AMES, Iowa – Iowa State and Tulsa face off Thursday night for the third time in 13 months — in the third different stadium, no less.
Neither the Cyclones nor the Golden Hurricane are approaching the rubber match as the last chance to prove which team is better, though. Both need a win simply to get their season going in the right direction.
Iowa State is 0-2 after losses to FCS school Northern Iowa and rival Iowa. Tulsa is 1-2 after getting pounded at Bowling Green and at No. 14 Oklahoma.
The Golden Hurricane got the better of the Cyclones in their last meeting, a 31-17 win in the 2012 Liberty Bowl. But Tulsa has 13 new starters, including 10 underclassmen, and Iowa State entered this season with the least-experienced group of starters among Big 12 teams.
"We're two teams coming off a successful run a year ago and I think we are both in search of the next win. We both desperately need to get back on track," Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said.
Blankenship and his Iowa State counterpart, Paul Rhoads, share major issues with scuffling offenses.
Tulsa is averaging just 19 points a game and has struggled to run and throw the ball. The Cyclones have only put up 20 and 21 points in their first two games, and sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson's injured ankle remains a major concern.
"Sam is moving much better than he did in the Iowa game. But he's far from healthy," Rhoads said. "It's a lingering type of ankle injury that may bother him throughout the course of the season."
Here are five things to watch when the Cyclones and Golden Hurricane kickoff in Tulsa:
1. CYCLE IN THE CLONES: Despite underwhelming numbers from its running backs, Iowa State remains committed to a back-by-committee approach. The Cyclones have just 141 yards rushing from running backs and are 101st nationally in yards per game.
"You're going to continue to see a number of backs in there," Rhoads said. He's not kidding either. Iowa State has five backs listed on their latest depth chart, and all of them are designated as possible starters.
2. TGI THURSDAY: Iowa State and Tulsa have each had 12 days off to prepare for a rare Thursday night kickoff. But Blankenship isn't bothered because it'll be a national broadcast — and gives the Golden Hurricane some added rest before and after the game.
"If you have to have one that gets you out of sync, I don't mind having an extra two or three days to prepare and an extra two or three days when we're done." The Cyclones also don't mind, since it helps prepare them to host Texas next Thursday.
3. CENTERED: Iowa State's beleaguered offensive line should get a major boost with the return of center Tom Farniok. He's expected to start after tearing a ligament in his knee in the opener. That was followed by a similar injury to backup Jamison Lalk against Iowa — and continuity has been a big reason why the Cyclones line has been underwhelming so far.
4. GROUND UP: Tulsa beat Iowa State in the Liberty Bowl in large part by running for 317 yards. Trey Watts was named the game's MVP after rushing for 149 yards, and he is averaging 5.5 yards a carry this season.
"They had that look in their eye in the fourth quarter that they didn't want anymore. That's what you want as an offensive lineman. It was a huge win for us," Tulsa guard Jake Alexander said.
5. ROAD STUDS: Iowa State has been surprisingly successful in its road openers under Rhoads, winning three of four. The Cyclones beat UConn in 2011 and Iowa last season. Oh, and Iowa State is 9-2 in its last 11 games played on Thursday.
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