WACO, Texas — Close is only a good thing in horseshoes.
In every one of its four losses this season the Iowa State University football team has been close. That doesn't make the Cyclones (1-4, 0-2 Big 12) feel any better about their season, which will reach its midpoint Saturday when ISU travels to face 12th-ranked Baylor (5-0, 2-0) in the Bears' 90th homecoming game.
Cyclone head coach Paul Rhoads feels his team deserves more, but wouldn't say ISU's 1-4 start can be chalked up to bad luck.
In fact, Rhoads and his staff won't let their team use that term as a crutch to explain why the Cyclones have won just one game.
"I wish people luck, so it's not something like I never use that word," Rhoads responded when asked if the Cyclones have been the recipients of a lot of bad luck. "In our sport you are talking about hard work and the opportunity that goes with that. That is what we are concentrating on."
The Cyclones believe they are a good team with a lot of things left out there for them to achieve and are due to breakout at anytime.
"We still can do what we set out to do and the only thing standing in front of our way is us," running back Jeff Woody said.
Just looking at Iowa State's numbers shows how close the Cyclones have been. In its four losses, ISU has not lost by double digits and its average margin of defeat is just 5.5 points per game. Those four opponents are a combined 18-6.
The Cyclones are also averaging more points per game offensively than any previous Rhoads' team, and they ranked 13th in the country in turnover margin.
"It's the good folks we've played, a slow start by us and a poor performance by us in our opening game," Rhoads surmised on why his team hasn't won more this season. "But it (the numbers) is one of the things I talked to the team about yesterday (Sunday) on why good things are on the horizon.
"You don't play good special teams like we are playing right now, you don't have a turnover margin we have and score more points as a football team than we have and not have good things fall your way. The problem is the Big 12 Conference is as competitive ... as it is week in, week out and it's about catching a bounce.
"As long as our kids keep fighting and giving a good effort like they are ... allowing the improvement that I see we're going to keep being in ballgames and sooner or later we're going to end up on top."
Iowa State's biggest challenge of the season will probably be Saturday at Baylor, and the Cyclones will need to create their own breaks to have a chance. All week, ISU has heard how great the Bear offense is and all of their great numbers — 56 percent success rate on third down, six guys with runs of 22 yards or longer, eight receivers with catches of 36 or longer, 63.6 points per game and 713 yards per game. It's been a broken record for the Cyclones.
Stars? The Bears have them too — quarterback Brock Petty, running back Lache Seastrunk and wide receivers Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, who both average better than 100-yards receiving at 135.8 and 121.8, respectively.
"They are obviously a solid offensive football team that can run or pass," linebacker Luke Knott said. "They are a well-coached team. They have athletes, have smart players and when you combine all those things that makes a successful team."
There is no question Baylor's offense will cause ISU's defense a multitude of headaches, but the Cyclones know there is a simple remedy. A year ago, ISU forced a Bear team with many of the same athletes and quarterback Nick Florence to turn the ball over four times as the Cyclones won in Ames, 35-21.
ISU's defense also held Baylor's potent run game in check, just 115 yards on 30 carries, and the Bears lost three fumbles.
It's a simple formula and ISU almost pulled it off last week. The Cyclones did a lot of things that could've led to win at 20th-ranked Texas Tech, but failed to seize opportunity and create momentum. ISU forced the Red Raiders to punt on four of its first five drives of the second half and give itself great field position. But the Cyclones failed to score and Tech eventually did, turning a 21-all halftime tie into a 35-21 lead.
"You have to capitalize and that is one of the key pieces when you look at some of those other statistics," Rhoads said. "This team might not be reflective of their 1-4 record, but unless you finish one of those drives, catch a little momentum, catch a lead ... we're finding a hard time of doing that right now."