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Texas at Iowa State

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Editor's Note: Joe Nelson has started the college football season with an eye-opening 15-10 record (60%) through the first five weeks. Purchase Joe's Week 6 Winners here on VegasInsider.com.

This week's Thursday night ESPN game features a Texas program that has come under great scrutiny this season as the Longhorns look to put an ugly non-conference start behind them and move to 2-0 in Big XII play. Iowa State has also had a tough start to the season opening up 0-2, but the Cyclones delivered a nice win in primetime last week and have been a known upset maker in recent years. Here is a look at both teams and the Thursday night matchup.

Match-up: Texas Longhorns at Iowa State Cyclones
Venue: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa (grass)
Date: Thursday, October 3, 2013
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET - ESPN
Line: Texas -8, Over/Under 56½
Last Meeting: 2012 at Texas, Texas (-10) 33-7

Both Iowa State and Texas already have two losses this season, but most season goals are still intact for both teams as Big XII play starts. Texas already has a conference win after defeating Kansas State two weeks ago, but it has been a tough start to the season for a team that most expected to contend for a Big XII championship or even rise into the national title conversation. The Big XII appears to be wide open with last year's champion Kansas State and two of the favorites Oklahoma State and TCU all tied at the bottom of the conference at 0-1. Most feel that Mack Brown's job is in serious jeopardy with the tough start, but a strong conference season could change that picture. While Brown could probably lose his job with a loss this week, next week's game is the one that could buy him more time with a big win.

Playing in back-to-back bowl games the last two years has been solid progress for Iowa State and Paul Rhoads owns a 25-29 career record in Ames, pretty impressive considering he inherited a team that went 5-19 in two years under Gene Chizik. The Cyclones are in danger of sliding this season as they will need a winning conference campaign to return to the postseason after going 1-2 non-conference play, losing twice in-state with an opening defeat against FCS Northern Iowa and then losing to rival Iowa with both defeats coming at home. The Cyclones did win as a road underdog last Thursday at Tulsa, avenging their Liberty Bowl loss from last season.

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Texas featured some of the best defensive numbers in the nation for much of the late 2000s, allowing less than 19 points per game in three of the four seasons from 2006 to 2009. The 2009 squad that lost to Alabama in the BCS Championship game allowed less than 17 points per game and just over 250 yards per game. The yardage numbers were still very strong in 2010 and 2011 despite the team posting mediocre records those seasons, but last year Texas allowed almost 30 points per game and over 400 yards per game, particularly struggling against the run. With nine returning starters from a highly talented pool of players most expected great improvement this season, especially with signs of progress late last season but Texas is currently 109th in the nation in yards per game allowed, surrendering 466 yards per game. The Longhorns do allow just 5.8 yards per play on defense, not a great figure by any means, but closer to average than the total numbers suggest.

In a vacuum, losing to BYU and Mississippi would not be overly damaging as both project to be quality teams this season, but Texas lost in embarrassing fashion. BYU had 550 rushing yards against Texas as quarterback Taysom Hill had a huge game and Texas was unable to make any sort of adjustment to slow him down in the 40-21 loss. After falling behind 14-0 against Ole Miss, a team Texas beat by 35 last season, the Longhorns did rally to lead at halftime, but they did not score again and Mississippi eventually left with a three-touchdown edge in Austin. Losing badly to what most felt was a middle-of-the-pack SEC team did not sit well given the SEC's growing dominance in the region with Texas A&M's recent success. The win over Kansas State was certainly necessary as is this week's tricky road test, but a win next week in Dallas against Oklahoma would change the mind of a lot of folks who have turned on Brown and the program.

Iowa State has not been consistent week-to-week in the Rhoads era, but they have had several notable upsets. The Cyclones won at Nebraska is 2009 as a 20-point underdog and they won at Texas in 2010 as a 20½-point underdog. In 2011, Iowa State changed the landscape of the bowl season dramatically as they stunned then #2 Oklahoma State late in the year as a nearly four-touchdown home underdog. That upset set up the controversial rematch between LSU and Alabama as the Tide would not have had a shot if Oklahoma State remained undefeated. In four-plus seasons, Rhoads has led Iowa State to seven S/U upset wins as an underdog of seven points or more and the Cyclones are 13-10 ATS in those games.

The projections were dire for this year's Iowa State team with many expecting the opener against FCS Northern Iowa to be a challenge, as that is one of the top programs in the lower division. Iowa State had defeated Iowa two years in a row and while this year's game was at home, it was definitely viewed as a potential loss. Playing at Tulsa has been a big challenge for most visiting teams in recent years as Iowa State played well last week to get into the win column, but the rest of the results for Tulsa this season indicate that the win was not all that impressive and four turnovers aided the cause for the Cyclones. Iowa State also has a brutal conference schedule with five of the nine games on the road and Iowa State does not have a bye week the rest of the season. With the exception of the home date with Kansas, Iowa State will almost certainly be an underdog in every other game and this week's spread may actually be one of the lowest of the remainder of the season.

Injuries have not helped the cause for either team in the first month of the season. Texas quarterback David Ash opened the season on the Heisman short list, but he did not even play in the loss to Ole Miss after suffering a concussion against BYU and he left the last game against Kansas State with a head injury as well. His numbers have not been great with just 56 percent completions in the past two games, excluding the opener against lowly New Mexico State. Case McCoy has played reasonably well in relief for Texas, but he is not the same rushing threat that Ash is. Ash is still a question mark to play this week, but running back Daje Johnson is expected to return after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.

For Iowa State, sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson has not missed time, but he has been playing with an ankle injury since the opening week. Richardson rushed for over 200 yards in limited action last season and for over 70 yards in the opener, but he clearly has not been 100 percent since. The Cyclones have had to attack more consistently through the air as Richardson has just 37 rushing yards the last two games but 80 passing attempts. He has thrown three interceptions and has been sacked 10 times in three games so his chances to heal may be limited without another bye week the rest of the year and the Cyclones will likely be at a greater risk for turnovers with the changed role.

This could prove to be a season-defining game for both teams. A loss would certainly send Texas closer to the path that USC took last week in making a coaching change, although with a long-time coach like Brown, a mid-season change is highly unlikely. A win could help build momentum towards next week's huge Red River Rivalry game and build confidence of a team that has been torn apart in the media in the first month of the season. For Iowa State, the bowl hopes look slim, but this is a game they likely need in order to have a shot at the postseason as the road schedule is very daunting. Even if it proves to be a losing season for the Cyclones with the tough slate, a win over Texas on national television would be a satisfying highlight.

Last Meeting: Texas won hosting Iowa State last season as they climbed back into the national rankings prior to the meeting with three consecutive wins. David Ash had a great game as Texas doubled the total yardage of Iowa State in a 33-7 win. After no scoring in the first 11 minutes of the game, Texas scored twice in the span of just over a minute with a one-play scoring drive accounting for the second score and they never looked back. Iowa State would win at Kansas the next week to clinch bowl eligibility with Sam Richardson making an impressive debut as then senior Steele Jantz played the whole game at quarterback for the Cyclones last season.

Series History: Texas is 8-1 S/U and 5-4 ATS since 1998 in this series with the lone loss coming in 2010 at home. Iowa State has been held below 20 points in six of the last seven meetings and the last meeting in Ames was a 37-14 win for Texas as a nine-point favorite early in the 2011 season.

Line Movement: After a delayed opening with Ash's status in limbo, the spread opened at -9 and has fallen to -8. The total has risen from 55 to 56½.

Texas Historical Trends: Since 2000, Texas is 28-22 ATS as a road favorite, including going 11-5 ATS since 2008. Texas has covered in five of the last seven games as a road favorite of less than 10 points, but the Longhorns are just 8-12 ATS in that role since 1997. Since 2000, Texas is 50-10 S/U in road games while going 35-25 ATS, but they have lost badly in the last two road games, losing this year at BYU and to close the regular season last year at Kansas State.

Iowa State Historical Trends: While Iowa State has had some notable upsets in recent years, they have actually not fared well in the home underdog role, going just 46-59-2 ATS since 1980 and just 6-9-1 ATS since 2009 when Rhoads took over. Iowa State has not won as a home underdog since the opening game of last season hosting Tulsa, as the Cyclones are 0-5 S/U and 0-4-1 ATS in the last five attempts, including losing hosting Iowa earlier this season. When the line climbs over seven, Iowa State has been profitable going 30-21 ATS since 2004 when dogged by seven or more points, covering in six of the last nine but none of the last three. Iowa State has not been this big of an underdog since these teams played last season.

There are two additional Thursday night games this week:

Western Kentucky (-7) at Louisiana-Monroe: The Warhawks were one of the great stories early last season with the upset over Arkansas and then near upsets over Auburn and Baylor. That success was led by quarterback Kolton Browning, who unfortunately likely saw his career end last week with a leg injury. Louisiana-Monroe has a veteran team that already has defeated Wake Forest this season, but this could be a challenging Sun Belt opener given the personnel changes. Western Kentucky has wins over Kentucky and Navy, but also a loss to South Alabama this season and the Hilltoppers look like a threat in the Sun Belt with a strong running game and the program growing under Bobby Petrino. Last season, these teams played a wild 43-42 overtime game with Louisiana-Monroe successfully going for two and the win in the first overtime. Western Kentucky is on an 18-3 ATS run in road games while UL-Monroe is just 18-24-1 ATS at home since 2003.

UCLA (-6) at Utah: The Pac-12 South owns a combined conference record of 1-6 with the lone win coming within the division, as the balance of power still seems to remain in the North. UCLA is the only team in the division without a conference loss already this season, but they also do not have a win as they are the last team to open Pac-12 play. Utah lost its opening conference game at home in a wild game with Oregon State, but the Utes have solid non-conference wins over Utah State and BYU and the team looks much stronger than last year's disappointing 5-7 team. UCLA has arguably the toughest Pac-12 schedule as they play both Oregon and Stanford on the road, which precluded many from projecting the Bruins as the champion in the division. UCLA does have a great non-conference win over Nebraska already under its belt and the offense has posted huge numbers so far this season. UCLA is just 24-36 ATS as a road favorite since 1988 while Utah does not lose often at home, going 34-10 S/U and 24-18-1 ATS since 2006.

  
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