Saturday’s matchup between TCU and Iowa State features a pair of the more surprising teams in college football this season. TCU is off to a 7-0 start and is the No. 4 team in the country, while Iowa State is off to a 5-2 start for the first time in 15 years and finds itself ranked (No. 25 AP Poll) for the first time in 12 years.
Both teams’ season-defining wins came in the state of Oklahoma. The Horned Frogs went to Stillwater to upset the Oklahoma State in late September, while the Cyclones stunned Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in Norman earlier this month.
The Horned Frogs feel good about themselves after absolutely dominating Kansas 43-0 last week, holding KU to 21 total yards of offense and -25 rushing yards. Meantime, the Cyclones went to Lubbock and rolled over the Red Raiders 31-13.
But this weekend begins a defining stretch for both teams as the Big 12 schedule gets tougher moving forward. TCU begins a stretch of three out of four games on the road, while the Iowa State is at West Virginia and will host Oklahoma State after facing the Horned Frogs.
This is just the ninth all-time meeting between these two programs with TCU holding a 7-1 series edge.
TCU at Iowa State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: TCU -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who is scoring?
Iowa State and TCU are tied for first place in scoring defense in the Big 12. Both teams are allowing exactly 15.2 points per game. The two teams have allowed a combined 19 points the past two weeks (yes, they each had the luxury of playing, and shutting out, Kansas, but still).
TCU leads the Big 12 in rushing defense, while Iowa State is third in that category. And against the pass? They are 1-2, with the Cyclones having the edge there. Scoring opportunities could be at a premium in this one, which is something we rarely say about Big 12 matchups. Add to this the weather factor, as the forecast for Ames on Saturday afternoon includes snow, sleet and/or rain.
2. Run to win
Both teams are likely going to try to establish a running game early. If that’s the case, the edge here goes to TCU, who has more depth at the position led by Kyle Hicks (above, right) and Darius Anderson. Hicks and Anderson split the carries last week and the balance should continue moving forward.
Iowa State has a stud in the backfield in David Montgomery, but he’s all the Cyclones have got. Montgomery has carried the ball 49 times the past two weeks and torched Texas Tech’s defense for 5.9 yards per carry.
But what Montgomery brings to the table that the other two don’t possess as much is catching passes out of the backfield. Granted Montgomery has just one catch combined the past two weeks, but he should be utilized more this week on screen plays since TCU’s front seven could make life tough for Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt.
3. TCU defensive line
That brings us to the defining unit in this game, the Horned Frogs’ defensive line, which has been terrorizing opponents all season. Mat Boesen and Ben Banogu lead the way, with redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ross Blacklock helping plug up the middle of the line. TCU has allowed just 2.6 yards per carry this season and its secondary has benefited with four interceptions. The Horned Frogs are plus-five in turnover margin since conference play began, which is tops in the Big 12. Iowa State’s offensive line has been good, but has yet to see this kind of speed in the front seven.
The Horned Frogs are a senior-laden group on a mission and Gary Patterson’s teams always have a chip on their shoulder. This one is no different. Quarterback Kenny Hill has realized he does not need to be a star for this team to succeed and is completing 70 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns to three interceptions. They are not asking too much of him and he’s not trying to do too much.
The only game Iowa State’s offense really struggled was against Texas. That also was the last time we saw Jacob Park at quarterback for the Cyclones. Since then it’s been backup walk-on Kyle Kempt, who doesn’t have Park’s arm strength but has the accuracy and poise that Park often lacked.
However, this TCU front seven has even more speed and talent than the Longhorns, who stifled the Cyclones on a Thursday night in Ames a couple weeks ago. TCU’s size and speed on defense will give Iowa State plenty of trouble on Saturday afternoon, which will ultimately be the difference-maker.
Prediction: TCU 30, Iowa State 21
— Written by Pete Mundo, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as well as owner and operator of HeartlandCollegeSports.com, a site for Big 12 fans. Mundo also is a sports anchor at CBS Sports Radio and can found on Twitter @PeteMundo. Follow Heartland College Sports on Twitter @Heartland_CS.