Cyclones searching for next program peak

Paul Rhoads talks progress at all opportunities. Missouri and Oklahoma State have seen historic success in recent years, putting together the best four-year and three-year stretches in school history.

Baylor, too, is ranked higher than it's been since 1991.

Why not Iowa State?

"Peaks and plateaus," Rhoads likes to say.

No steps back.

That's how programs are built.

Iowa State experienced one of those intoxicating peaks on Saturday, when it beat rival Iowa 44-41 in overtime.

"It just gives you a measuring point," linebacker Jake Knott said of the win. "We know if we can play with them, we can play with pretty much anybody."

Rhoads has helped his team scale that kind of peak before. It beat Big 12 North champion in 2009 without its starting quarterback or running back.

Last year, it beat Texas for the first time in school history.

Both of those landmark wins came on the road.

There's something a little bit different about beating a true school rival and being swarmed by a delirious student body as time expires.

"There’s people crying, there’s people jumping on top of you," Knott said. "You can tell how much this game means to the people in Iowa."

In Ames that night and throughout the week, even more fans stopped Knott to thank him and tell him what Saturday's win meant to them.

It means a lot to the guys inside the locker room, too, especially Iowa natives like Knott and Rhoads.

"[Rhoads] really didn’t have as many words as we’re used to, like he usually does after games," Knott said. "You could kind of tell he was getting emotional about it and that’s what we kind of thrive on as players."

He made sure his team knew how much that win meant. For now, the Cyclones have the title of the best team in the state. How long they hold on to it is up to them.

That peak can be punctuated with a win over UConn tonight on ESPN2 and a 3-0 start.

Want to reach a second bowl game in three years under Rhoads? That's the place to start with a brutal schedule ahead in the Big 12, which currently has five teams in the top 25 and another just outside.

"We’d start getting a little more respect on a national level," Knott said of a win. "It’d help recruiting, it'll help everything and that’s what we need to be going into a really tough conference like the Big 12."

The difference in 2011 so far has been Steele Jantz, a quarterback with an unforgettable name, but one that hasn't reached the peak of the national stage yet. A week after struggling early with three interceptions in a dramatic comeback win over Northern Iowa, he threw for 279 yards and four touchdowns on 25-of-37 passing and ran for 42 more yards, earning Big 12 Player of the Week honors.

"He’s probably the most mellow guy you’ve ever seen in your life," Knott said. "He doesn’t change if he throws a 90-yard touchdown pass or if he throws an interception. Nothing's really changed with him after how he’s been playing recently."

That's a good thing, but for now, Jantz is working toward becoming the team's outspoken leader. He joined the team in the spring from junior college, and has been the team's official starting quarterback for less than a month.

"It’s still kind of a growth process for him," Knott said. "He’s more of a leader by example than anything else."

He can set another example tonight with the reigning Big East champions playing host to the Cyclones.

Iowa State had to go Connecticut to get it, but another peak is waiting.