Published November 16, 2012
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Paul Rhoads ticked off in his head, one by one, the number of questions it took this week before someone finally asked him about his Cyclones winning their sixth game.
"That's not bad. I thought it would take two," the Iowa State coach said with a smile.
The Cyclones (5-5, 2-5 Big 12) haven't been to a postseason game in back-to-back years since the 2005-06 seasons, when they went under former coach Dan McCarney. The program has only been to 11 in its meager history, including the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers last December.
Iowa State can become eligible by beating Kansas on Saturday or West Virginia in its finale.
"I don't think our football team has any more pressure than Kansas," Rhoads said. "We're preparing for another game against a quality opponent, it's going to take great preparation and carry over into great execution on Saturday."
There was a time when this one would have been a slam dunk.
The Jayhawks (1-9, 0-7) haven't won a Big 12 game since beating former Big 12 member Colorado during the 2010 season, a span of 19 consecutive games, and a precipitous fall from the 12-1 mark that Kansas put up five years ago under Mark Mangino.
But under first-year coach Charlie Weis, the Jayhawks are showing signs of life.
They nearly upset Oklahoma State behind a late rally that spelled the end to Dayne Crist's time as the starting quarterback, and after getting trounced by Oklahoma, they held a fourth-quarter lead against Texas before finally succumbing in the closing minutes.
Last week at Texas Tech, the Jayhawks scored the last 10 points of regulation — including a field goal by Nick Prolago with 41 seconds left — to force overtime. The teams swapped touchdowns in the first extra sessions before the Red Raiders survived for a 41-34 victory.
"Kansas is not a pushover team, despite what their record says," Iowa State running back Shontrelle Johnson said. "If you look at their last couple games, you look at them on film, they're not a bad team. They're just a hair short of where they're getting four, five, six wins already."
It will be Senior Day at Memorial Stadium for a group of Kansas players who have been through a lot during their time on campus.
Those who are fourth-year seniors were recruited to Kansas by Mangino, who was fired after the 2009 season, and then won only five games during the two-year tenure of Turner Gill. They'll play their final home game on Saturday having not defeated a Football Bowl Subdivision team since they beat Northern Illinois in the second game of last season.
"A lot of these guys are on their third coach. I can't even imagine that," Weis said. "The trials and tribulations they've been through, they've gutted it out and bought in.
"Their experience is not over yet," Weis continued. "I would like them to walk out of here with a good taste in their mouth. If all of a sudden, on Saturday night, all of those 900-game losing streaks and all that other stuff go by the boards, and you're partying on the field after the game, that's what they're going to remember. They're going to remember the camaraderie."
If the Jayhawks win, it'll probably be on the legs of Tony Pierson and James Sims.
Pierson ran for 202 yards, and Sims piled up 127 last Saturday against Texas Tech. It was Sims' sixth consecutive game going over 100 yards after the junior running back was suspended for the first three games of the season for violating team rules.
"They're a dangerous football team," Rhoads said. "These guys are fighting."