Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer 441d

Schedule analysis: Iowa State Cyclones

Over the next two weeks, we’ll preview the upcoming schedules for each Big 12 team.

The series continues with Iowa State:

Nonconference opponents (with 2016 record)

Sept. 2: Northern Iowa (5-6)

Sept 9: Iowa (8-5)

Sept. 16: at Akron (5-7)

Big 12 home games

Sept. 28: Texas (5-7)

Oct. 14: Kansas (2-10)

Oct. 28 TCU (6-7)

Nov. 11: Oklahoma State (10-3)

Big 12 road games

Oct. 7: at Oklahoma (11-2)

Oct. 21: at Texas Tech (5-7)

Nov. 4: at West Virginia (10-3)

Nov. 18: at Baylor (7-6)

Nov. 25: at Kansas State (9-4)

Gut-check time: Let’s start early. The Cyclones have defeated Iowa in Ames just once in the past nine seasons. The annual Cy-Hawk game often sets the tone for the season. A year ago, the Hawkeyes beat Iowa State in every phase -- a sure sign that ISU was not ready to compete at the level desired by coach Matt Campbell. His second shot at Iowa may provide an equal measuring stick, with Iowa State on more even ground.

Trap game: Iowa State blasted Texas Tech 66-10 a year ago in Ames. And for anyone who’s counting wins in the Cyclones’ bid in 2017 to reach bowl eligibility, a Week 8 trip to Lubbock looms large. Iowa State players and coaches can’t allow the 2016 outcome to impact their preparation and create a feeling of overconfidence. The Cyclones have won just once -- ever -- at Texas Tech. A second victory in the series, despite Tech’s shortcomings, won’t come easily.

Snoozer: When the goal of six wins -- and a return to the postseason for the first time since 2012 -- is so clear, you take no victory for granted. Not even against Kansas. Look, the Jayhawks are getting better, too, and Iowa State struggled with Kansas on the road last year. But this is a game that the Cyclones need to win. And one that they should win. Its placement on the schedule after (A) a Thursday night league opener at home against Texas and (B) a trip to Oklahoma leaves Iowa State and its fans open to sleep a bit on Kansas.

Final analysis: The prize of a bowl game is attainable, but Iowa State can’t afford many missteps. An upset would greatly help matters, too. How about throwing more than a Week 9 scare into TCU or playing a solid 60 minutes this year against Baylor? In addition to the challenge against Iowa, the rest of September is tricky and will tell us a lot about Iowa State’s bid to show major improvement behind underrated QB Jacob Park and a solid group of skill players on both sides of the ball.

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