We haven't played them yet. But we'll see then.”