Iowa State team huddle

Before the game against Kansas State on Nov. 21 at Jack Trice Stadium, Iowa State kneels for a team huddle at one of the end zones.

I've been hesitant to write this column all season long.

It's with good reason. Sure, Iowa State beat Oklahoma in a shootout at home. Yes, it hung tough with Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Heck, it needed a second half comeback to overtake Baylor under the lights.

None of that mattered. In order for the 17th-ranked Cyclones to officially arrive, they needed to put together the best game of the season from start to finish in not September or October, but November.

And they answered every call.

Five touchdowns on six first-half drives turned what was supposed to be a close contest against Kansas State Saturday night into a 45-0 route at Jack Trice Stadium.

Iowa State (6-2, 6-1 Big 12) starts the year four games above .500 for the first time since 2000. Twenty years ago, that team finished 9-3 and won the Insight Bowl.

There's plenty of reason to believe the 2020 version of the Cyclones can and will go farther.

"We took a positive step, all good football teams want to play good football in November," Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell said. "I've seen a lot of positive growth. Can you continue to get better? I think you see us improving and that part is really big.

"The real challenge is can continue to do those things."

Let me pause for a quick moment. Raise your hand if you were ready to throw the season away after the loss to Louisiana?

Yeah, all of you keep them raised. Thank goodness a season isn't defined by one game.

Because a season is defined by who you face in your conference, and it is clear that Iowa State is a top-two team in the Big 12.

And for once, it was easy breezy from start to finish.

This third set of three-game pods was allegedly the pod that would give the Cyclones the most fits. After all, the three foes had a combined record of 12-7 and each one of them had a chance to be in the Big 12 Championship game.

And it's worth noting Kansas State, despite the COVID-19 issues at linebacker and, really, the entire team, was still coming in fairly confident after losing by just two points against Oklahoma State.

Breece Hall K-State

Iowa State running back Breece Hall evades a Kansas State defender during the game between the Cyclones and the Wildcats on Nov. 21 at Jack Trice Stadium.

None of that mattered on a chilly Saturday-before-Thanksgiving night.

Junior quarterback Brock Purdy came out firing to his plethora of weapons on the outside that have grown and grown each game. And ole reliable Charlie Kolar was sprinkled in, too.

His favorite play call from offensive coordinator Tom Manning has to be a run-pass option that has Xavier Hutchinson as the top option.

"I think Brock kind of trusted me a little bit throughout practice," Hutchinson said. "That kind of showed today. I didn't want to let down the quarterback."

Breece Hall continued his torrid pace with another 100-yard, multi-touchdown game. Yes, he needs an invite to New York as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.

Mike Rose had yet another interception while the defense forced a quarterback change for the Wildcats in the final two minutes of the first half, had a turnover margin of plus-three and was on fire all 60 minutes en route to the first shutout since 2017.

There's no one with even one working eye that can look at this group and not say this is the best team over the last two decades Iowa State has put on the gridiron.

"We got to work harder than everyone no matter what," offensive linemen Sean Foster said. "At the end of the day, if we're working hard, that just gives us an opportunity."

Is this the most talented team in the history of Iowa State? Campbell wouldn't give a definitive answer.

"I don't know if it's a finished product," Campbell said.

Maybe more important was that this win will give the Cyclones that head-to-head tiebreaker for the second spot over Oklahoma and Kansas State. Yet, it is not time to pop champagne.

Mike Rose and Anthony Johnson Jr

Iowa State linebacker Mike Rose and defensive back Anthony Johnson Jr. attempt to bring down Kansas State wide receiver Chabastin Taylor during the game between the Cyclones and Wildcats on Nov. 21 at Jack Trice Stadium. 

A short week on the road against Texas is going to be the biggest game of Iowa State's season. Plus, the Longhorns game against TCU was postponed to Dec. 12 due to COVID-19.

And in order for things to really fall into place, Oklahoma State would have to beat Oklahoma in Bedlam late on Saturday in order to create a win-and-you're-in situation on a short week.

"This is going to be one of the great challenges we've had as a program since we've been here," Campbell said. "This is going to be really hard and yet, you feel like that's what you want this time of year; hard, tough challenges that are defining of who you are and who you become.

"The next six days are going to challenge just about everything we're about."

While Iowa State is going to be licking at least minor wounds over the next 24 hours, Texas and Sam Ehlinger will be minty fresh heading into Friday night in Austin, Texas.

If the Cyclones can overcome the Longhorns, champagne will be popped and they can begin an early celebration of the best season in program history.

After what happened in Week 8, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn't believe Iowa State won't be in Dallas in mid-December.

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