MANHATTAN, Kan. — Paul Rhoads is painfully aware that he hasn't knocked off Kansas State since becoming coach at Iowa State five years ago. The point is driven home by how close he's come to doing it.
He lost by one his first year. Lost by a touchdown the next two. And last year, his scrappy Cyclones took the then-No. 6 Wildcats down to the wire in a heartbreaking 27-21 defeat.
"Any time you face Kansas State and a Bill Snyder-coached team, you'd better be prepared yourself, and that's still the case," Rhoads said. "Our full focus is on going down to Manhattan and doing something we haven't done in our five years here."
Something the Cyclones (1-6, 0-4 Big 12) haven't done much of this season.
After going to bowl games in three of his first four seasons, expectations were high that Iowa State was on an upward trajectory. But starting with a season-opening loss to lower-division Northern Iowa, things have mostly spiraled downhill for the Cyclones.
Along with a loss to rival Iowa, the Cyclones were narrowly defeated by Texas and Texas Tech, and then blasted 71-7 by Baylor. They were routed 58-27 last week by Oklahoma State, even though miscues on offense resulted in points for the Cowboys that made the score appear much more lopsided.
"There's less a sense of letdown this week than last week," Cyclones running back Jeff Woody said. "You kind of saw at the Baylor game, getting trounced. It's hard to return off that."
Snyder isn't going to be bamboozled into thinking that Iowa State will keel over when it takes the field against his Wildcats (3-4, 1-3) today. He's watched his team scratch and claw to beat the Cyclones in recent years, and his praise for Rhoads was overwhelming.
"He's a better football coach than I am," Snyder said. "Their players are accustomed to a demanding program. They work extremely hard. Our ballgames have been close for the last four years, and we've been fortunate to win each one."
Far-fetched as it may sound, Iowa State still has bowl aspirations. The Cyclones would have to win out to become eligible, but the only ranked team left on their schedule is Oklahoma. "That bowl eligibility is still right there," defensive lineman Brandon Jensen said.
Close games have been a bane for Kansas State all season, too. Two of its four losses have been by four points or fewer, and it led No. 5 Baylor in the second half of a 35-25 loss.
"You just look at how they have played over the course of the year, there are some similarities there between us," Snyder said of the Cyclones. "We have not, in our own right, been good enough to win those ballgames that were there for the taking."