Sonny Dyke’s praise of Iowa State this week sometimes sounded like a masterclass in Coachspeak.

Never mind that Iowa State is 4-7 and has won just one in eight Big 12 games so far this season, the TCU coach said. With a few breaks things could have gone differently.

The Cyclones are a real legitimate threat to No. 4 TCU (11-0, 8-0 Big 12) and his hopes of an unbeaten season and a place in the college football playoffs, Dykes pointed out.

“They could be 7-4, 8-3, or 9-2 very easily,” Dykes said, noting that Iowa State “had a lot of close games that went to the end of the wire and it’s just kind of not too their result has come way. So Saturday will be a big challenge for us. I think our players understand that.”

While TCU has beaten eight teams ranked above .500 during its unbeaten run, Iowa State isn’t your regular last-place team. Six of the Cyclones’ losses totaled 24 points.

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell called TCU “probably the opposite of us in a lot of ways. You won the moments in some critical situations and have the ability to finish. They have great respect for them.”

TCU quarterback Max Duggan, an Iowa native who got a big Heisman push from Dykes this week, has never beaten the Cyclones. In those three games, Iowa State has surpassed TCU 134-72.

Campbell is aware that Duggan is a competitor who thrived as a senior.

“He’s a tough guy, he’s brave,” Campbell said. “They were never out of the game with Max. He gave them a chance to win every game.”

Most importantly, the Cyclones are able to keep the game tight thanks to the Big 12’s top defense and coordinator Jon Heacock’s frustrating 3-3-5 scheme.

Iowa leads the conference in scoring defense, total defense (277.3 yards per game) and yards per game (4.6). The Cyclones have only allowed 31 players of 20 yards or more.

“Defense is the best in the Big 12 and I don’t think it’s hard to see,” Dykes said. “They play really hard. guys are in the right place. Really impressed with what they’re doing on defense and how they’re doing it.”

And after mostly avoiding serious injuries, TCU has several to contend with, including 1,000-yard rusher Kendre Miller, Biletnikoff semifinalist Quentin Johnston, and dangerous receiver/returner Derius Davis. Dykes was hopeful about her status for the state of Iowa.

TCU players say they are acutely aware of the dangers the state of Iowa poses. They vowed not to be caught looking at the Big 12 championship game on December 3 or the final CFP rankings to be released on December 4 from nearby Grapevine.

Offensive lineman Wes Harris said one reason TCU hasn’t succumbed to outside noise is the struggles of recent seasons.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’re really letting any of that stuff in the dressing room,” Harris said. “I don’t think we’ve had a lot of praise in the last two or three years. I have a feeling that helped. We’re not used to hearing that stuff and I don’t think it got through to us.”

Linebacker Dee Winters added, “I think it just goes in and does our job. … We know what we want to achieve and that’s about it.”

Winters isn’t ignoring the progress TCU has made this year. The Horned Frogs are the first Big 12 team to win their first 11 games since Texas lost in 2009 to Alabama in the BCS title game.

“To be the first team that Sonny Dykes coached [at TCU] and to start a new legacy here, it means a lot to start 11-0 and move forward,” Winters said.

Twitter: @ChuckCarltonDMN

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