Going into Thursday night, Iowa State was returning nine starters on offense and five starters on defense, coming off their first bowl win since 2004.
However, they also had the third toughest schedule in all of college football, including at No. 9 Iowa, K-State in Kansas City, No. 24 Utah, at No. 5 Texas, at No. 7 Oklahoma, and No. 8 Nebraska at home.
Most people were looking down, seeing a good Cyclone team wouldn't get the chance to go bowling this winter because of this brutal schedule.
Late Thursday night, heads were turned. Sure, Ohio State, Miami, and USC got the highlights on ESPN, but the state of Iowa knows what they have right now.
Austen Arnaud showed a ton of improvement from last year, completing over 75 percent of his passes and running for a touchdown. Alexander Robinson hasn't missed a step from his 1,000-yard year last year, rushing for 97 yards, including a 60-plus-yard prance to the end zone.
Five Cyclones caught three or more balls, and the Iowa State defense, surprisingly, bent but only broke once. Ten points against a potential All-American running back in Chad Spann? We'll take it—especially with a solid Iowa State offense.
I've said it for weeks/months now, but 403 yards and a 27-10 victory later, people are starting to look. If you aren't, start looking now. If anyone so much as thinks that Iowa is going to walk all over ISU next Saturday, then you are naive, or didn't watch the game, or you're just a stubborn Hawkeye fan.
"Congrats, you just beat a MAC team by 17..." This coming from the fans that root for the team that beat the FCS Northern Iowa Panthers by one and the Arkansas State Red Wolves by three? Oh well, that's another story for another time.
Iowa State's efficient, balanced, and successful offense against Iowa's two new linebackers and two inexperienced cornerbacks. Yes, Iowa has the best defensive line in America and an All-American in Tyler Sash. That's not the entire defense.
Iowa State's defense vs. Iowa's offense? ISU's defense looked surprisingly good last night. Now, obviously DeMarcus Grady is no Ricky Stanzi and the Northern Illinois Huskies are no top-10 team, but if Iowa State's defense bends but doesn't break, don't be shocked if the score of this next game is closer than you'd expect.
But aside from Saturday, Thursday showed me a lot of things. Austen Arnaud HAS improved. Alexander Robinson is arguably the best running back in the Big 12.
The Cyclones have a very talented group of wide receivers, and the offensive line could use a little bit of improvement, but they'll be fine.
But what startled me the most was Iowa State's defense. Sad to say it, but they reminded me of an Iowa Hawkeye defense—bending, but not breaking; giving them all the yardage they want but stopping them at the goal line.
I think that perfectly complements Iowa State's soon-to-be high scoring offense. This Iowa State ball club is a poor man's version of the 2009 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Yes, the schedule is tough, but I could see eight wins coming. Sure, there are four top-10 teams on the schedule. But all of them are beatable and all of them have a weakness somewhere.
Iowa's? Two new starting linebackers, an inexperienced offensive line, and Ricky Stanzi. The Utah Utes? For all we know, Pitt could have been vastly overrated. Texas? Anything can happen. Colt McCoy is gone. Oklahoma? Last time ISU played the Sooners, they almost upset them, losing 17-7 back in 2007. Nebraska? Does eight picks and a win coming out of Lincoln ring a bell?
Yes, I am a Cyclone fan. But after last night's victory, there is tons of room for optimism. No one expected the 2007 Kansas Jayhawks to go 12-1 and make it to the Orange Bowl. But one thing is for sure...
Next Saturday in Iowa City is going to be a slugfest.