AMES, Iowa — Iowa State's improvement under second-year coach Matt Campbell has gone largely unnoticed nationally.
The Cyclones can put themselves on the map with a big showing on Thursday night.Iowa State (2-1) opens Big 12 play when it hosts Texas on national television. Although the Longhorns (1-2) are rebuilding under new coach Tom Herman, a strong showing would let the rest of the league know that the Cyclones, who won just three games in 2016, are ready to push for an upper-division finish.
"The country gets to see what we all know," Campbell said. "The country gets an inward look at what Iowa State is about."
College football rankings: AP Top 25 by the numbers for Week 5
Iowa State's progress is most evident on offense — a unit that is setting school records seemingly every week.
The Cyclones set a new mark with its sixth straight game with at least 400 yards gained in a 41-14 blowout at Akron on Sept. 16. They've also scored at least 40 points in three straight contests for the first time since 1976 and are tied for 16th nationally in scoring average.
Quarterback Jacob Park has been more than solid, throwing for 311.7 yards on 25.3 completions a game, and running back David Montgomery is third in the Big 12 with 107 yards a game.
But perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for the Cyclones has been the play of their line. Despite four new starters, Iowa State's offensive line has been a strong point rather than a liability so far in 2017 under assistant coach Tom Manning.
"We've got some good leaders on the line, and one of the best (offensive) line coaches in the country," Park said. "I really proud of those guys — and I'm happy to have them in front of me."
Iowa State and Texas both enter Thursday's game off a bye week, which could help the Cyclones get star safety Kamari Cotton-Moya back from an elbow injury.
Cotton-Moya hurt his elbow against Iowa on Sept. 9 and missed most of the second half of a 44-41 overtime loss. Cotton-Moya, a senior who was an All-Big 12 preseason first-team pick, sat out against Akron but is in "pretty good shape" to play against the Longhorns, according to Campbell.
Starting cornerback D'Andre Payne also returned to practice following a hamstring injury, and defensive tackle Jamahl Johnson — who hasn't played this season because of a high ankle sprain — is inching closer to making his debut.
"He's a guy we're really counting on and was playing at a really high rate for us," Campbell said of Johnson.
The extra practice time also allowed highly touted defensive tackle Kamilo Tongamoa to get more comfortable in Iowa State's scheme.
Tongamoa arrived toward the end of fall camp as he worked through academic issues. Though he has played in all three games, Tongamoa has just one tackle this season.
"Kamilo is one of those guys that will only really continue to grow," Campbell said. "You hope he's a lot closer (Monday) than he was four weeks ago."