Best- and worst-case scenario: Iowa State

Time for the next in our series on the best- and worst-case scenarios for each team in the Big 12.

Iowa State's looking for a leap in a wide-open league this season. What would that look like? Let's have a closer look.

Other best- and worst-case scenarios.

AMES, Iowa -- Going 3-0 in nonconference play is always the key, and Iowa State's scheduling philosophy almost never makes it easy. That was the case this season, but the Cyclones won dramatic games against Iowa and Tulsa to reach Big 12 play with a spotless record and a good chunk of votes in the top 25 poll.

That gave way to one of the most anticipated games of the year in Ames, and the Cyclones beat Texas to pull off a huge Thursday night upset to crack the top 20 and move to 4-0. The difficulty of playing on the road brought Iowa State back to Earth in consecutive weeks. West Virginia learned how hard it can be to make trips to face quality Texas teams in consecutive weeks last season. Iowa State dropped road games to Texas Tech and Baylor, but Sam Richardson clearly showed promise, ensuring the quarterback spot wouldn't be questioned for the next three seasons.

James White and DeVondrick Nealy got loose against Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys exacted revenge in their first game in Ames since a crushing 2011 loss that ended their national title hopes. The Cyclones bounced back with a win against Kansas State on the road a week later, but TCU's defense suffocated Iowa State in Ames to drop the Cyclones to 5-4 with three games to play. Bowl eligibility didn't happen in Norman a week later, but the Cyclones celebrated a big win over Kansas at home to qualify for their fourth bowl game in five years under Paul Rhoads. West Virginia's offense didn't have the kind of day it needed to deny Iowa State a big road win and its seventh of the season, giving Iowa State its best regular-season record of Rhoads' tenure, despite looking like a team undergoing a rebuilding effort. That landed the Cyclones in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.


Worst-case scenario

AMES, Iowa -- You heard all offseason about the Big 12's depth, and with a lot of good teams and a lot of close games somebody had to be victimized. Iowa State's wishing it was someone else.

The importance of going 3-0 in nonconference play when you're a fringe bowl team can't be overstated, but a 1-2 record out of conference is essentially a guarantee that the postseason is out of reach. The Cyclones have never had a winning record in Big 12 play under Paul Rhoads, but a stumbling start with losses on the road at Tulsa and at home against Iowa demanded one if Iowa State was going to reach a bowl game.

The Cyclones jumped out to a 10-3 lead against Texas, but the Longhorns' bruising running game was too much in the second half. Road trips to Baylor and Texas Tech had similar results, and all of a sudden, Iowa State was staring a 1-5 record in the face.

The Cyclone D kept Oklahoma State in check in a near upset a week later, but the Cowboys escaped Ames with a win on a last-second field goal. ISU matched K-State's running game shot for shot a week later, but the Wildcats took control late in the fourth quarter and sent Iowa State home with a 1-7 record, officially eliminating the Cyclones from bowl contention.

TCU and Oklahoma held off strong efforts from the Cyclones, who finally broke through a week later with a win over Kansas to reach 2-9. A road loss to West Virginia brought a forgettable season to a merciful end. In a wide-open Big 12, there are lots of winnable games. The problem: Just as many games are losable, and in a worst-case scenario, you could theoretically lose them all. Besides Northern Iowa, ISU just doesn't have any guaranteed wins on its schedule.