Yet, ISU's efforts against both the Buffaloes and Wildcats have been like night and day.
Even though the Cyclones have won just one of their past three games against Colorado, unlike in recent history against K-State they have been very competitive. ISU broke through in 2000 by beating the Buffs in Boulder, 35-27, and has been outscored by only a 56-39 margin in 1999 and 2001 losses.
After rolling to a 28-7 halftime lead against K-State in '99, the Cyclones have been outscored 184-20 in 14 quarters since. The Wildcats have always seemed to bring out the worst in Dan McCarney's squad, which has been dominated even in the midst of three straight bowl seasons.
Maybe Scully and Mulder should be called in for an investigation. They probably won't get too much out of ISU players and coaches, however. Even they can't explain the discrepancy in performance.
"I have no idea (how to explain it)," said Cyclone head coach Dan McCarney. "If I was that smart I'd get out of coaching, go do something else and make a lot of money. I just hope it's a good matchup on Saturday night.
"For whatever reason, most every year that I've been here we've played Colorado real well. It's hard to put your finger on it sometimes and explain it or understand. I'm glad it has been that way and hopefully it will be that way again Saturday night. We're not taking anything for granted, because they're an outstanding football team. But even in our worst of seasons and worst of years, we've played Colorado pretty darn good."
Timing could have something to do with it, but can't be the only reason. In each of the past three seasons, the Cyclones have faced Colorado one week after getting blasted by K-State. Regardless of which teams it's played, ISU has shown the ability to bounce back from many blowouts in recent years.
"I don't know if it's just that we've come into the game more ready to play or it's the order that we play them in," said defensive tackle Jordan Carstens, who has played a key role on three ISU bowl-bound teams. "It seems like we've come off a big loss against Kansas State, then come in and played Colorado tough. I don't know if it's that we've got some motivation by being embarrassed the week before and had kind of had our backs against the wall. It's probably a combination of all those things."
One of seven senior starters on this year's team, tight end Kyle Knock addressed the same question. However, he couldn't quite put his finger on it, either.
"I don't know what it is, really," he said. "Most of the time we've played K-State right before Colorado and got the crap beat out of us. It's been a wake-up call that we've got to pick our game. We've brought our best game against Colorado most of the time and given ourselves a chance to win, if not for a few plays here and there."
ISU's approach for this year's matchup against Colorado is very similar to those in the past, and that could lead to a similar outcome. Reeling from a dreadful 58-7 loss at K-State, the Cyclones are off to Boulder this week with their backs against the wall yet again.
"That was an embarrassment last week and everybody on our team knows it," Knock added. "That was on national television on TBS. We've been lucky enough to play on TV a lot this year. For the most part we've given Iowa State a good name and let the people know around the country this is a pretty good football team. But Saturday was an embarrassment to everybody at this University and especially the players and coaches.
"Right now our main focus is to win. Coach McCarney said we're not getting on the plane without a win. Losing is not an option this week. Right now we've got to look forward to the next game."
Anywhere but Boise
After sustaining two blowouts by 46 points or worse to top 10 teams, perhaps the Cyclones would feel happy just going to a postseason game at all. But never one to rest on laurels, McCarney is taking a warm approach to his team this week.
"We aren't trying to just survive, keep our heads above water and finish with three or four wins," he said. "We're playing for which bowl game. We're going to one of them. Which one, how big, how far, how hot? One of the goals I set was to go somewhere hot in December and Boise, Idaho, sure as heck isn't going to be hot in December. We're going to try and go somewhere a little warmer than that if we can."
Boise hosts the Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 31, pitting a WAC school against the eighth Big 12 bowl team. For a program that started with six wins in seven games and climbed to as high as ninth in a national poll, traveling northwest to Idaho is not being looked at positively.
"At the start of this season Coach McCarney said there are no bad bowl games," Knock said. "But then he said, ‘Who would want to go to Boise, Idaho, on late December?' One of our team goals was to go somewhere hot in December. He brought this up yesterday in the meetings that it isn't hot in Boise in December. In order for us to achieve that goal, we've got to win these next two games and put ourselves in position to go to a nicer bowl or higher up bowl."
"We started so fast and got out of the gates fast. We had a lot of people pulling for this team. It seemed like about four weeks ago, everywhere you looked on the internet and in newspapers was talking about Iowa State football. Those were the times when everything was going good. Then to put ourselves in a position to go to a bowl game like that is a disgrace to what we've done and how hard we've worked. Guys don't want to go to Boise, Idaho. It's nothing against the bowl game they have there, but we've experienced Phoenix and Shreveport. That doesn't sound as appealing."
Sitting at 7-4 with two games left to play, ISU would be considered a long shot for a Humanitarian Bowl bid. By beating Colorado and Connecticut, the Cyclones could sneak back into the Holiday Bowl picture. The San Diego, Calif., bowl has the third pick among Big 12 non-BCS teams.
Even with a split in their next two contests, the Cyclones would finish 8-5 and potentially earn bids to the Alamo, Houston or Tangerine Bowls.
Knock and his teammates have their sights set higher and warmer than Boise.
"We've talked about the Holiday Bowl and Alamo Bowl," he said. "It would take a long shot to get to the Holiday Bowl now and we'd probably need two teams to get in the BCS to even have a shot. But the Alamo Bowl is still in reach and has shown a lot of interest. They've been to a couple of our games.
"I think guys are looking at that one as ‘let's go do this and we can get to the Alamo Bowl and if we're lucky we can go to the Holiday Bowl.' We've talked about them all. There isn't a bad one like Coach McCarney said, but we really don't want to go to Boise."
Facing the Chris Brown Express
It's hard to argue with sheer numbers alone. And by looking at Big 12 and national rushing charts, ISU is facing the nation's best running back this weekend in Colorado's Chris Brown.
Brown, who has an outside chance of joining the much-heralded 2,000-yard club, is on a streak of seven consecutive 100-yard games. He leads the nation in rushing with an average of 161.7 per game. Brown has rushed for 1,617 yards and 17 touchdowns on 250 carries.
Just how does Brown rank among the long line of talented backs his team has faced this season? He's the best, said McCarney.
"They've got the best running back in college football," McCarney said. "Brown keeps coming at you, wears you out and makes a lot of guys miss. He's passed out a lot of stingers in the Big 12, where guys come off the field, their arm looks limp, they don't feel very good and lose some feeling. He is just so physical running the football. We hope our kids aren't afraid to come up and tackle him, because we're going to have to be very physical."