AMES, IOWA (AP) - It's been a long time since the eyes of the Big 12 were fixated on Iowa State.
The Cyclones (3-0) and their promising new quarterback, Steele Jantz, host No. 17 Texas (3-0) on Saturday night in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
It promises to be one of the biggest home games in recent memory for the Cyclones, who beat the Longhorns last season for the first time in eight tries. Do it again, and Iowa State could be looking at their first Top 25 appearance in six years and their first 4-0 start since 2000.
"To be 3-0 at the end of that very challenging schedule has certainly done a lot for our confidence," said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, now in his third year.
The caveat to all that enthusiasm in Ames is something Rhoads said he can "feel through the film" watching the Longhorns.
Texas is starting to play like Texas again.
The Cyclones weren't the only team that upset and surprised the Longhorns last year. The result was a 5-7 record, the same as Iowa State, and sweeping changes for the program.
About all that's left of the coaching staff is the man on top, coach Mack Brown, and the usual array of talent that seems to be gelling into a unit that can contend for another Big 12 title.
After escaping with a 17-16 win over BYU, Texas went to the Rose Bowl and pounded UCLA, another team that stunned them in Austin last season. Next up on the revenge tour is Iowa State.
The Longhorns plan to play both sophomore quarterback Case McCoy and freshman David Ash against the Cyclones. McCoy, the younger brother of former Texas star Colt McCoy, was 12-of-15 passing for 168 yards and two TDs against the Bruins and appears to have to lot in common with his brother, now starting in Cleveland.
"Not much bothers him. He's got some of those intangibles that his brother," Brown said.
Iowa State's got a playmaker of their own in Jantz, a junior college transfer.
Jantz has been wildly inconsistent for the Cyclones, but he's also 3-for-3 in fourth-quarter comebacks.
Jantz has thrown for six touchdowns against six picks, including three in the first quarter of a 24-20 win at Connecticut on Sept. 16. But he threw and ran for late TDs in a wild opening-game win over Northern Iowa, was named the Big 12's offensive player of the week after beating rival Iowa in triple overtime and threw the decisive TD pass in the fourth quarter on a hurt foot to hold off the Huskies.
Texas will look to force Jantz into making mistakes, then make sure he doesn't have any time for a comeback.
"The thing is, he can hurt us with his feet by extending plays, but at the same time he can help us because when something is not there, he'll start to panic and he'll look for making a play when a play is not there," Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson said. "And that's when we can get turnovers and make big plays on defense."
The Cyclones are expecting their third consecutive full house on Saturday night and are poised to set a record for their highest attendance through three home games.
Ticket sales are just one indication of the buzz Iowa State fans feel about the encouraging start, a welcome respite from all that talk about the Cyclones being left without a home when the Big 12 was on the brink of potential collapse.
Still, these aren't the same Longhorns the Cyclones rolled past a year ago.
"There's a different energy with their ballclub. You can see from snap through whistle," Rhoads said. "They're playing fast offensively. There's a lot of movement to what they're doing. They're playing with great enthusiasm on defense, having some success with pressure and turnovers. Even without being in the stadium or hearing the sound, you can see the energy in their football team."
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