With a few games to go there are two groups of teams in the Big 12: five at the top who are pretty good, and five at the bottom just trying to keep up.
It's discouraging to not play very well against OU and Texas, but those teams will blow o it Iowa State when they set their minds to it. Given the financial gulf between The Big Boys and ISU, that should be expected.
But the five schools in the bottom half of this years league are financial peers of the Cyclones, and they are who ISU is really competing against year in and year out. This year, the Cyclones could finish at the top of the bottom half. They already have wins against Baylor and TCU with Kansas and West Virginia on deck. Wins against both not only earns a decent bowl trip, it also solidifies their place at the front of the Small Money league within the Big 12.
But you have to win or you just continue being viewed as a bottom feeder.