AMES, Iowa — Bob Stoops believes Iowa State's growing — yet still somewhat sporadic — success stems directly from what's on the Jack Trice Stadium field.
And no, he doesn't mean the tall grass.
“I think what everyone undervalues anymore is the quality of talent across the board for all these teams we play,” Stoops said.
“The outside world doesn't look at it because they don't have to play them. When you get a chance to study people and really watch them, Iowa State's got a ton of really good football players.”
The Cyclones are down one really good football player for the rest of their season — senior all-conference linebacker Jake Knott — beginning with Saturday's game at 11 a.m. against Oklahoma.
Knott isn't the only impressive Cyclone defender, though; A.J. Klein is also an all-Big 12 linebacker. Junior Jacques Washington, an Owasso native, has intercepted three passes and recorded 51 tackles.
Each of Iowa State's eight opponents to date have scored an average of 15.1 points less than their season scoring averages; in five home games, that number is 16.6.
“It is a huge test,” said OU quarterback Landry Jones. “They typically always play really well at home. They have a good defense.”
Last November in Ames, of course, the Cyclones stunned No. 2 Oklahoma State in overtime; the loss eventually cost the Cowboys a spot in the national championship game.
Three weeks ago, unbeaten Kansas State got all it wanted at Iowa State, winning a 27-21 nail-biter in which the Cyclones had two chances at a game-winning drive in the final five minutes.
Is there something different about playing in Ames? Is Jack Trice Stadium's grass grown taller than most other venues with natural turf, as OSU coach Mike Gundy suggested a few weeks ago?
“I don't ever buy into any of that,” Stoops said. “I don't think teams up there have much of a choice with weather. I don't think that's an issue with us.”
The excitement and pride surrounding Iowa State football is undeniably increased from years past.
ISU coach Paul Rhoads, in his fourth season, has generated enthusiasm from players and fans alike with his energetic personality, seen by millions in postgame speeches that went viral online.
“Paul's done a good job up there, and people have supported the program,” said Jay Norvell, OU's co-offensive coordinator and a longtime friend of Rhoads'.
“They're putting a good product out there. People believe they can win every week, and that's what you want your school to have. They haven't always had that there, but he's done a great job of giving them something to look forward to.”
This season has seen four of the 10 most-attended games in Jack Trice Stadium history, and three more on that list were played last season.
“I remember watching that (Oklahoma State) game on TV last year,” said OU center Gabe Ikard. “That atmosphere was very intense. The fans were really into it. I've never been there, but from what I've heard, Ames is a tough place to play.”
Ikard isn't alone; none of the current Sooners have played at Iowa State. Oklahoma made its last trip there in 2007, when the Big 12 was still split into divisions and teams didn't all play each other each season.
But to Stoops, none of the outside elements — grass, a raucous crowd, an unfamiliar environment, etc. — will matter Saturday as much as the players on the field.
“Just because a certain team isn't looked at as being a top five team, everybody has talent anymore,” Stoops said, citing scholarship restrictions and better coaching in high schools around the country.
“There's so many players ... Parity — and it's been this way for several years — is greater than ever.”