Big stage vs. Longhorns: ISU's most important

I wasn't sure what to expect from the Iowa State faithful when I asked what their most important game in 2012 was, but I wasn't surprised to see a rivalry game against an average at best Iowa team earn 32 percent of the vote.

The biggest earner, however, was Iowa State's Thursday night game against Texas, which received 36 percent of the vote.

The Cyclones' home game against Oklahoma State was in third with 17 percent of the vote, but I was surprised Tulsa (nine percent) and Kansas (six percent) didn't earn a bit more of the vote.

Me? I'm with the fans on this one. Iowa State needs big wins and needs exposure, and it will get both in a Thursday night game against Texas. I've said for a long time that Jack Trice Stadium is an underrated venue, and it will be on display on national television against the Longhorns.

Can the team hold up its end of the bargain? I remember back in 2011 the Cyclones raced to a 3-0 start with three fourth-quarter comebacks led by quarterback Steele Jantz, and hosted a top 20 Texas team. It got rocked, trailing 34-0 at halftime of the 37-14 loss. That kind of thing can't happen this season. It took the air out of the stadium in Ames, and did more harm than good.

Looking back on that adds some gravity to the Cyclones' game. Yes, it's an opportunity, but it's a risk, too. Texas could come to Ames undefeated, and a lopsided loss gives everyone in the Big 12 and the country reason to dismiss ISU as a program to respect.

Win, and that's another win against a top 10 team on Paul Rhoads' resume, and a chance for ISU to earn a reputation as a team capable of building beyond just six and seven-win seasons, and taking that famed "next step" as a program. A win against Texas could be the key to making that happen, and to me, that makes it the most important game of 2013.