2011 was a magical season for both Baylor and Iowa State.
The Bears won 10 games for only the second time in school history, and quarterback Robert Griffin III captured the Heisman. The Cyclones toppled second-ranked Oklahoma State late in the season to become bowl eligible for just the second time in six years.
But as Baylor and Iowa State prepare to play each other Saturday, both programs are on the verge of taking a step back.
After falling to Texas for the first time in three seasons, the Bears have opened the Big 12 with three losses. The Cyclones, meanwhile, were hammered by three touchdowns at Oklahoma State last weekend to drop to 1-3 in the conference.
Whoever loses Saturday in Jack Trice Stadium will be in danger of missing out on a coveted bowl game.
“We got to win six games minimum, so we’re halfway there,” said Baylor coach Art Briles. “We just have to keep fighting, keep scratching.”
Ranked third in scoring nationally, the Baylor offense has been more than good enough to win every one of its games. But the defense has been a disaster, surrendering at least 49 points in all three losses. The Bears rank last in the FBS in both scoring and total defense.
“We’ve been extremely close on two of our last three ball games," Briles said. "We just haven’t made plays at the end, haven’t gotten the breaks during the course of the game that determine the outcome.
"But you know, our towel is certainly still strapped over our shoulder."
The Cyclones have had the opposite problem. Spearheaded by linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, the Iowa State defense has been stout most of the season. But the Cyclones have struggled to score points, shuffling between quarterbacks Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz to little avail.
“Sitting here at 1-3 in the league is not a place we’d like to be,” said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. “We’ve had three seasons of three Big 12 wins, and we’d like to pass that. We’ve got five more opportunities and we’ll just see what we can do with them.”
There’s still time for Baylor and Iowa State to salvage their seasons, and take the steps forward they hoped to. But to get there, both desperately need a victory this weekend.
“We haven’t taken that step yet,” Rhoads said. “A lot of that talk was generated by myself, because we’re getting to a point internally that’s what we’d like to see ourselves do.
“We just got to keep competing and see if we can’t take that proverbial next step.”