AUSTIN, Texas -- This is a trap game. But in fairness, so are most Big 12 games this season.
Let’s lay out all the reasons why Iowa State can beat Texas on Thursday (6:30 p.m. CT, ESPN). It’s an exercise that’s easier than expected.
Assume that Texas will roll the Cyclones with ease, as it has the past two years, if you please. Step back, though, and you’ll see this game has the elements you’d look for in a trap game.
Texas is playing without quarterback David Ash, who didn’t make the trip to Ames while he continues to recover from a concussion. Texas is 1-6 when Ash’s replacement, Case McCoy, attempts 16 or more passes.
Texas is coming off a bye week, and the high-pressure Oklahoma game is a week away. A close victory over Kansas State has this team confident it’s about to turn the corner, but losing two of their first three games means the Longhorns don’t have the luxury of expecting easy victories from any foe.
“I think after our second and third game, we’re not going to overlook anybody,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “Our coaches aren’t going to allow that.”
Texas must also play without perhaps the most important cog of its defense, linebacker Jordan Hicks, after another season-ending injury. The defense never struggled more last season than in the first few games it played without him, and the Longhorns already had the seventh-worst run defense in the country statistically.
Iowa State, meanwhile, has a track record of winning these kinds of games. Paul Rhoads-led teams pull off one substantial upset every season like clockwork. Last year, it was a No. 15 TCU squad that would go on to beat Texas. ISU also notched a home win over Baylor, which ended the 2012 season as perhaps the Big 12’s best team.
In 2010, Rhoads bested Texas at home, which only furthered the Longhorns’ downward spiral toward 5-7. In 2011, No. 2 Oklahoma State came to Ames on a Friday night and went home stunned.
They’ve done this enough times to know that spending time talking about upsetting Texas won’t help much.
“Any kid in our program knows we’re capable of winning on any given Thursday, any given Saturday, any given et cetera,” Rhoads said. “They also know that a lot of hard work and preparation goes into that to lead to game-day execution.
“Those aren’t fairy-tale victories. Those aren’t games that are won just because it was time for a Cinderella team to do it. Those are games that are won because we played well and prepared well.”
And the Cyclones traditionally fare well in this setting. They’re 7-2 in Thursday and Friday games since 2008. ISU isn’t dealing with a short week this time, either, after playing another Thursday night game last week.
Add all that up and, well, Iowa State at least has a shot, right?
Brown and Rhoads both recognize that anything can happen in a year when the Big 12 is as wide open as ever. It’s a safe bet that each coach talked up the lessons learned from West Virginia’s upset win over Oklahoma State to his team.
That’s the Big 12 in 2013: Expect the unexpected. Doesn’t matter if Texas is 2-2, Rhoads and his players are respecting this opponent as if UT were 4-0.
“They’re probably hitting stride right now, and with 12 days of preparation, they’re a very scary outfit for us to prepare and play,” he said.
Texas senior lineman Trey Hopkins was on the 2010 team that lost to ISU. He’s helped defeat the Cyclones the past two seasons.
He fully recognizes that this season can be a different story, as it might be throughout the league. Hopkins has enough respect for what Iowa State does that he isn’t calling this a trap game.
“I think we all know that they’re a talented team,” he said. “They’ve come in here and played us tough every time. It’s a tough place to play and their fans are always in it and very loud and electric. Especially being a Thursday game, they’re going to be pumped. We really have to come prepared.”