Jalen Hurts

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts during the Iowa State vs. Oklahoma game Nov. 9.

The Big 12 Conference has long been wash-rinse-repeat.

With five straight Big 12 titles dating back to 2015, Oklahoma has largely taken control of the conference, with teams vying every season to try and topple the Sooners' chances of returning to the top of the Big 12. Those attempts have proven futile over the last five seasons no matter who emerged as a second contender.

But many watching the conference from the outside through the first week of the season aren't too sure about this year's Sooners. After a 38-35 loss to Kansas State on Saturday, many Oklahoma media and national pundits have real concerns about the Sooners' outlook in 2020. 

Even though the Sooners that walk into Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday may have fallen in the national rankings, to No. 18 in the nation to be exact, and sit in a tie for last place in the Big 12 heading into week two of conference play, the last thing the Cyclones are doing is overlooking them. 

Head Coach Matt Campbell and the Cyclones don't see the Sooners as vulnerable prey they can take out, rather, a team that deserves respect for what they have accomplished up to this point, no matter if a setback or two came their way.

But do the Cyclones feel the gap is closing between them and the Sooners and have confidence they can walk away victorious Saturday? Even with close games against Oklahoma in recent years, Campbell hesitated to say the Cyclones or any team in the conference were close to that level just yet.

“I think it’s really hard to say anybody in this conference right now is close to Oklahoma,” Campbell said.

The Sooners may not be blowing Big 12 teams out on a regular basis like in years past, but as close as the games may get, winning is winning for Campbell. 

“Winning is winning, it doesn’t matter how you do it, how you cut it or how you slice it," Campbell said.

Kyler Murray

Linebacker Jake Hummel tries to stop former quarterback Kyler Murray of the Oklahoma Sooners from running any further Sept. 15, 2018, during their game at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones lost 27-37.

A large part of the continued success for Lincoln Riley and the Sooners is a steady stream of Heisman Trophy-caliber quarterback play. The list is a good one, with names like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts all leading the Sooners to prominence.

But for the 2020 season, a highly recruited five-star, redshirt freshman quarterback has entered the spotlight for the Sooners. And his name is Spencer Rattler.

Rattler fits the mold of the most recent Sooners' quarterbacks, dual threat with the ability to use his legs to extend plays, along with a big arm to take the deep shots Oklahoma is used to. Despite the similarities to Murray or Hurts, Campbell said Rattler's limited playing time for the Sooners is more of a challenge for the Cyclone defense to figure out what to prepare for.

Arm strength was the first thing that came to Campbell's mind when it came to Rattler, with the redshirt freshman quarterback showing flashes of big time throws Oklahoma wants. Through two games, Rattler has led the Sooners to have good rhythm and big point totals, something Campbell has been wanting from Iowa State since the season began.

Sean Foster has been a key member of Iowa State's offensive line through the first two games of the season, as one of only two linemen with tons of playing experience that returned up front in 2020.

Now in his redshirt senior year at Iowa State, he has seen where the Cyclones have been in years past compared to the Sooners and said the prospect of people saying the gap is closing is an honor.

Joel Lanning fans

Joel Lanning high-fives fans after arriving back in Ames on Oct. 7, 2017, following Iowa State's 38-31 win over Oklahoma.

“For us to even be mentioned in that topic of getting close [to Oklahoma], that’s a big honor for all of us because we know what it was like my freshman year, you could say that Iowa State was kind of like the laughing stock of the Big 12," Foster said.

Even with Oklahoma sitting 0-1 in Big 12 play to start the year, Foster said the Cyclones' only goal is to have a good week of practice and try and beat Oklahoma. The idea of eliminating them from a possible Big 12 crown or College Football Playoff isn't a concern for Foster and his teammates. The priority is winning one game.

Iowa State and No. 18 Oklahoma kick off at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. The game will be televised on ABC.

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