A closer look: AutoZone Liberty Bowl

As the bowl season approaches, we're going to be looking a little closer at each game. We'll go down the Big 12 bowl schedule in chronological order.


Iowa State (6-6) vs. Tulsa (10-3)

Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.

When: Monday, Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. ET


About Iowa State: The Cyclones have made their mark in big-time upsets on an annual basis, it seems. Iowa State announced its intentions to make a bowl run with an upset win over then-No. 15 TCU on the road, though it was a wounded Frogs team without quarterback Casey Pachall. The Cyclones once again reached 3-0 in conference play with wins over Tulsa to open the season and rival Iowa in Iowa City for the first time in a decade. The Cyclones battled inconsistency at quarterback all season long, but Steele Jantz topped 400 yards of total offense and threw five touchdown passes in a win over Baylor that ultimately proved to be the difference in Iowa State's bowl run. The Cyclone clinched it this year with a four-touchdown win on the road against Kansas. It's not quite as dramatic as last year's double-overtime upset over No. 2 Oklahoma State, but it'll work. Another year, another unlikely bowl game for the Cyclones, who are one of nine Big 12 teams to reach the Big 12, but the only one to do so with a 6-6 record.

About Tulsa: Only one conference champion will face a Big 12 team in a bowl, and that's these Golden Hurricane. Tulsa beat UCF in overtime to capture the Conference USA title, and went 7-1 in league play with the only loss coming to SMU. The Golden Hurricane blew a lead in the opener on the road at Iowa State and narrowly lost at Arkansas, but finished undefeated at home at Skelly Stadium. That's an astounding four 10-win seasons in six years for Tulsa, which will try to reach 11 and avenge the loss to Iowa State.

Cyclones to watch: Two you won't be watching? The team's leading rusher, Shontrelle Johnson (knee) and arguably its best linebacker, Jake Knott (shoulder), who are done for the season. Still, A.J. Klein is an All-Big 12 first-teamer and James White is an experienced fill-in for Johnson, and both need big games for Iowa State to earn just the fourth bowl win in school history. Freshman quarterback Sam Richardson took over late and showed promise. The team's most talented receiver Josh Lenz, who caught six touchdowns among his 29 grabs for 430 yards this season. Safety Durrell Givens proved his worth as a big-play ballhawk, too. He's picked off three passes and forced four fumbles.

Golden Hurricane to watch: For Tulsa, it all starts with its three backs: Trey Watts, Ja'Terian Douglas and Alex Singleton. Singleton racked up a crazy 21 rushing touchdowns, but the trio combined for 2,581 rushing yards this season to carry Tulsa to a league title. Nebraska transfer Cody Green, who Big 12 fans surely remember as a high-profile signee and one-time starter for the Huskers, threw for 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, racking up 2,499 yards but completed just over 54 percent of his passes. Linebacker DeAundre Brown made 125 tackles, which would have led the Big 12, and added 17 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Iowa State would be well served to make sure to know where he is on every snap.

Did you know? Iowa State played in this bowl game just once: Exactly 40 years ago back in 1972. The Cyclones went for two points and the win against Georgia Tech, but the gamble failed, and Iowa State lost. The final score: 31-30. Sound familiar? That is pure insanity.