Schedule Analysis: Iowa State

We are a month away from the beginning of fall camps, and two months from the start of the season. With the 2014 season arriving in the not-too-distant future, it’s time for us to break down every Big 12 team’s complete schedule.

Starting in reverse alphabetical order, we continue this series off with the Iowa State Cyclones:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)

Aug. 30: North Dakota State (15-0)

Sept. 13: Iowa (8-5)

Oct. 11: Toledo (7-5)

Big 12 home games

Sept. 6: Kansas State

Sept. 27: Baylor

Nov. 1: Oklahoma

Nov. 22: Texas Tech

Nov. 29: West Virginia

Big 12 road games

Oct. 4: Oklahoma State

Oct. 18: Texas

Nov. 8: Kansas

Dec. 6: TCU

Gut-check time: Early September isn’t usually the time for a critical Big 12 encounter. But Kansas State’s Sept. 6 visit to Ames, Iowa, will be huge for the Cyclones. If ISU hopes to return to a bowl game it will need to win a few games that it will be underdogs in. Beating the Wildcats not only would be a terrific start, but it would create momentum during a September that also features in-state rival Iowa and Baylor.

Trap game: Toledo arrives at Jack Trice Stadium sandwiched between road trips to Oklahoma State and Texas. A mid-October non conference game is just as unusual as an early September Big 12 tilt, so Rhoads’ squad will have to fight the temptation to let up or lose focus after a difficult four-game stretch to start the season. Toledo is good enough to earn the upset if the Cyclones don’t approach the game like a mid-October Big 12 battle.

Snoozer: The Cyclones early November trip to Kansas could end up being an afterthought. If one or both teams are struggling, this game will feature little fanfare, particularly with Oklahoma and Baylor squaring off in Norman, Oklahoma, on the same day. And the Cyclones have won the last four games between the two squads by the average of 19.2 points. Not a lot of reasons to look forward to this one.

Telltale stretch: Assuming the Cyclones can get by North Dakota State, which could be a major assumption, ISU faces a tough September. KSU’s visit is followed by a trip to Iowa and another conference home game against Baylor. Mark Mangino’s offense will need to hit the ground running with no easy games to kick off the 2014 season. A 2-2 record during this stretch would be superb and create terrific momentum as the Cyclones strive to earn a bowl berth. The good news is the Cyclones will spend plenty of time at home during the tough stretch, but KSU and BU will be tough tasks regardless of venue.

Final analysis: If ISU can survive the Big 12’s toughest opening stretch of games with a .500 record, Rhoads should be feeling good about his squad and its response to its 2013 struggles. Three or more wins heading its Oct. 18 trip to Austin, Texas, to battle the Longhorns would make three more wins in the final six games against UT, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU appear realistic. It's a unforgiving schedule if ISU's new offense struggles to get going from the outset.