AMES, Iowa (AP) - Few teams in the FBS have embraced the concept of a soft non-conference schedule quite like Texas Tech.
The Red Raiders have beaten up FCS school Northwestern State, FBS newcomer Texas State and perennial Mountain West doormat New Mexico on their way to a 3-0 start that, judged strictly by the numbers, is the most impressive in the country.
Texas Tech is first nationally in total defense, second in total offense and among the top 25 in a whopping 12 different statistical categories.
But even coach Tommy Tuberville knows that Saturday night’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State (3-0) will represent the first true challenge for his team.
“I think we’ll get a much tougher test the next nine weeks than what we have had,” Tuberville said. “It’s good to have some success. I think our guys are building confidence. The reality will set in in terms of what we are getting ready to get into.”
There have been plenty of times in recent years when Iowa State wasn’t much of a step up from the likes of Texas State or the Lobos.
In 2012, these Cyclones look like they can play.
Iowa State, like the Red Raiders, won its first three games ahead of a rather fortuitous bye week to prepare for the Big 12. But the Cyclones have had a much tougher road so far, beating Tulsa at home and rival Iowa on the road before an easy victory over Western Illinois of the FCS.
Iowa State is off to its second straight 3-0 start behind a defense that hasn’t given up a touchdown in back-to-back games for the first time since the mid-1960s. The Cyclones are ninth nationally in scoring defense at 10.7 points per game, just three spots behind the surprisingly stout Red Raiders.
But Iowa State whiffed badly in this exact spot in 2011.
The Cyclones had a bye week and a home game to open the Big 12, but Texas raced out to a 34-0 halftime lead and an easy 37-14 victory. That blowout set the table for a month’s worth of losses for Iowa State, which later recovered to earn a bowl bid.
“We laid an egg,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “We can’t do that again.”
Texas Tech and Iowa State might be the most unlikely matchup of top-10 defense anyone could have ever imagined.
But according to recent history, it’ll take at least 40 points scored to win on Saturday night.
The winner of the last five meetings between the Red Raiders and Cyclones has cracked the 40-point barrier. Last season, Iowa State stunned a Tech team coming off a road win over then-No. 3 Oklahoma with a 41-7 blowout in Lubbock.
The Cyclones also won in 2010, 52-38, even though they allowed their most points in a conference victory.
Rhoads expects similar fireworks out of the Red Raiders this season with quarterback Seth Doege. He’s completed nearly 75 percent of his pass attempts for 12 touchdowns against one interception.
“They’re a very explosive football team…without a doubt it’s the best offense they’ve had since (Tuberville’s) arrival,” Rhoads said. “They’ve got potentially an all-league quarterback in a league that has the best quarterbacks in the country and they’ve got a number of receivers to spread the ball around to.”
The Cyclones haven’t been quite as prolific as Texas Tech on either side of the ball. But they’ve been challenged much more than the Red Raiders have.
The Cyclones beat Tulsa at home and Iowa on the road as slight underdogs, which they’ll be yet again on Saturday night. But they’ll have the advantage of a raucous home crowd and the experience that’s come from a pair of a wins that weren’t decided until the fourth quarter.
Many of the Red Raiders haven’t seen a meaningful snap in the second half yet.
“It’s not going to be, go play two quarters and then get taken out. It’s going to be a four-quarter game, and they are a very physical team. It’s going to be loud,” Doege said.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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