The series history between Iowa State and Nebraska is decidedly one-sided: Nebraska 86, Iowa State 17, with two ties. That shouldn't be a surprise to fans of either program, but that doesn't mean that the Cyclones have been completely unsuccessful on the gridiron. The Cyclones shared two conference co-championships dating back 99 years to 1911 and 1912 in the Missouri Valley Conference with the Huskers. And when the Huskers were suffering through the Bill Callahan error, Iowa State shared the Big XII North title with Colorado in 2004.
In 1971, Iowa State was expected to finish in last place, but instead went 8-4. That's especially noteworthy considering that was the year Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado finished as the top three teams in the nation. That 8-4 record was good enough to earn a Sun Bowl bid, where Johnny Majors' team lost 33-15 to LSU. The next season, the Cyclones finished the season in the Liberty Bowl, losing 31-30 to Georgia Tech. The Cyclones scored with 1:36 left in the game to pull within one point, but the Cyclones two-point conversion fell short. After taking Iowa State to two straight bowl games, Majors left to take the head coaching job at Pitt.
Under Earle Bruce, the Cyclones would go 4-7 the next three seasons before going 8-3 in 1976. That season, the Cyclones upset Nebraska 37-28 and ended the season ranked #18 despite not receiving a bowl invitation. In 1977, Iowa State beat Nebraska 24-21 in Lincoln, and earned a Peach Bowl bid, losing 24-14 to North Carolina State. In 1978, the Huskers broke the two game losing streak by shutting out Iowa State 23-0 in Ames. The Cyclones did earn a bid to the Hall of Fame Bowl, where they lost to Texas A&M 28-12. After three straight eight win seasons in Ames, Bruce left Ames for Ohio State, his alma mater.
The next twenty years or so were forgettable for the Cyclones under Jim Criner and Jim Walden. Some Iowa State fans thought they finally could get rid of Walden after the 1992 season, only to have the Cyclones pull off a stunning 19-10 upset of Nebraska. Iowa State's reward for the upset? Two additional years of futility under Walden. Enter Dan McCarney, who wasn't much better initially, despite having all-American running back Troy Davis top the 2000-yard mark in two seasons, earning him an invitation to the Heisman Trophy Award ceremony.
Things started to turn around for Iowa State under McCarney in the late 1990's. The Cyclones broke a 15 year losing streak to cross-state rival Iowa in 1998, and promptly began a five year winning streak against the Hawkeyes. In 2000, the Cyclones went 9-3 and beat Pitt 37-29 in the Insight Bowl to finish the season ranked #23 in the coaches poll and #25 in the AP poll. Cyclone fans flocked to Phoenix for the game, and allegedly drained the microbrewery at BankOne Ballpark, where the game was played. In 2001, the Cyclones finished 7-5, losing 14-13 to Alabama in the Independence Bowl. The finish was controversial because television replays indicated that a game-winning field goal attempt by Tony Yelk should have counted after going over the goal posts.
In 2002, the Cyclones spent the first half of the season at heights the program had never seen before. Iowa State opened the season in Kansas City with a matchup against Florida State, losing 38-31 when Seneca Wallace was stopped just short of the goal line on the final play of the game. One month later, the Cyclones dominated Nebraska in Ames in a 36-14 victory, and two weeks later, Iowa State found themselves ranked #9 in the nation. But a 49-3 loss at #2 Oklahoma mentally destroyed the team, and they went on to lose six of the final seven games of the season, including a 34-16 loss to Boise State on the Bronco's home field in the Humanitarian Bowl.
2004 and 2005 were also bowl seasons for Iowa State, defeating Miami of Ohio 17-13 in the 2004 Independence Bowl and losing 27-24 to TCU in the 2005 Houston Bowl. But a losing season in 2006 led to McCarney's departure. Gene Chizik took over for two very forgettable seasons, going 5-19. Inexplicably, Auburn hired Chizik, though the Tigers ended up with the last laugh as Chizik's Auburn team won the BCS title in 2010
In 2009, Iowa State turned to Paul Rhoads, a former ISU assistant under McCarney, and immediately found success. That squad played over their head at times, most especially in a bizarre 9-7 upset of Nebraska in Lincoln starting backups at quarterback and running back. The key to victory was Nebraska's eight turnovers on the day, many of which were forced by Iowa State's swarming defense. That game is now immortalized on YouTube by Rhoads postgame speech where he expressed overwhelming pride in his team's effort.
Iowa State would go onto earn another trip to the Insight Bowl, defeating Minnesota 14-13. In 2010, the Cyclones nearly pulled off another upset of Nebraska, taking the Huskers to overtime but losing when the Cyclones faked the extra point and Eric Hagg intercepted the two-point conversion pass.
Because of the proximity of Ames to Lincoln, the games in this series have always been a friendly rivalry. Many Husker fans will likely root for Iowa State in the future, as Rhoads and his squad are an easy team to like. They play hard and are well-coached. As the Big XII seemed to be dis-raveling last summer, Iowa State was one of those schools you worried about finding a new home. Fortunately for Iowa State, the Big XII survived, and while I don't expect Iowa State to be a regular power, I do expect the Cyclones to pull off a few upsets each season.