- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

AMES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa State insists that its schedule has been the strongest in the country so far.

The Cyclones need to prove they’re better than their 1-4 record suggests in their final non-conference matchup.

Iowa State (1-4, 0-3 Big 12) hosts Toledo (4-2, 3-0 MAC) on Saturday, a game pushed back so its matchup with Kansas State could fit into a more favorable broadcasting window earlier in the year.

The Cyclones’ first five opponents are currently 22-3, a winning percentage that’s tops in the FBS. Their losses were to the No. 1 Florida State (Oklahoma State), No. 2 Auburn (Kansas State) - and Iowa State beat Iowa in Iowa City.

Three of Iowa State’s losses were to Top 25 teams. The fourth came against North Dakota State, the top-ranked team in the FCS.

“We’ve battled them all. We’re not a program that backs down from any of our opponents. We’re hoping it has toughened us up, we’re hoping it’s thickened our skin. We’re hoping the development that has taken place and the improvement that has taken place will pay off in these next seven games,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.

It’ll have to.

Iowa State must finish 5-2 just to have a chance to fulfill Rhoads’ preseason goal of a “postseason victory.”

Falling to the Rockets will make doing so all but impossible.

Toledo isn’t too bad, either. The Rockets have won three in a row, including a 20-19 overtime win at Western Michigan last week in poor conditions. Toledo is atop the West Division of the Mid-American Conference and is 17th in the country with 516 yards of offense per game.

Here are some of the key factors to consider with Iowa State in a must-win position against Toledo.

IN THE HUNT: Iowa State will catch a break if Toledo star running back Kareem Hunt can’t play. Hunt is averaging 8.9 yards per carry, but he’s listed as questionable with a foot injury after missing the past two games. Hunt has seven TDs on just 59 carries this season - including a 148-yard, three-TD performance against Missouri. “If Kareem can play, I’d love to play him,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “He is getting better. That’s the positive. He’s starting to move around more and do some different things.”

CYCLONES PASSING: Iowa State’s passing game has been hampered by season-ending injuries to Quenton Bundrage and P.J. Harris. True freshmen Allen Lazard and Jauan Wesley are being counted on to play significant snaps, and quarterback Sam Richardson was just 17 of 39 passing in last week’s loss to Oklahoma State. “Some younger guys have been thrown into the fire there and that’s tough for them. I couldn’t imagine being a true freshman trying to play like that,” quarterback Sam Richardson said.

WOODSIDE’S TIME: Toledo lost junior quarterback Phillip Ely for the year to a knee injury in a loss to Missouri on Sept. 6. Logan Woodside has thrown for 1,075 and seven TDs with three picks in place of Ely, and he threw for 322 yards against Cincinnati.

THRILLING SERIES: Iowa State and Toledo have only played twice, but each game was a thriller. The Cyclones opened the 2006 season with a 45-43, triple-overtime win in Ames - and the Rockets paid them back a year later in Toledo, winning 36-35. Odds makers are anticipating anther close one, as Iowa State is just a 2 ½-point favorite.

ROCKET POWER: First-year Iowa State running backs coach Louis Ayeni spent the past four seasons at Toledo and has warned the Cyclones not to underestimate the Rockets. “He said he knows a lot of guys on the team. He really likes them. They’re all scrappers. They’ll come to fight,” Iowa State tackle Jake Campos said.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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