AMES, Iowa — Take a look Texas Christian University, Iowa State's opponent Saturday for its 101st homecoming game at Jack Trice Stadium, and the Horned Frogs' 2013 season could be considered a prime example of the phrase "close but no cigar."
Much like the Cyclones, TCU (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) has had to battle injuries, losing preseason All-Big 12 quarterback Casey Pachall in its second game and all-conference defensive end Devonte Fields a couple games later, and probably is within a handful of plays from being 6-3 or 7-2.
Five of the Horned Frogs' six losses have seen TCU with the ball and with a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter or tie it and send it to overtime. Only one of the Horned Frogs' six losses have been a blow out — 30-7 by Texas on Oct. 26. Their average margin of defeat in five of those six games is eight.
The Cyclones (1-7, 0-5) know that TCU, losers of three straight, see Saturday as a game that could help make things better.
"Like us a little bit, they are a cornered, injured animal," ISU head coach Paul Rhoads said. "They are going to be awfully hungry for a victory. They're going to sense blood in the water and go after it."
In TCU's camp, head coach Gary Patterson had similar comments about the Cyclones.
"We're obviously not in a place where we'd like to be at this time of year," Patterson said. "This hasn't been a place where we've been in awhile, but we have opportunities to win three ball games. It's kind of a similar situation to Iowa State. Both of us have been banged up. A lot of different people have been out. At this time of year, you get a chance to play for pride."
The Horned Frogs got a boost last week by the return of Pachall. In TCU's overtime loss to West Virginia last week, Pachall completed 40 of 58 passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns.
Pachall replaced Trevone Boykin at quarterback, with Boykin moving to wide receiver and hauling in 11 passes for 100 yards against the Mountaineers.
"There is more athleticism with Boykin, but I think Pachall has the throwing accuracy and game day experience," Rhoads said. "I think anytime you are dealing with a quarterback like Pachall that has won so many games you have a guy that concerns you. He's a good football player."
Pachall has passed for more than 4,600 yards while starting 20 games in his Horned Frog career.
While Pachall gives the Horned Frog offense a boost with his return, TCU's defense, which has also been hit by injuries, is led by cornerback Jason Verrett.
The Horned Frogs are on pace to become the first Big 12 team since Nebraska in 1996 to lead the conference in sacks and interceptions. TCU leads the Big 12 with 26 sacks and has intercepted 17 passes.
"Defensively, they are a little different than they were last year," running back Jeff Woody said. "As much as their offense has struggled like ours, their defense has kept them in games. It is going to be a tough job for us to get going just because of how sound they are fundamentally."
ISU heads into the game with a question mark on whom will start the game at quarterback. Sam Richardson has started the first eight games while redshirt freshman Grant Rohach was listed as No. 1 on the depth chart Monday.
"Yeah," said Woody if the team has confidence in either quarterback. "It is going to be determined (the starter) a lot by practice and seeing what they guys do in practice. Usually you have a good feel of how they are doing in practice and heading into the game."
It would be Rohach's first career start after making relief appearances in each of the last three games. But he feels prepared and is excited about the chance to start.
"Any quarterback relishes the chance to start," Rohach said. "It would be nice to get the start. Absolutely I feel ready and prepared."
ISU will get a boost offensively as junior Jacob Gannon will start at quick tackle bolstering a beleaguered unit, and leading rusher Aaron Wimberly is expected to play after missing the last two games because of a hamstring injury.