AMES, Iowa (AP) — At one time, Oklahoma's early November trip to Iowa State might have looked like a potential upset that could turn the playoff picture upside down.
The Sooners will need to do a lot more than beat the lowly Cyclones on Thursday night to even think they can reach football's Final Four.
But a loss would put No. 12 Oklahoma's only realistic remaining goal, a Big 12 title, in serious jeopardy.
The Sooners (6-2, 5-0 Big 12, No. 14 CFP ) have recovered well enough for an ugly 1-2 start to put themselves in position to win yet another league title.
And while visiting Ames to play Iowa State (1-7, 0-5) still looks somewhat dangerous on paper, the reasons why Cyclones haven't beaten Oklahoma at home in decades remain in play.
Iowa State has talent at the skill positions and in the secondary. But the Cyclones have yet to learn how to win under first-year coach Matt Campbell.
Iowa State has led at halftime in three of its five Big 12 games. It has also been within seven points three times in the conference, but its inability to close teams out has doomed the Cyclones to a seventh straight losing season.
“They're a team that plays hard,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “We've got to be at our best here on a short week.”
Here are some of the keys to consider as Oklahoma goes on the road in search of its sixth straight win:
The Sooners will head to Ames short-handed in the running game. Samaje Perine is expected to miss the trip with a pulled leg muscle, and Joe Mixon was suspended for the game after violating team rules. Those two have combined for 1,188 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Freshman Abdul Adams, who had 91 yards in a 56-3 blowout of Kansas on Saturday, will likely get the start for Oklahoma.
LANNING OR PARK?
Quarterback Jacob Park got the majority of the snaps for Iowa State in last weekend's 31-26 home loss to Kansas State . But Joel Lanning is expected to make the start yet again for the Cyclones. Park threw for 301 yards against the Wildcats, but Iowa State put itself in a 21-point hole it couldn't escape from. “The toughest part of that to swallow is the consistency of play that's needed to win football games. I put that on myself, our coaches,” Campbell said.
ON THE DEFENSIVE
Oklahoma's defense is 93rd nationally with 437.5 yards allowed per game. But after allowing 854 yards in a win over Texas Tech, the Sooners allowed just 170 on 65 plays against the Jayhawks. “Much different than the week before in our ability to make competitive plays, challenge passes,” Stoops said.
Iowa State's scoring defense (32.4 points per game) is actually lower than Oklahoma's by a tenth of a point. But the Cyclones are last in the Big 12 in rushing defense at 233.6 yards per game, so if there's one game the Sooners can afford to be without Perine and Mixon it might be this one.
BIG 12 RACE
With Baylor and West Virginia up next, Oklahoma could possibly lock up the Big 12's last title without a championship game a full two weeks before facing rival Oklahoma State at home. The Cowboys are 4-1 in the league and their next three opponents; Kansas State, Texas Tech and TCU, are just a combined 13-11.