AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State emerged from last week's win over Army with as much momentum as it's had in years.
With back-to-back wins by at least 20 points and a date with rebuilding Kansas State on the horizon, the once-unlikely notion that the Cyclones could reach bowl eligible seemed suddenly plausible.
Just like that, their mojo hit a wall.
Iowa State (3-1) found out Monday that starting defensive end Rashawn Parker's knee injury would end his season. On Tuesday, starting wide receiver Darius Reynolds broke his ankle, ending his season as well.
The loss of Parker and Reynolds will test Iowa State's depth and resolve, starting with Saturday's date at Arrowhead Stadium against the Wildcats (2-2).
The Big 12 opener for the two teams is the first of a two-year agreement between the schools to play in Kansas City instead of on campus. It also marks Kansas State coach Bill Snyder's return to the Big 12 after a three-year absence.
What kind of team Snyder brings in his return to a league he once dominated is still anyone's guess.
The Wildcats have beaten FCS schools Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech but lost at UCLA, 23-9, and at Louisiana-Lafayette, 17-15.
"We are a better team than what we were at the start of the season. It has been slow progress but it has been steady," Snyder said. "I think that we are starting to make fewer and fewer mistakes, but we still have a lot of things that we can improve on."
Kansas State was known for its special teams during Snyder's first tenure in Manhattan, and the Wildcats have made a splash there so far. They blocked a punt and a field goal in their narrow win over UMass in the opener, and last week Brandon Banks returned kickoffs 91 and 92 yards for touchdowns as Kansas State snapped a three-game stretch of close games with a 49-7 blowout of Tennessee Tech.
Despite the loss of Parker, a senior who has started since his freshman year, and Reynolds, the team's second-leading receiver with 13 catches, the Cyclones head to Kansas City on a roll under first-year coach Paul Rhoads.
Iowa State snapped a 10-game losing streak dating to last season by beating South Dakota State in its opener. The Cyclones then broke the nation's longest road losing streak at 17 games by thumping Kent State, 34-14, and last week they wrapped up their best non-conference finish since 2005 with a 31-10 victory over the Black Knights.
The key to Iowa State's early success has been its defense — the same one opponents ravaged to the tune of 35.8 points per game in 2008. The Cyclones, behind an improved front seven, have allowed just 41 points in their three wins.
"The last couple of years, the safeties have been making a lot of tackles, leading the team in tackles. It's been the opposite. I've been seeing the guys up front making all the tackles," senior safety James Smith said.
Kansas State and Iowa State met in Manhattan for last year's finale under very different circumstances, as Ron Prince led the Wildcats to a 38-30 win in his final game as coach over Gene Chizik, who left for Auburn soon after.
It's a fresh start for both teams, and Saturday's game should provide a clear glimpse into how far along they are in their efforts to climb back into Big 12 contention.
"You can it call momentum and you could call it confidence. I think we have a football team that understands that a winning formula is great preparation followed by great execution," Rhoads said. "I think they're growing up. I think they have good intelligence when it comes to this winning formula."