June 21, 2024

Ranking Iowa State’s Big 12 Rivals

Rivalries make college athletics great. Michigan vs Ohio State, Alabama vs Auburn, UNC vs Duke—most of the greatest rivalries in college sports are conference matchups that have title game implications. Then there are the more localized rivalries—for Cyclone fans, the CyHawk game against Iowa and former Telephone Trophy game against Missouri were great examples of that.

But when Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas A&M left the Big 12, it changed the landscape of the conference. West Virginia and TCU were added and Big 12 teams were playing every team, every year. As a school that already lacked many traditional rivals and often struggled for success in the major sports, Iowa State was quietly pegged as one of the few that would likely be left hanging if conference realignment came along and dissolved the Big 12.

A lot has changed since then. The Big 12 has had a resurgence that comfortably puts it near the top of conference money-makers, and Iowa State has built football and basketball programs that have the facilities, personnel, and talent of Power 5 programs—something neither program could claim about a decade ago.

But now that Iowa State has established itself as a worthy conference foe, the question remains: who is Iowa State’s biggest Big 12 rival? It’s a nuanced question—a lot has changed over the years, football and basketball have different answers, and a team Cyclone fans might consider a rival may not have a mutual feeling. So the question doesn’t have an easy answer, but as a whole, which Big 12 teams get Cyclone fans the most amped up when it’s their turn on the schedule?

I did the research for you.

I asked nearly 400 of my favorite Cyclone fans (mainly my Twitter followers) to rank the nine Big 12 opponents from biggest rival to smallest rival in football and basketball. Doing some magical formulas (averaging the votes), I came up with a rivalry score that ranks the Cyclones’ most anticipated Big 12 opponents from 1 to 9. For dramatic effect, I’ll reveal them from last to first. DRUMROLL PLEASE…

9. TCU Horned Frogs

Football rank: 9th
Basketball rank: 9th
Rivalry score: 1.9 out of 10

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Rival profile: Folks, this was unanimous—TCU just doesn’t move the needle for Cyclone fans in either sport. There have been some memorable moments: the Cyclones’ first football road win against a top-15 team in 35 years in 2012, Melvin Ejim’s Big 12 record 48-point, 18-rebound game in 2014, and the football team’s upset of #4 TCU in 2017 that solidified Matt Campbell’s team as more than just a flash in the pan. All of those moments are special in Cyclone fans’ hearts… but not because of TCU. With only seven years of history and no real common threads between the schools, this is an opponent most fans can’t get excited for.

8. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Football rank: 7th
Basketball rank: 8th
Rivalry score: 3.6 out of 10

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Rival profile: I hadn’t given much thought to the bottom of these rankings before I started this venture because, let’s face it, the interesting data is at the top. But Texas Tech did spark an interesting data point: out of 794 first-place votes between the football and basketball surveys, the Red Raiders were the only team to not receive a single first-place selection.

That speaks quite a bit to the excitement that Texas Tech brings (or doesn’t bring) to the table. And yet, their rivalry score is nearly twice that of TCU’s. While both the football and basketball series seem to be getting more contested every season, no one really considers the Red Raiders a must-see opponent.

7. Texas Longhorns

Football rank: 4th
Basketball rank: 7th
Rivalry score: 4.2 out of 10

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Rivalry profile: These next four opponents are all within a point of each other in rivalry score, and I think it’s because fans can’t quite agree on where they belong. The Longhorns are an interesting football opponent—they are historically a blue-blood and have the overall record against Iowa State to prove it (14-2). But those two losses have come in the past decade as the Cyclones picked up their first win against the Longhorns in 2010—a road upset against #22 Texas. Since then, we’ve seen last-second field goals, controversial calls (that led to Big 12 apologies), and top-20 matchups for Big 12 title game berths. Add head coach Tom Herman’s ISU connections to the mix, and it makes sense that Cyclone fans consider Texas one of the better football rivals.

But basketball just isn’t that interesting. And the Cyclones still haven’t beaten a truly good Texas football team, ever. There are plenty of reasons for Iowa State fans to want to beat Texas, but it just doesn’t have the juice to become a rivalry.

6. Oklahoma Sooners

Football rank: 5th
Basketball rank: 6th
Rivalry score: 4.6 out of 10

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Rivalry profile: This is probably my biggest gripe on the whole list. Cyclone fans, bless their hearts, seem to have given that 2017 upset of the #3 Sooners a bit more weight than it probably deserves. On no planet does a 6-75-2 record against an opponent constitute a middle-of-the-pack rival ranking. Heck, there have only been 18 games in the 83-game history that ISU won, tied, or lost by less than two scores. It’s blasphemous and fans are wrong about this ranking.

But from a basketball perspective, I think Oklahoma has been a pretty consistently anticipated opponent. The Spangler Miss™ in the Big 12 tournament, the upset of #1 OU in Hilton, the 22-point comeback on senior night… there have been some truly spectacular moments in recent memory and I think fans generally look forward to Oklahoma more than most opponents. But it doesn’t outweigh the football “rivalry” and I think 6th overall is probably a spot too high. But the fans have spoken and I refuse to flub the results!

5. Baylor Bears

Football rank: 6th
Basketball rank: 3rd
Rivalry score: 5.10 out of 10

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Rivalry profile: I’ll get this out of the way: F— Baylor.

Here’s your rivalry fuel: Throwing David Montgomery into a sideline bench, wrestling with Hakeem Butler in the secondary, then throwing punches at Montgomery, all within 2 plays, resulting in a brawl resulting in suspensions and continued bad blood. There really wasn’t much of a Baylor rivalry until this moment, and I expect this to continue to grow in the coming years. Basketball is ranked by Cyclone fans as the 3rd biggest rival, which doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Scott Drew has been almost Bill Snyder-like in his ability to out-scheme the Cyclones, but the 2014 Big 12 Tournament Championship win will go down as one of Cyclone fans’ favorite memories. Baylor may never develop into a full-fledged rival, but we will always have reason to hate them.

4. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Football rank: 3rd
Basketball rank: 5th
Rivalry score: 5.11 out of 10

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Rivalry profile: Oklahoma State barely edges out Baylor in these rankings, but I think it’s well-deserved. Iowa State has won 12 of the last 14 in the basketball series, but that includes 5 overtimes, multiple buzzer-beaters, and plenty of drama in between. In football, the last 4 contests have been decided by a touchdown or less, and Iowa State’s double-overtime thriller to beat #2 Oklahoma State in 2011 is still one of the most iconic moments in Iowa State history. ISU and OSU are two land grant schools that play second fiddle to the other major school in the state, so there’s plenty of common ground here.

Realistically, Oklahoma State will always be a game Cyclone fans look forward to, but likely nothing more.

3. West Virginia Mountaineers

Football rank: 2nd
Basketball rank: 4th
Rivalry score: 5.8 out of 10

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Rivalry profile: Here’s where we start having some serious rivalry discussions. Coming in at 2nd in the football votes and 4th in basketball, that’s some serious interest for a team that joined the league in 2012. And the results back it up—the Cyclones hold a 8-7 lead in the basketball series with six of those being top-25 matchups.

But it was actually the first game in the football series that started as more of a tongue-in-cheek rivalry, as the Big 12 slated the game during “rivalry week,” the final week of the regular season. Fans jokingly called the match-up the “Riot Bowl” (referring to each other as “Riot Bros”) and the first game ended up going down to the wire, with the Geno Smith-led Mountaineers stealing a win in Ames—and creating some bad blood with a halftime run-in with ISU defensive coordinator, Wally Burnham. Since then, the Cyclones won a triple-overtime thriller and most recently knocked off the #6 Mountaineers in Ames last season.

And let’s face it—Cyclone fans loathe the Bob Huggins-style basketball and former WVU football coach, Dana Holgorsen, made himself hateable by calling Iowa State fans “unprofessional” for rushing the field. If the trajectory continues, this is one opponent that could bud into a bigger rivalry.

2. Kansas Jayhawks

Football rank: 8th
Basketball rank: 1st
Rivalry score: 6.4 out of 10

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Rivalry profile: Welcome to the most complicated team on this list—the Kansas Jayhawks. Before I compiled this list, I kind of assumed they would finish either in the middle or slightly above average in this list, but here they are, comfortably in 2nd place.

That’s because they reeled in 390 of the 397 1st place votes in basketball, which is only shocking in the sense they didn’t receive 397 of 397 votes.

Say what you want about the football rivalry, but I feel this is a deserved spot. Kansas is Iowa State’s closest geographic Big 12 opponent and even though the Cyclones are 8-2 in the last 10 meetings in football, the series has historically been close (42-49-6). In basketball, Kansas holds just an 8-7 series lead since the 2013-14 season with nine(!!!) of those being top-25 matchups. Two of those games were Big 12 Tournament Championship games, making the series by far the most nationally relevant match-up in any Iowa State sport. If both schools’ football programs magically become relevant at the same time, this is a rivalry just waiting to erupt.

1. Kansas State Wildcats

Football rank: 1st
Basketball rank: 2nd
Rivalry score: 8.3 out of 10

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Rivalry profile: All things considered, this is about as much of a unanimous decision you can have. Nearly 80% of the Wildcats’ votes were 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place selections in both sports. No other team even eclipsed 60% of votes in the top-3.

And this one makes quite a bit of sense. Both fanbases lovingly refer to their football rivalry as “Farmageddon” (and the Big 12 Wikipedia page even lists it as one of the eight Big 12 football rivalries), and Kansas State’s 10-year win streak built up some serious angst among Cyclone fans. I won’t detail the string of heartbreaking losses in the series, but last year’s 17-point 4th quarter comeback (and Bill Snyder’s ensuing retirement) seemed to right the ship a bit.

Add in the hotly contested basketball rivalry (ISU is 23-20 against KSU since 2000), the laundry list of similarities between the schools, and the geographic proximity of the campuses and you’ve got a natural rival. And while Iowa State may play second fiddle to Kansas when talking about Kansas State’s Big 12 rivals, this is the only one that I think all Cyclone fans can agree is deserving of the “rivalry” label.

Now, the only thing left to do is make the Farmageddon trophy a reality.

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Alex Gookin
Alex Gookin 65 Articles
Staff Writer

Gookin is an Iowa State graduate with a degree in journalism, but decided writing professionally wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Instead, he took an unpaid position to write content for this blog, which seems counter-intuitive, but he enjoys it, nonetheless. Gookin was voted male with the “Most School Spirit,” and 2nd most flirtatious in his senior class. He enjoys statistics no one else has the patience to look up and enjoys Iowa State athletics more than he’s willing to admit. A closet Hawkeye fan (false), you can find Alex being harassed by at least one bad Twitter troll and winning nearly all of his online fights (less false, but false).

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