Iowa State trying to complete worst to first in Big 12 North

Wednesday, November 24th 2004, 6:51 am

By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) _ What an incredible turnaround for Iowa State.

Going into their season finale last year, the Cyclones had lost nine straight games. After losing at Baylor five weeks ago, they had 13 straight Big 12 losses.

The Cyclones (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) haven't lost since and can cap their worst-to-first rally in the Big 12 North this weekend with their first division title.

Iowa State wins the title outright by winning its season finale Saturday against Missouri (4-6, 2-5), a preseason favorite that has lost five straight games. The Cyclones can do no worse than tie for the division, and only Colorado could knock them out of the Big 12 championship game.

If Colorado (6-4, 3-4) beats Nebraska (5-5, 3-4) on Friday, the Cyclones have to win their finale to advance to play the South champ, No. 2 Oklahoma (11-0, 8-0) in Kansas City on Dec. 4. The Buffaloes have the tiebreaker over Iowa State because of a 19-14 win last month.

``Whatever happens on Friday, our preparation and everything will go into the game with Missouri,'' Iowa State coach McCarney said. ``The bottom line is if we can win one more football game in the regular season, we're Big 12 North champs.''

Iowa State ensured at least a share of the North Division with a big comeback to beat Kansas State last week. The Cyclones trailed 23-9 in the fourth quarter before scoring four touchdowns, three in the last 3 1/2 minutes, to win 37-23.

There are two other Big 12 games this weekend, with the four teams involved already certain of bowl appearances.

No. 22 Texas A&M (7-3, 5-2) plays at No. 6 Texas (9-1, 6-1) on Friday in the continuation of a 110-game rivalry. No. 23 Oklahoma State (7-3, 4-3) is at Texas Tech (6-4, 4-3).

Baylor (3-8, 1-7), Kansas (4-7, 2-6) and Kansas State (4-7, 2-6) have all completed their seasons. None qualified for bowls, meaning K-State won't play in a postseason game for the first time since 1992.

Nebraska has to win to extend its streak of 35 straight bowl appearances. But the Cornhuskers can't go to the Big 12 championship game even if they tie Iowa State in the North standings. They lost 34-27 to the Cyclones.

``It's been a trying season,'' first-year Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. ``We put ourselves in this situation. We have an opportunity to get out of it.''

Even if the Cornhuskers finish with their 43rd consecutive winning regular season, they will do it with their fewest victories since 1968. But they can become the Big 12's eighth bowl-eligible team.

The Big 12 is guaranteed eight bowl spots. So there is a spot for every team with six wins, even if there is a 6-6 team after the championship game.

Texas, which has won five straight games since its lone loss to Oklahoma, is trying to stay in position for a berth in one of the four Bowl Championship Series games. The Longhorns are fifth in the latest BCS standings.

Texas has won four straight against the Aggies in the third-most-played game in college football. Only Minnesota-Wisconsin and Kansas-Missouri have played more.

Texas A&M has rebounded from a 4-8 record last season, coach Dennis Franchione's first.

Oklahoma State and Texas Tech provide a game of contrasting styles. The Cowboys are the league's second-best rushing team (252 yards per game), while the Red Raiders are again the national passing leader with 400 yards per game.

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