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The stakes are high in the Big 12 title race as the no. 15 Iowa State Cyclones visit the no. 20 Texas Longhorns on Black Friday. The Longhorns are considered 1.5-point favorites at home, with the over/under for the game set at 57 points.
Texas looked to be out of contention for the Big 12 crown after a couple of losses early in the season. But the Longhorns have won three straight games, including a victory over Oklahoma State, to get back in the race. They will likely be favored in their final two games of the season, but the Longhorns still need to beat Iowa State to remain in the running.
Meanwhile, the Cyclones can all but secure one of the top spots in the Big 12 Championship Game with a win over Texas. Iowa State is the only team in the conference with just one loss in league play. They also have just one game left after this weekend, so a win will keep the Cyclones in first place and make them tough to catch.
In the Hall
Iowa State began the season expecting quarterback Brock Purdy to carry them to the Big 12 title game. But it’s actually been running back Breece Hall who’s done the heavy lifting. Hall is averaging 6.5 yards per carry and scored 15 rushing touchdowns in eight games.
In big moments, he’s been the one to step up and lead the Cyclones. In fairness, Purdy has been solid if unspectacular. He’s also coming off his best game of the season last week against Kansas State, which the Cyclones hope is a turning point for their quarterback.
Purdy is hoping to get the best of a Texas defense that’s been wildly inconsistent this season. In their six Big 12 games, the Longhorns have twice held opponents under 20 points but twice allowed more than 50 points. There hasn’t been much middle ground for the Texas defense, which is concerning against an ISU offense with good balance.
Sam the Man
Offensively, the Longhorns continue to lean heavily on quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Surprisingly, Ehlinger has not posted impressive numbers this season and thrown his hat into the Heisman race.
In fact, he’s regressed in some ways, especially with regard to his accuracy. However, Ehlinger is still a tough character who is the team’s leading rusher. Also, in crunch time, few quarterbacks in the country would be preferable to Ehlinger.
Of course, Iowa State has earned a reputation as being one of the stingiest defenses in the Big 12 in recent years. On paper, the Cyclones aren’t putting up eye-popping numbers defensively. However, part of that is Iowa State struggling on special teams, enabling opposing teams to score points that way.
In fact, opponents have scored either a defensive or special teams touchdown in most of ISU’s games. However, pound for pound, the Cyclones are still one of the best defensive teams in the Big 12.
Survive the Storm
If this ends up being a close game, Ehlinger is a better bet than Purdy to carry his team over the finish line. The Texas defense has also been good enough against the run this year to think that they can slow down Hall. That should be enough for Texas to win and cover the 1.5-point spread.