Game Preview

Oklahoma State and Iowa State suffered setback Saturdays last weekend.

Major setbacks.

Now they seek bounce backs -- against each other this Saturday -- to save still potentially special seasons, with the No. 15-ranked Cowboys visiting the No. 21 Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium.

Both fit into a four-way tie atop the Big 12 standings last week, although heading into what has become an elimination stretch of the conference schedule.

The Cowboys (7-2, 4-2 Big 12) lost in Bedlam, falling 62-52 to rival Oklahoma, all but ending their Big 12 and College Football Playoff hopes. Still, Oklahoma State's reputation remains solid, along with its profile as a candidate for a major bowl.

"It's important for me to instill in the players the importance of the next game," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. "That's why it's beneficial for us that they can turn the tape on and watch what they (the Cyclones) have done against TCU and Oklahoma."

The Cyclones (6-3, 4-2) upset TCU and Oklahoma during an impressive four-game winning streak that sent Iowa State's stock surging upward. Then they fell at West Virginia, suffering a hit to their storybook season, but not irreparable damage. Iowa State still has a path to the Big 12 title game, and another upset over the Cowboys would strengthen that bid.

"It's where you want to be in college football," Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said. "You want to be in it, in November. If someone were to ask me that a year and a half ago, I don't know if I would have said this is where we'd be. But that's a great credit to these kids."

Nobody pegged Iowa State for contention, but the Cyclones knocked off Oklahoma and TCU, now ranked No. 5 and 6 in the CFP rankings, respectively. The Cyclones were picked ninth, ahead of only Kansas, in the Big 12 preseason media poll.

Yet here they are, eligible for a bowl for the first time since 2012, and looking for more.

"I don't think anybody could say they would have predicted that they would go on the road and beat Oklahoma," Gundy said. "And then, as well as TCU is playing this year, that they could've beat them.

"They're in every game, or they win against people that somebody thought they didn't have a chance against. You watch them play, and they're humble; they're unselfish; they play hard; they're in the right spot."

The Cyclones have been on the spot defensively, ranking near the top of the conference in most of the major statistics, including second in scoring defense. Against Oklahoma, which runs an offense similar to the Cowboys, Iowa State dropped seven and eight into coverage successfully.

Oklahoma State figures to see something similar Saturday in an attempt to contain Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph -- the league's leading passer -- and his array of explosive wide receivers.

"They do it well," Rudolph said. "They've been very good defensively, holding teams down. But we've seen that style for two years now. We've seen it this year. And we've got a running game to help offset that."

The Cowboys boast the Big 12's top rusher in Justice Hill, coming off a career-best rushing day of 228 yards against the Sooners. Hill has rushed for 1,064 yards in nine games, good for an average of 118.2 per contest.

If Oklahoma State can run the ball effectively, it'll force the Cyclones to commit more to stopping the run, opening up the offense for Rudolph and Co.

"They understand who they are and what they're trying to accomplish," Gundy said of the Cyclones' defense. "They don't take a lot of chances. They're pretty smart and sound."

Iowa State may need to rely on its defense to dictate the day, with an offense that has struggled to put up points at times. The Cyclones rank eighth in the conference in total offense -- more than 200 yards behind the Cowboys. They're seventh in scoring, averaging 30.6, again well behind league-leading Oklahoma State's 45.3 average.

Still, Campbell's squad already has faced and beaten teams with distinct stat advantages. And he doesn't doubt his guys will be fully focused, despite coming off a disappointing loss.

"That's the thing I love about these kids: win, lose, scoreboard, what it says, what it doesn't say, I think, is really irrelevant," Campbell said. "I think nothing showed that more than what happened Saturday. It was irrelevant. The scoreboard was what it is.

"If you keep playing and you keep fighting and you understand what's not going well, (ask yourself), 'How do you fix it?' and then fix it -- that's football."

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