AMES, Iowa – Iowa State recently unveiled a shiny new $20 million football complex that should help the program compete with their much wealthier neighbors in the Big 12.
The first order of business is to earn a reason to keep it humming in December.
The Cyclones (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) remain one win shy of bowl eligibility after falling to Oklahoma on Saturday for the 70th time in 77 tries. For a program that has reached a bowl games just 11 times, a third bowl bid in four years would represent major progress.
Iowa State travels to face No. 19 Texas (7-2, 4-2) on Saturday seeking its second straight win in Austin and that all-important sixth win of 2012.
"I don't believe that that's everyone's goal or priority is 'OK, we've just got to get that sixth win. I think it's 'OK, we've got to go out and focus on beating Texas this week,'" sophomore linebacker Jevohn Miller said.
The Cyclones could also use the extra practices allowed for bowl-bound teams since they'll be losing a number of seniors in key spots.
Iowa State is already looking to the future at linebacker, though not by choice.
Star senior Jake Knott's career at Iowa State is almost certainly over because of a torn shoulder. The Cyclones moved junior Jeremiah George into a more prominent role to compensate for Knott's absence, and Miller will also see more playing time in the final three weeks.
George led all players with 17 total tackles, 13 of them unassisted and one for a loss, in a 35-20 loss to the Sooners.
George's progression is a positive sign for the Cyclones, who will also lose senior outside linebacker and 2011 Big 12 co-defensive player of the year A.J. Klein after this season.
But Iowa State still struggled at times to compensate for the loss of Knott against the Sooners. That figures to be a key challenge over the season's final three weeks.
"Jeremiah graded out well productivity-wise. Not as good with his execution, being where he was supposed to be all of the time," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "If you look at the two (linebacker) positions...we were less productive than we've been other games this season.
The Cyclones also know they'll need to run the ball better if they want to have the strong finish they're hoping for.
Against the Sooners, Iowa State showed glimpses of a consistent running attack.
The Cyclones averaged over four yards a carry, gaining 99 yards on 24 carries. That isn't much, but Iowa State has struggled to establish a ground game opponents have to respect despite a trio of talented junior running backs led by Shontrelle Johnson.
The Longhorns are just 107th nationally in rushing defense, and the Cyclones hoping to build off a decent showing against the Sooners.
"We finally made some people miss. And whether it's been our running backs or our quarterbacks or our wide receivers, we haven't made a lot of people miss this season," Rhoads said. "Explosive teams, a key component of that is making people miss — and we did a little bit of that."
Though facing Oklahoma and Texas in back-to-back weeks isn't as tough as it used to be for the Cyclones, it still isn't easy.
But Iowa State believes that it has progressed to the point where it can hang with anyone in the league, at least physically.
That wasn't always the case. But that shift is a big reason why the Cyclones need just one win to grab a bowl bid out of one of the nation's deepest leagues.
"We pride ourselves on being physical, and you can ask people on those teams and they will say that we're a very physical team," center Tom Farniok said. 'We might not have the God-given ability that some of their players have, but we'll square up toe to toe with anyone physically."